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)

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