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Puzzled by Patron-Driven Acquisitions

Posted by Editor on November 13, 2010

By Barbara Fister November 11, 2010 9:45 pm EST on Inside Higher Education

The buzz at the recent Charleston Conference (and practically every other recent conference at which academic librarians have gathered) is a combination of new formats and a new collection development philosophy, shifting from print collections with titles chosen by librarians and faculty to making thousands of e-books available and letting the purchasing choices be made by “patrons”–an old-fashioned term for library users of all stripes, a large contingent of which are undergraduates writing “research papers” that are mostly papers synthesizing other people’s research.

(Though one might think the “research paper” that has little to do with genuine research should have disappeared sometime after 1982, when Richard Larson famously skewered it as a “non-form of writing” that gives authentic research a bad name, but in fact this kind of expository writing from sources is more prevalent than ever. But I digress.)

This new way of building collections emphasizes speed and choice, things that are popular these days. No need to wait for interlibrary loan; just click on the title in a large shopping mall of e-books and you can have what you want right away. One model that’s popular is to enter the e-book options into the library’s catalog. Browsing for a short period of time is free; browsing for a longer period is treated as a rental and the library pays a fee; and if a book is “rented” four times, the library automatically purchases the book.

As some have pointed out, librarians don’t have a terribly good record of acquiring books that are actually used. Why not let patrons take a whack at it? At our small undergraduate library, a disturbingly high percentage of books have never left the shelf, and decades later are still there, dated and in most cases useless except as historical artifacts. (Yes, we’re working on weeding; it’s painfully obvious how many mistakes were made.) And faculty selection isn’t necessarily better. Most libraries have shelves full of books on a topic that was Professor Poindexter’s passion, but which hasn’t been taught since …read entire post here.


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