Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Front-End Alignment

To remain vital, sustainable systems require a dynamic balance of inflows and outflows. For print collections, one way to achieve this is to determine the library's 'carrying capacity' for shelving and to manage both acquisitions and withdrawals to that footprint. This assures that the collection does not grow beyond what the environment can support, and that space allocated to print contains titles most likely to be used. This blog often focuses on deselection and managed drawdown of existing print collections. But it is equally important to attend to inputs. Achieving a sustainable collection may also require managing down the acquisition of print.

Patron-Driven Acquisitions (PDA) shows great promise as a technique for controlling the front end of the print lifecycle. In an environmental context, PDA is the 'Reduce' in Reduce-Re-Use-Recycle.' In automotive terms, PDA can be seen as a front-end alignment, the process which assures that a car steers and handles properly. In concert with a program of active deselection, PDA can assure that a print collection strategy stays on course.

There are print PDA programs in place at some universities (Vermont, Cornell, UC-Riverside), and this may serve as a bridge strategy, especially since only 30% of newly-published books are available simultaneously in print and electronic form. (In an interesting development here, Cornell and Coutts have collaborated to enable automated query of Coutts inventory from the Library's Voyager system.) But the full potential for space savings and sustainable collection management clearly lies in patron-driven eBooks. Their immediate availability and new business models such as short-term loans make the digital version of PDA especially attractive.

The ALCTS Acquisitions Section Technology Committee explored PDA in detail at a day-long preconference last week in New Orleans. As moderator of the session, I enjoyed a ringside seat as the 64 attendees and 11 presenters described new approaches to aligning selection of materials with user demand -- a key element in achieving print collection sustainability.

In a show-of-hands survey, attendees predicted that 30%-50% (and in a couple of cases 70%) of their monographs budgets will be dedicated to PDA within the next five years. The early evidence suggests that this approach will serve users better, will slow the rate of growth of physical collections, and will ultimately reduce the need for deselection. In a particularly compelling example, Doug Way of Grand Valley State University highlighted the savings after one year of a PDA program with EBL:
  • GVSU experienced 10,514 uses against the 50,000 PDA records loaded
  • 5,251 of these uses were short-term loans. Only 343 were used enough to trigger purchase.
  • Had all 10,514 been purchased, GVSU would have spent $550,464. Instead, the few purchases and many short-term loans cost just under $70,000. GVSU saved $481,625.
  • Space-wise, the Library satisfied user demand while putting 10,000 fewer books on its shelves. 

As always, your results may vary, but there is clearly great potential here. There are also many issues, ranging from objections to giving users too much power to concerns about archiving, metadata management, workflow design, and coordination with print approval plans. As I have noted before, PDA represents a profound change in the role of collection developers, which increasingly tends toward 'curating a discovery environment.' The many facets and many players involved in PDA are captured nicely in the presentations from this session, which will soon be available on ALA Connect.Have a look: there is a great deal of innovation and experience represented there.

Pictured below: Our Illustrious Panel of Supreme Magnitude, along with the Technology Committee members who organized this session. Thanks to everyone who contributed and attended for an excellent day.
SEATED: Doug Way (GVSU); Michael Levine-Clark (Univ of Denver); Barbara Kawecki (YBP); Robin Champieux (EBL). STANDING: Janet Hulm (Ohio Univ); Sadie Williams (YBP); Clare Appavoo (Coutts); Annette Day (NCSU); Rick Lugg (R2/SCS); Matt Barnes (ebrary); Lai-Ying Hsiung (UC/Santa Cruz); Jesse Koennecke (Cornell); Suzanne Ward (Purdue); Boaz Nadav-Manes (Cornell). Not Pictured: Mandy Havert (Notre Dame)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Philistines and Dinosaurs

Last week, I traveled to St. Louis to deliver a presentation on "Rethinking Library Resources: Sustainable Print Collections in a Digital Age." From a speaker's vantage point, it was an excellent experience, equal parts CNN and Fox News. How, you may well ask, is that possible?

CNN first. The event's sponsor was Missouri Library Network Corporation, better known as MLNC, led by the energetic Tracy Byerly. Among other services, MLNC provides training sessions for its members in Missouri, Illinois, and Kansas. To enable broad and low-cost participation, MLNC's Associate Director Keith Gaertner has put together a multi-faceted infrastructure for distributing presentations: a mix of live audience, teleconference, and webcasting. My in-person session was broadcast to five remote sites, with reciprocal audio/video, and over the web via WebEx. This enabled dozens more people to listen and watch, comment and question, all without leaving their own libraries.

The MLNC Situation Room
For a presenter, the experience is slightly disorienting. It's as if you've suddenly become Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room, surrounded by multiple video displays, each showing a panel of librarian-avatars--like a live version of Second Life or something. All that's missing is the John King-style touchscreen. In the photo at left, Tracy checks in with four of the remote sites just prior to the presentation. In short, the full CNN.

The Fox News sensation dawned later, after 90 minutes of making the case for data-driven deselection. I had described the low and declining circulation of print books. I had outlined the lifecycle costs of managing monographs on the shelf and in storage. I had talked about other potential uses of library space. I had presented options for carefully managing down redundant print collections in the context of secure digital versions (Hathi Trust), accessible digital versions (eBooks), emerging shared print archives, and multiple copies available through ILL. Ultimately, I suggested that there exists--right now--ample opportunity to begin considered and coordinated drawdown of print collections, and to contribute to the collective collection, assuring that no content disappears.

At the conclusion of Q&A, a distinguished gentleman in the back row commented how much he appreciated the neutral tone of the presentation. In his experience, discussions around deselection too often posit the conservators as "dinosaurs" who can't recognize the decline of print and the activists as "philistines" who are oblivious to the value of what they are dismantling. "Rethinking Library Resources" looks at data, at middle ground, and at tools for making progress. In effect, he validated our argument as "fair and balanced", resulting in my unlikely Fox News moment of zen, to mix a couple of cable metaphors.

Strangely enough, media and politics can play major roles in the relatively mundane activity of weeding library collections. The prospect of removing books from library shelves can trigger primal reactions, as the University of Sydney recently discovered. This is exactly why the "data-driven" aspect of deselection espoused by SCS is so important. It is critical that withdrawal candidates be identified in context and that withdrawal or preservation decisions be informed by archival commitments and availability of other copies. There are millions of low-use books that are held by hundreds of libraries; many of them are also available digitally or on-demand. This leaves plenty of scope for immediate action without endangering the integrity of the scholarly and cultural record.

Rescued from caricature, the views of both the dinosaurs and the philistines merit attention. There are real issues to be debated here.

Point: Dinosaurs: Print still has enormous value. Not everything is available digitally -- or available in satisfactory form or resolution. Sufficient copies of print must be retained to assure that no content is ever lost, and to rectify problems found in digital versions. Print sometimes includes content or context lacking in the digital version. To some degree, the original artifacts matter. Full books are still mostly read in print form. Libraries typically own print, which assures access over time. There is always the risk of discarding something valuable. Research libraries are as much about future use as present use.

Point: Philistines: On the other hand, print use actually is declining. In many libraries, low-use books limit space available for users. It costs serious money to retain monographs on open shelves ($4.26/year per volume) and noticeable money to store them in high-density facilities ($.86/year per volume). Electronic access is in most cases preferable, especially for remote users and for multiple simultaneous users, not to mention procrastinators. A great deal of low-use content is readily re-obtainable in the unlikely event that it is needed. Retention of no-use print locks up resources that could be used for other purposes--this is on some level a misuse of scarce resources.

To husband our collective resources effectively, we need to respect both of these viewpoints. Although it can be great fun, we need to avoid polarizing the discussion, and to proceed cautiously and rationally, balancing data and experience. But we do need to proceed. As a profession, we have a problem to solve. And we do need to learn how to make a case that honors both past and future--while allowing us to survive and serve our users in the present.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Hathi Effect

The HathiTrust database is of fundamental and growing importance to any deselection project. To some degree, this is true for any library, though, as always, membership has its privileges. As of today, 4,788,131 book titles reside in Hathi in secure, TRAC-certified digital form. The academic community as a whole can rest assured that these titles will not disappear from the cultural record. If Hathi offered nothing more than preservation and security of this sort, its value would still be elephantine.

 But in fact, the Trust provides a great deal more. As described in Heather Christenson's excellent article [PDF] in the April 2011 issue of Library Resources & Technical Services, the repository "is providing full-text search across more than 2.8 billion pages." In itself, this is a major enhancement to discoverability, but Hathi also provides direct access to full-text content. This occurs to different extents for different classes of users and depends on the copyright status of each title. And while those who contribute most naturally benefit the most, virtually any library can obtain some degree of access to this 'research library at Web scale.'

I've taken the liberty of re-arranging one paragraph from the Christenson article, and adding a comment or two, to highlight the potential for using Hathi as one element in a surrogate collection strategy.

Public Domain Titles: View Online
  • All public domain titles can be viewed on the web in a page-turner application."
Public Domain Titles: Downloads
  • "Google-digitized public domain volumes are available in a full PDF download to authenticated users from partner institutions"
  • "public domain volumes digitized via Internet Archive and locally by partners are available in full PDF to all."
Public Domain Titles: Printed Versions
  •  "Printed versions of public domain books from some partners are now offered via a link within the HathiTrust Interface to print-on-demand service.
In-Copyright Titles: 
  • "Volumes that are in copyright are discoverable via large-scale search, and users may view a list of pages on which their search term appears."
  • Users can also 'find in a library' via an embedded link to WorldCat. [added comment].
The ready availability of digital versions of these titles greatly reduces any risk associated with removing physical copies from library shelves, especially when those physical copies have never circulated. Among the first five libraries with which SCS has worked, Hathi public domain matches range from 3%-5% - typically not enough to generate significant space savings, but an uncontroversial place to start.

This first step is especially attractive given the convenience of adding Hathi URLs to existing MARC records. Yesterday's announcement that the California Digital Library has opened its HathiTrust SFX Target to the broader SFX community adds yet another convenient access path.