Monday, January 24, 2011

What We Need To Know

Box Lunches:   $42/each
Room Rental:   $250/day
Audiovisual:     $200/day
Coffee:             $75/gallon
Soda, Teas       $  5/each

Total cost:  more than you'd think

Informed conversation about monographs deselection: priceless

During ALA Midwinter in San Diego, R2 conducted three focus group sessions around "Sustainable Collections Services (SCS), the data-driven deselection tool we are developing. In all, R2/SCS heard from from 40 librarians, representing individual libraries of all sizes, as well as several consortia. A full summary of those discussions will be available shortly, but here are some excerpts, preceded by a glimpse of the Mad Men-style conference room in which two of the sessions were held:

SCS Use Scenarios
We asked attendees (a mix of directors, collections, and technical services people) to enumerate the ways in which a deselection project might first manifest itself in their institution. In our experience to date, this can vary widely, and has implications for project design and management. Grouped thematically, responses included:

  • Space issues: the need to free space for a teaching center, learning commons, more room for students. In some instances, this becomes a "rapid response" scenario, where budget woes have scuttled existing expansion plans.
  •  Joint consortial or regional action: As noted in a previous post, much effort is going into rationalizing shared print collections. Issues of duplication within the group and expression of archival commitments figure prominently here. For titles held in very small numbers, candidates for digitization might be identified. 
  • Continuous deselection versus projects: several libraries noted that integrating deselection as a routine part of operations would be preferable to large-scale standalone projects. In some cases, it may be necessary to meter deselection activities to match the capacity of technical services units to perform necessary record maintenance.
  •  Resistance to deselection: in cases where resistance is high, SCS could be used to demonstrate criteria and outcomes (to the title level) before taking any action. Use as an educational tool for stakeholders, when combined with educational presentations to faculty and staff, was seen as desirable. 
  • Targeted collections or locations: Examples included the need to close a Biology branch, or tackle computer science books. 
  • Project management and workflow design: While some libraries simply wanted access to data and the ability to run "if, then" lists, many recognized that they do not have staff or management capacity to handle additional work of this nature. There was strong interest in project management services, and perhaps consulting on workflow design related to record maintenance and disposition options.

Andy Breeding (l) and Rick Lugg (r) in full showman mode

At the outset, we described our work and results to date, focusing in particular on the Excel dashboard assembled for Grand Valley State University, one of our three partner libraries. In this action photo, apparently excerpted from surveillance video, you can practically feel the innovation!  Here some additional issues arose:
  • Some libraries have immediate deselection needs, and may need to act before the "FDIC Layer" is fully in place.
  •  Libraries want to define their own risk tolerance and criteria, and use SCS data to gauge the effects of various scenarios--which may vary by subject or material type. In the memorable words of one participant: "Build a tool, not a moral compass -- we'll provide that."
  • Concerns were raised about misleading impressions caused by the use of Paul Courant's  $4.26 cost figures published in "On the Cost of Keeping A Book." Most believed that those figures were valid, but since this money cannot be directly recovered by deselection, great care must be taken in managing expectations of Provosts and University administrators.
  •  Similarly, it is vital to have a clear plan for use of any space freed by deselection, and the funding lined up to convert that space.
On behalf of my partner Ruth Fischer, and our new SCS business partner Andy Breeding, a hearty thank you to the librarians who took the time to attend and to share their perspective on these important issues. The learning continues.

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