On the opening day of the American Library Association
in Chicago, a panel of librarians from public and academic libraries discussed measures they have taken to stay within their budgets for acquiring library materials. Rick Anderson of the University of Utah began by suggesting it helps to understand the internal and external forces constraining collection building, including funds, staff time, library space, library policies, and community expectations. The last is hardest to gauge. Should libraries chose to purchase everything that members in their communities desire or should they try to get only materials that will be popular with a predetermined minimum number of library members? What holds enough value (hard to measure) to justify cost (easier to measure)?
Stephanie Chase of the Seattle Public Library continued, telling about how libraries manage in periods of short budgets. To make up for not having as many new titles as readers would like, she emphasized marketing the available collection, especially titles that were little-read when new. Having strong, effective readers’ advisory service can connect members with these less recent books and relieve pressure for new titles. In lean times, she also suggested limiting the number of holds members can make, which makes them make choices similar to those the library has to make and shortens reserve lists that trigger purchasing of additional copies. She thought it a mistake to buy bestsellers disproportionately in lean times.
Chase also thought weeding must continue in lean times. Shelves in popular reading collections need to look fresh to attract readers; removing worn, battered volumes is especially helpful. At her libraries, circulation statistics have shown borrowing up in weeded areas even without significant new purchasing.
Michael Santangelo of the Brooklyn Public Library compared managing an electronic material collection in lean times to reality TV. If a database does not get the votes (visits or document downloads), it is this week’s cut. And there is always someone sad at the passing of a databases out of the collection. How to count the votes is the challenge, as every vendor reports different measures. The librarian’s task is to determine which databases have really provided the most service (not visits or searches) and which combinations of databases cover topics essential to members’ needs.
Santangelo issued several warnings. 1) Consortium purchases save money but they also introduce instability into the collection as groups may change vendors every year looking for better deals. 2) Ebook subscription plans may highlight highly popular materials but they also drag along materials of little interest. Study costs carefully before taking a package deal. 3) Having multiple platforms to provide ebooks from various vendors confuses readers and librarians. 4) Loyalty to vendors can stabilize an online collection and sometimes win discounts but do not go so far as to sign onto new databases just because a favored vendor recommends them.