Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The 'Disapproval Plan' Revisited

In the December 2008 issue of Against the Grain, I introduced a new concept: "The Disapproval Plan: Rules-Based Weeding and Storage Decisions" [pdf]. The article's title was only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. As I tried to demonstrate, selection and deselection represent the same function, performed at different points in a book's lifecycle. At both points, titles are accepted or rejected. Approval plan profiles assure consistent and customizable treatment of newly published titles. Disapproval plan profiles assure consistent and customizable treatment of older titles that have not circulated much. The goal, for most libraries, is to create--and maintain-- an active collection, relevant to the current and future needs of its users.

Approval plans support content acquisition decisions; disapproval plans support storage, weeding, and shared print decisions. Both approval plans and disapproval plans safeguard collection integrity while providing an efficient, reliable alternative to title-by-title scrutiny. Both approval plans and disapproval plans have limitations; both are most appropriately deployed to handle mainstream titles. Subject experts, whether librarians or faculty, remain essential for specialized materials and judgment calls, but rules-based or profile-driven approaches can relieve them of the need to make many obvious and repetitious decisions.

With the benefit of 3 more years of thinking about collection use, deselection, and shared management of print monograph collections, it's become clear that my initial sketch of the disapproval plan concept can be drastically simplified and refined. The original concept focused on commercial alternatives to locally-owned print, such as Google Books, eBook aggregators, print-on-demand, and the used book market. In retrospect, this approach over-emphasized 're-obtainability' and understated the fundamental importance of archival commitments and operating in the context of the 'collective collection.'

Since then, the emergence of the Hathi Trust digital archive (now containing 5.1 million full-text book titles), and shared print archiving initiatives such as those developed by WEST, ASERL, ReCAP, CRL and the CIC have changed the picture, creating new safeguards and expanding deselection options. The work of Constance Malpas, Lizanne Payne, Paul Courant, OhioLINK/OCLC and others has provided new data and insight on print monographs overlap, storage capacity, and costs.

One key fact has not changed, though. The need remains for an automated tool that assembles relevant deselection metadata, and develops rules to operate against that metadata: a deselection decision-support tool. Now is the time to adapt the disapproval plan to new realities, and to incorporate both archival values and service values into the model. The November 2011 release looks like this:

A 'disapproval plan' is a set of library-defined rules that must accomplish four tasks:

Define the deselection universe. What pool of titles is eligible for deselection consideration? Data elements and distinctions might include:
  • Low-use or no-use titles: These can be identified from circulation, direct borrowing, in-house uses (if captured), and ILL data.
  • Titles owned more than x years: Titles should be given a chance to circulate. Most libraries won't consider withdrawing a title owned for less than 5-10 years. Publication date provides a rough approximation, but leaves older imprints that are recently purchased in the pool. Acquisition date or accession date are much more reliable.
  • Titles widely held elsewhere (see below).
  • Titles that will be kept regardless of use: Works by faculty authors, notable alumni, Nobel Prize winners or are cited in authoritative bibliographies may need to be exempted.
  • Specific editions or translations: A conservative approach would suggest that matching be conducted with FRBR work families turned off. This retrieves only those holdings that reflect the edition in hand.
Assure that withdrawal candidates remain secure.  Once the eligible low-use universe has been defined, the archival security of this content must be gauged. An individual library operating within the academic community must help assure that nothing is lost. While it may not be necessary that a title be held locally, we must satisfy ourselves that it has been secured somewhere. Deselection metadata and rules in support of collection integrity might include:
  • Presence of a print copy safely archived in a trusted repository
  • Presence in Hathi Trust digital archive 
  • Presence in Hathi Trust print archive [under development]
  • Explicit retention commitment for 4-6 copies nationally [MARC 583]
  • Number and distribution of other print holdings nationally, globally, or regionally (shared print archiving)
Assure that withdrawal candidates remain accessible.  Once archiving has been assured in both print and digital form, accessibility comes to the fore. In general, archival copies should not leave the facility where they are secured. Instead, 'service copies' are needed. Deselection profiles need to incorporate this factor, which identifies where usable copies of the content exist and in what form. Here the salient data points are:
  • Presence of a service copy in a regional service center
  • Availability of alternate editions; i.e., same content, different vehicle
  • Availability of commercial eBook versions/PDA records
  • Availability of a print on demand edition
  • Re-purchasable on the used book market 

Enable data-driven decisions to store, withdraw, or retain/curate. As approval profiles generate books, notifications, or exclusions when the profile is applied, the disapproval plan can support storage, withdrawal or retention decisions, depending on local needs. Low-use titles that are scarcely held elsewhere might become candidates for preservation or digitization, enabling any library to contribute to the collective collection.

    As with selection, deselection work can be done by the library without outside assistance. Reports generated from the ILS or open-source collection evaluation tools such as the GIST Gifts & Deselection Manager can be employed. But we suggest there is also room for a vendor-assisted model for deselection and disapproval plans, which is why we founded Sustainable Collection Services (SCS). SCS offers a full-service model for deselection, much like approval vendors do for selection. SCS advises on data extracts; normalizes and validates library-supplied bibliographic, circulation, item, and holdings data; and compares low-use titles to WorldCat, Hathi Trust, and other external sources. 

    We now offer in a mediated form the ability to interact with preliminary results and model different combinations of factors: use, time in collection, consortial partner print holdings, existence of Hathi Trust digital version, number of WorldCat holdings. FRBR on, FRBR off. Our tools support full-library analysis or focus on specific subjects or locations. Early in 2012, SCS plans to release a Web version of our service that will enable unmediated interaction with deselection metadata. The disapproval plan may yet live and thrive!

    A final note: 'disapproval' has negative connotations, but selectivity always implies a mix of acceptance and rejection. Approval profiles always drive as much rejection as acceptance. For English-language books, a large approval plan might supply 20,000 new titles out of 60,000 candidates. The remaining 40,000 new books have in effect been 'disapproved.'

    Lack of use over time constitutes disapproval of (or at least indifference toward) that title by patrons. They have chosen other books (or more likely, other [electronic] resources) to use instead. Disapproval in the form of withdrawal or removal to storage by the library simply reflects the preferences of users, and the security and accessibility of the content elsewhere.

    Can we 'neutralize' this term by basing disapproval strictly on data? Probably not. Too bad, because it's a very useful term. These are not bad books. Deselection does not connote disapproval of their content. They are simply not relevant or no longer relevant to a specific user community. Selectors face the same decision when first choosing which titles will enter the collection--and with far less data at their disposal. At deselection, there is a track record.

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