Part of the “Collection Development Strategies in an Evolving Marketplace: an ALCTS Midwinter Symposium” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago (January, 2015)
I’ve volunteered to speak at the ALCTS Symposium on January 30th about North Park’s experience using demand driven acquisitions for ebooks. The topic of the day is “Collection Directions: The Evolution of Library Collections and Collecting” (website) and is based on the following article:
Dempsey, Lorcan, Constance Malpas, and Brian Lavoie. 2014. “Collection Directions: The Evolution of Library Collections and Collecting” portal: Libraries and the Academy 14,3 (July): 393-423. Links to full text here: http://oclc.org/research/news/2014/10-14.html
The instructions for the day invited us to create a short presentation that “should be practical in nature (what are you doing in your local and/or consortial environment that can serve as a model for other institutions) but also touch on what you think this means (if anything) for the future of collecting.” Because this is my first time ever speaking at such an event, I think I will stay as close to the prompt as possible.
My name is Andy Meyer and I am the Digital Information Specialist at North Park University here in Chicago. North Park University is a small, private liberal arts college with a FTE of less than 2,500. We have a print collection of about 250,000 books that is focused on supporting undergraduate research and graduate study in a few areas. We have a full time staff of nine people. So our context is quite different than some of my fellow panelist. I’m here to reflect on how changes in library collections and collecting are influencing small schools in unique ways.
This is also my first time speaking at such a large forum and – to be honest – I’m a little nervous. So I’m going to stay close to my notes and answer as directly as possible the invitation that I received in December. So be prepared for 15 minutes on the projects I’ve worked in for my institution that can serve as a model for other institutions while touching on what I think that means for the future of collecting.
In particular, I’m going to talk about two different PDA programs that I managed. First, I’m going to talk about a program I lead that helped my library’s reference collection transition from print to electronic. Second, I’m going to talk about the opportunities and challenges of managing a multivendor DDA program, particularly how we planned, implemented, and maintain that program. Lastly, I’ll touch on the next steps we have planned for North Park as well as some broader thoughts about the future of library collections and collecting.
DDA for our Reference Collection
I implemented North Park’s first demand driven program with the head of collection development as a way to help us move our reference collection from print to online. We wanted to provide a lot of eReference content to serve our undergraduate student population and we had to do so with relatively limited funds. This project was relatively straightforward and involved the following steps:
- Reviewed a title list supplied by the vendor and removed items that are clearly outside of the local scope of our collection (Dentistry, etc.).
- Batch loaded vendor supplied records into our catalog and created additional access points (that is, we added a vendor supplied widget).
- Marketed this new resource to the library and the rest of campus.
Here is my first bit of “practical advice”: become an expert on your DDA program. We focused on marketing this resource to outside audience (students) but I didn’t anticipate how much I would need to reach out to my co-workers. I learned that I needed to explain everything well and in multiple formats (email, meetings, informal conversation) so that everyone was on the same page. I would imagine this is true and every scale and it was certainly true in our context.
So that is a quick walk through of that process as well as a piece of practical advice. On a broader scale, I think this project raised interesting questions about the use of data in libraries and reduced transactional costs.
Data-Driven Decision Making
An interesting part of this program was a paradoxical lack of data in certain areas and an excess of data in others. Perhaps a better characterization was that we had usage data in a variety of formats that took effort to use and interpret. For example, although we wanted to leverage usage data about our print collection to inform and prioritize our digital purchases, items in our reference collection didn’t have circulation or browsing information. Instead, we had to rely on different sources of usage data – recollections, impressions, stories, etc.
This wealth of anecdotal information and lack of hard data is quite different from the information provided by the eReference platform. Obviously, all you get from them is hard data without any real sense of how they are using it. This data is wonderful but is much more complicated to interpret and evaluate. I’ll return to this point later on.
Transactional Costs and Infrastructure
I thought the easiest way to talk about transactional cost and infrastrucutre was to simply say acquiring thousands of eReference titles was fundamentally different than acquiring thousands of print reference books. This is especially true in terms of cataloging, processing, and physical infrastructure. Using the language of the article, some of this is the difference between print books and ebooks (no physical processing or shifting!). However, the more fundamental shift was not in print vs. electronic but in our reliance on the vendor’s digital network. We relied on their cataloging services. We spot checked a few records and ran reports to get an overall impression, but these process was not were near as complete as our cataloging procedures for print books. However, our evaluation process before loading and on on-going use have confirmed that these vendor supplied records are totally adequate for our use. I think many small schools fear the “flood” of vendor supplied records because it is viewed as an attack on “traditional cataloging” – I’m here to say that in my experience, these fears are largely unfounded: we’ve been pleased with the quality of these records. Furthermore, it would have been wildly impractical to maintain old practices – in fact I would argue that most DDA programs would require a change in processing and (for better or worst) an increased reliances on outside digital networks.
Multivendor DDA for General Use
Our major DDA program has a been a multivendor program done for general use ebooks. Our goal in this project was to create a “critical mass” of ebooks so that ebooks would become normal for our student community. We thought that a DDA program could quickly provide this “critical mass” of ebooks as well as be an interesting experiment for us. I want to focus on the word “experiment” because that was and is how I view this DDA program. I also think this language resonated across the library – as a way to demonstrate innovation cost saving to administrators and as a way to assuage certain fears.
- We set aside funding. We started with $3,000 – this amount was large enough to provide a sufficient data set without overwhelming our budget or fundamentally changing other programs. I say this “experiment” is on-going because we haven’t fully expended this fund yet. Our plan was to assess the results at the end of this process and evaluate whether we would want to continue this program.
- I had to take care of a lot of administrative work.
- Create a fund structure and lots of other ILS settings
- Determine what vendors and platforms you want to include
- With vendors, determine short term loan models, etc.
- Create “collection profile” that specifies what sort of titles we want included in our DDA pool. To make this profile, I pulled circulation information from our ILS as well as collection information. We based on profile for DDA on our print collection and print circulations – more on this later.
- With CARLI, our state-wide consortium, set up batch loading procedures.
- Then we tested to make sure all the parts fit together. I’ll say now that it was been wonderful to work with our our partners – our main book vendor and CARLI – though I’ll have more to say about how these groups intersect at the end of my time.
- Maintain the program
- Load new records each week.
- When licensing rights change, delete old records from the system.
- Monitor all short term loans and purchases.
Hopefully this overview of the process has implicitly conveyed a point – setting up a DDA program takes a far amount of work at the local level as well as lots of coordination with larger networks.
As a way to pivot from the practical to the philosophical, I want to share a success story from this project. After doing all this work, I was naturally very curious to see what our first DDA loan would be. Our first loan of this program was “Religious Ethics and Migration: Doing Justice to Undocumented Workers.” This was a tremendous success for a number of reasons:
- It seemed to fit our collection scope as a Christian University focused on social justice and
- The author is actually a North Park professor and
- The book was on reserve for a class.
So our first DDA loan was a perfect fit for our collection. These felt like great news (and a relief!) and showed how this new service could extend our collection to meet the needs of our community.
So our first loan was a tremendous success…but it was also a little unsettling and raised questions: “Why didn’t we order an electronic copy of this book (it’s a North Park author and a required text)? Do we want a print copy and an electronic copy? Also – I wasn’t aware that this record was even in our DDA pool. It just shows that the lines between the library, vendor, and our community were blurred. This “blurring” is particularly clear when I process the file of new records, delete the old records, and process the short term loans and purchases. It’s very apparent that we don’t have local control of this collection in the same way we control our print collection.
Implications/Questions for the Future
Overall, this project is 100% doable for small institutions with limited budgets and staff time. I’ve provided a brief overview or our experience so far – feel free to reach out to me directly with additional questions or concerns – I’m happy to share more. As I said, this program is still on-going and I’d like to conclude my time with two questions that I’ll be exploring when this experiment is over.
Data-Driven Decision Making
In both of these projects, we’ve assumed that print collection and circulation information would correspond to eReference and eBook usage. This assumption seems logically but also seems somewhat troubling. By looking at the data and talking to my community, I’d like to see how closely print usage matches electronic usage. While I anticipate general correspondence, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see striking differences – differences that perhaps to the changing patterns of research and learning mentioned in this article and elsewhere.
I’ve talked a bit about how success in our PDA programs relied heavily on partnerships between our institution and the different vendors. In particular, I’ve mentioned what is essentially outsourced cataloging, shared technical infrastructure, and the blurred lines between library collection and vendor service.
However, North Park also exists in a highly networked environment with our consortial network – CARLI – and we haven’t fully studying the impacts of our DDA programs on our consortial network. How do the various DDA programs of member institutions affect the consortium as a whole – especially in terms of a shared catalog and interlibrary loan? Essentially, I’m curious to know how
Overall, for a small liberal arts school, these experiments in DDA have been very positive. We’ve been able to provide a lot of content to our community at relatively little cost, we have learned a lot from this experiment, and we are thinking more critically about the future of collections and collection development.