Posted by: mhdiaz | October 25, 2011

Why are Our Library Collections Managing Us?

Jane Burke returns to InfoViews for a new series — Crushed by the Tsunami: Are Libraries at Sea?  The focus of this series is resource and data management challenges and their implications for demonstrating library impact and value.  In her third post, Jane discusses issues with selection and acquisitions. 

– Mike

Last week, I said that lack of interoperability to and from the ILS is one major challenge impacting staff productivity.  Another one is the current “un-integrated” state of selection and acquisitions processes.

In the olden days of print collections, selection was done on a title-by-title basis, with decisions usually recorded on cards.  When it was deemed time to order a title, it was entered into the ILS as a “brief” record, and a purchase order was generated to the supplier chosen at point-of-card.  Once received, the physical item was routed to cataloging, where a full bibliographic record was imported from OCLC.  This workflow preceded the ILS, but the ILS was then designed to support this workflow.  It was also a monographic workflow, since selection of print journal titles typically went through the selected jobber.

Then along came approval plans, journal full text databases and ebooks.  Selection of resources, especially e-resources, became more package-based.  Negotiating a license agreement with the publisher or aggregator became a necessary, added step.  The selection librarian spent more and more time on the suppliers’ sites, establishing lists and fund information there.

The unprecedented pace of change in library collections has been hard on library staff.  Subject specialists are forced to “shop” multiple supplier sites, and then to negotiate every price.  (At a recent focus group, a librarian told us that she felt that this was an unsolvable situation, due to the myriad of agreements, buying clubs and discounts.  The data entered on the supplier site must be re-entered into the ILS , since this is where the fund accounting for the library lives.)  And then the invoice comes, the actual pricing gets re-entered into the ILS.  Or maybe not – maybe it’s entered into the ERM system, also not integrated.  Or maybe it’s entered into both.

PDA (patron-driven acquisition) has further increased the pain associated with collection management.  While users are able to automatically “acquire” items, there are numerous duplicative processes behind the scenes.  Bibliographic records from the e-book supplier need to be loaded – and often modified – to be available to users.  The financial controls exist only in the supplier systems, and not in the ILS.  More duplicative data entry takes place later to reconcile the sources.

Because the library system is made for print collections, it is getting harder and harder to work with it.  Multiple manual data entry steps are necessary to have it be the “system of record” for acquisitions.  In many cases, libraries no longer spend the time, and are thus forced to be looking at and reporting from multiple systems.

At a time when the library must become more metrics-based, these flaws in our systems are in our way.  It’s no wonder that librarians are increasingly “feeling the pain” as their collection continues to evolve.

In Jane’s next post, she will discuss challenges related to cataloging processes and workflows.


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