Acquisitions and Collections Development

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Class, this week we discuss aspects of collection development and acquisitions, which is a complex problem for electronic resources. To rehash, in the print-only days, acquiring resources was a more-than-it-is-now linear process. Librarians became aware of an item, sought reviews of the item, possibly collected the item, described it, and then shelved it. And maybe, depending on the type of the library, weeded it from the collection at some point in the years to come during their regular course of collection assessment.

There are additional vectors to be aware of with electronic resources. First, libraries may or may not necessarily own digital works, but different subscription services require different kinds of contracts, as we have learned. Second, electronic resources (ebooks, journal articles, databases, etc.) require different handling and disseminating processes due to technological and licensing barriers. Martin et al. (2009) truly nail the issue in their article where they write that:

As much as we would like to think our primary concerns about collecting are based on content, not format, e-resources have certainly challenged many long-established notions of how we buy, collect, preserve, and provide access to information (p. 217).

Although a world where the format dictates so much makes an intriguing world, it can be problematic and worrisome. We think that content should be king, but we must ask, how does format either prevent or facilitate access? If you catch the implicit gotcha there, you can see that we're building a thread between acquisitions, collections development, and usability, which we'll learn more about latter in the semester.

One thing about this week: in a collection development course, you would unquestionably focus on content and on the work that is involved creating a collection development policy (which I hope you do or spearhead if your library does not have one). I'll briefly discuss this soon. Those things are relevant to the acquisition and collection of e-resources. However, in a major way, one of the things you should take away from this week's reading is how much the management of electronic resources have impacted librarian work flows and how that has shaped, or reshaped, library organizational hierarchy. I'll provide an organizational chart for you to discuss, and we'll use it to discuss how electronic resources have shaped the organizational structure of the library.

The Lamothe (2015) article is good in a different way. Lamothe finds that if electronic e-reference sources are collected and perpetually updated, then they get continually used. If it's a static e-resource (compare, e.g., to a resource pushed out in PDF, although it could be in HTML), then usage declines. I hope additional studies pursue this line of questioning because it raises questions about the expectations that our patrons have about our content; perhaps something about how fresh they expect that content should be, where such an expectation may have existed in different shape in prior years. It also suggests that a resource like Wikipedia has an advantage, since much of Wikipedia is regularly updated, or the site in general appears broadly so since many parts of it are continually updated.

The Open Educational Resources (OER) issue is a hot topic these days. Textbook prices, as the article by England et al. (2017) notes, have skyrocketed in recent decades. Some textbooks cost hundreds of dollars, and the problem impacts both school and academic libraries. UK Libraries has a helpful page about Open Educational Resources. I'll provide a link here in the transcript and in the discussion prompt, and that page links to OER content for both types of libraries, including Explore this information, and discuss whether libraries ought to collect and acquire these resources or (e.g., by adding records to them in their online public access catalogs or discovery systems), or should they not be involved at all? This seems like a duh kind of question, but libraries, public or academic, have not traditionally collected textbooks. Does this change the game for them as educational institutions?

A quick note about the organizational charts. The chart that I created was based on my readings of librarian departmental reports written during the late 1950s and early 1960s by librarians at UK. These reports are held at the University of Kentucky's Special Collections Research Center, which is fortunately in the building next to mine on campus. Organizational charts have been around since the 1800s, but I am not sure when libraries started to create and use them, and I didn't see one in my research on the history of UK Libraries for this time period. Thus, I inferred the organizational structure based on the detailed reports written by the various department heads in the library at the time. When you compare my chart based on the past to the current one provided by UK Libraries, I think you will be intrigued by how much more complicated the current chart is today.

This complexity is very interesting. The growth in electronic resources, associated technologies, and markets do not explain all of it: knowledge has become more specialized, and library organizational structure will reflect that; the student population has grown considerably since then, in size and heterogeneity, and library structure will reflect that; and the theory and praxis of library management has evolved throughout the decades, and library structure will reflect that. Other issues are at play, and it is certainly true that they are all interconnected, but I do think that technology and e-resources accounts for a large portion of what we see here, and I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say about this.

Finally, I'd be guilty of a serious wrongdoing if I did not discuss the importance of having a collection development policy (CDP) and using that policy to guide the collection, acquisition, and assessment of electronic resources. I don't mean to overlap any discussions you may have had about this if you've had a collection management course, I only want to emphasize the importance of a CDP for e-resources. Unfortunately, not all libraries, even at major institutions, create or use a CDP, and if you end up working at one, then I'd highly encourage you to convince your colleagues of its importance. A CDP should define a collection, and then include most if not all the following topics:

  • mission, vision, and values statement
  • purpose of CDP statement (scope may be included here)
  • selection criteria: this could be general but it could also include subsections that focus on specific populations, genres, resource types, and more
  • assessment and maintenance criteria
  • challenged materials criteria (esp important at public, K-12 libraries)
  • weeding and/or replacement criteria

Included in this transcript are links to two CDP policies, one from the University of Maryland and one from the Lexington Public Library. The Maryland CDP is not their main one but is a sub-CDP that focuses on electronic resources. The LPL policy is the main one for them, and although it does not include a long discussion of electronic resources, they are mentioned in the policy. Neither approach is wrong but are catered to the specific libraries and their purposes, communities, and vision statements. This week, I would like you to search on the web for more and to read through ones you find for how they discuss electronic resources.



England, L., Foge, M., Harding, J., & Miller, S. (2017). ERM Ideas & Innovations. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 29(2), 110–116.

Lamothe, A. R. (2015). Comparing usage between dynamic and static e-reference collections. Collection Building, 34(3), 78–88.

Martin, H., Robles-Smith, K., Garrison, J., & Way, D. (2009). Methods and Strategies for Creating a Culture of Collections Assessment at Comprehensive Universities. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 21(3–4), 213–236.