Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Curating a Discovery Environment

[Update: 11/8/11: Book published last week].  Late last year, my good friend David Swords of EBL asked me to contribute the opening chapter to a forthcoming book entitled "Patron-Driven Acquisitions: History and Best Practices." This collection of essays and research studies will be published in July by DeGruyter, and includes contributions from a range of librarians, vendors, and publishers on this hottest of topics.

Samuel Johnson aside ("none but a blockhead ever wrote except for money"), the discipline of writing always leads to learning, and with luck a good concept or two. As I thought about the changes in collection development and management that have taken place in the past decade, it struck me that the work of selectors now emphasizes:
  1. Collecting for the Moment: given the growing availability of book content in electronic form--and the growth of secure digital archives such as Hathi Trust, it is no longer necessary for individual libraries to collect for the ages. Rather, the task is to assure that content can be delivered at the moment it is wanted--from wherever it may be. This links "collections" (or more properly, access) much more closely to discovery.   
  2. Curating a Discovery Environment: this is now the central task of the activity formerly known as collection development. Or, as outlined in the chapter I have called "Collecting for the Moment: Patron-Driven Acquisition as a Disruptive Technology":
The philosophical shift underlying PDA is profound and multi-dimensional. Instead of curating collections of tangible materials, libraries have begun to adopt a new role: curating a discovery environment for both digital and tangible materials. Instead of deliberately trying to identify titles most relevant to curriculum and research interests within a discipline, broad categories of material that may be relevant are enhanced for optimum discoverability, immediate delivery, and partial or temporary use. Instead of purchasing materials just in case a scholar may one day need them, PDA offers “just in time” access to needed titles or portions of titles. Instead of collecting for the ages, libraries are using PDA to enable more targeted collecting for the moment.
This same logic applies to deselection. As we begin to come to terms with digital books and widely-shared print collections, it is critically important to assure that items removed from the library shelves remain discoverable and deliverable through other means. We continue to curate the discovery environment, and to enhance delivery options. Paradoxically, it may actually make sense to enrich the metadata associated with deselected items. This might include not only descriptive metadata, but also "availability" metadata: a URL to a Hathi Trust public domain copy; print holdings in a shared archive; commercial e-book availability; print-on-demand; or links to used book dealers.

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