A post-OPACalyptic world?

July 5th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

As I’ve been preparing for a sojourn abroad (first vacation in four years!), I’ve been frantically trying to wrap up the loose ends of various projects. One of those is writing a review a Cooperative Cataloging: Shared Effort for the Benefit of All by Rebecca L. Mugridge (ed.). The final section of the collection contains an essay by Roxanne Sellberg of Northwestern University entitled “Cooperative Cataloging in a Post-OPAC World” where she posits a future when “most libraries do not maintain separate, highly redundant databases of metadata records designed to support both backroom processes and library-specific online public access catalogs.”

Sellberg’s article focuses on the role of cooperative cataloging and so she goes on to outline the various ways in which cooperative cataloging can still take place, but what I found intriguing was how a lack of an OPAC would affect the character of our institutions. Even as a cataloger, I find the idea… enticing.

    • Imagine if we spent less time editing records and more time editing the presentation of those records (via APIs that bring in data from various centralized data sources).
    • Imagine if we built our own discovery layers that reflected the subject strengths of our home institutions, tweaked to the informational needs of our unique user communities.
    • Imagine if we let go of collection management (because most material would be available electronically) and focused on collection service.

And there is the quintessential change that a post-OPAC world would bring: libraries would be (re)defined in terms of their services rather than their collections. What type of instruction do we provide for undergraduates? What type of technological and pedagogical tools do we offer faculty? Where are our access points for reference/research and how robust are they in virtual environments? What spaces for innovation, creation, discovery, play, collaboration, and independent study do we offer? The post-OPAC library is a library that focuses even more attention on the needs of the user: information needs and otherwise.

In the twentieth century, we best served the information needs of our users through focused collection development and information organization. Librarians were, for the most part, the only professionals qualified and in a position to make the necessary information resources available to campus populations. In the twentieth-first century, the means of information distribution and organization are in the [capable?] hands of institutions with more resources and leverage than most universities can muster. We can best serve the information needs of our users through guidance, instruction, and by developing better filters (read: discovery layers) to help them manage today’s chaotic information landscape.

The libraries that shift their focus to collection service will, in my opinion, be the ones that succeed and that maintain a strong influence on campus intellectual life. Those that continue to put most of their efforts into collection development will soon enough find themselves being replaced with more efficient and more robust vendors who provide the same service for less. We can make our own future rather than be determined by it. We can be the rock in the stream.

Special thanks to @lagina for helping me find a title for this post.

Photo credit: -JosephB- on flickr (used under Creative Commons license by-nc-nd 2.0)

Propositions about the future of academic collections (Part 3)

September 23rd, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Stacks in black and white

I’ve been thinking about library collections and how they’ve changed over the past decade (again, culminating MLIS coursework is full-throttle until December). This week, I’m sharing six propositions for the future of academic library collections (here is Part 1 and Part 2). Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments!



Proposition 5: Collection managers should relinquish control in certain areas of collection development in order to focus on more complex collection needs.

Over the last decade, academic libraries have become more comfortable outsourcing certain activities to vendors or part-time, paraprofessional employees. Many technical services functions, especially original cataloging, have been handed over to organizations like OCLC and vendors like Yankee Book Peddler (Bracke, Hérubel, and Ward, 2010). The handling of gifts, an incredible use of staff time and resources, is often given over to Friends of the Libraries groups (Chadwell, 2010) when those collections are not unique or essential. There is a general consensus in the literature that outsourcing these activities provides collection development librarians with more time for assessment, developing unique aspects of a collection, and participating in consortia operations.

The patron-driven acquisitions model, a change in focus for collection managers and the theme of this year’s Charleston Conference, offers to radically change the way materials are selected. Hodges, Preston, and Hamilton (2010) discuss the success of an ILL purchase-on-demand program at the Ohio State University Libraries and illustrate how patron-initiated purchases can introduce useful and well-circulated materials into the collection. Currently, there are too many parameters that need to be determined before moving forward with a permanent program, but academic libraries across the country are working to integrate these models. As Bracke, Hérubel, and Ward (2010) point out, patron-driven acquisitions models allow librarians to spend less time managing collections and more time managing knowledge, a trend already entrenched in the “access” paradigm of collection management.



Proposition 6: Collection development librarians will require new models of assessment.

The scholarly landscape has already shifted from a dependence on print materials to dependence on digital materials. Users have access to more information than ever before in human history and, correspondingly, the complexity of their needs has increased. While librarians should continue to assess collections using traditional methods (e.g. circulation stats, gate counts, web-clicks), they must also find new and innovative ways to gather data about how users interact with information via the library. Horava (2010) argues that we should assess users in terms of their research activities (new vs. mature researcher) and access points (local vs. distance learners) instead of their demographics. The ability of current technology to manage extremely large and complex sets of data provides a unique opportunity to see our collections in a new light.

Librarians should also broaden their levels of assessment to move beyond one-dimensional statistics. Borin and Li (2008) offer a flexible, faceted assessment model for examining collections in terms of general characteristics, subject-matter, users, usage, and various contexts. As collection librarians shift their focus from collection management to knowledge management, these new assessment methods will provide more insightful analysis of the library’s ability to provide for its users.



Summing it all up

The current and future state of collection development can be summarized as a paradigm shift: from ownership to access, individual use to social use, content management to knowledge management. The growth of the internet and the explosion of digital materials have radically changed how libraries collect and manage resources in ways that librarians could not have predicted. Forecasting the next step will prove to be no less difficult.

Perhaps this has always been the case, as some of the literature seems to suggest. Ranganathan famously stated in his five laws of librarianship that the library is a growing organism. Like any organism, it adapts to its environment or it risks extinction. The propositions outlined above do not provide a definitive prediction of what the future holds for collection management, but it is my hope that they provide useful food for thought. In exercising our faculties to consider these possibilities, librarians and libraries can remain agile, flexible, and ready to change when the need arises.




Borin, J. & Li, H. (2008). Indicators for collection evaluation: A new dimensional framework. Collection Building, 27(4), 136-143.

Bracke, M., Hérubel, J.V.M., & Ward, S.M. (2010). Some thoughts on opportunities for collection development librarians. Collection Management, 35(3), 255-259.

Chadwell, F.A. (2010). What’s next for collection management and managers? Collection Management, 35(2), 59-68.

Hodges, D., Preston, C., & Hamilton, M.J. (2010). Patron-initiated collection development: Progress of a paradigm shift. Collection Management, 35(3/4), 208-21.

Horava, T. (2010). Challenges and possibilities for collection management in a digital age. Library Resources & Technical Services, 54(3), 142-52.

photo credit: from vladdythephotogeek on flickr (used under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Propositions about the future of academic collections (Part 2)

September 21st, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

stacks at young library

I’ve been thinking about library collections and how they’ve changed over the past decade (again, culminating MLIS coursework is full-throttle until December). This week, I’m sharing six propositions for the future of academic library collections (here was Part 1). Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments!



Proposition 3: Virtual services and distance learning models will become even more integrated into higher education.

The rise of distance learning and online courses has helped to push the focus of collection development from print materials to digital materials and from ownership to access. Sennyey, Ross, and Mills (2009) and Mullins, Allen, and Hufford (2007) predict an even greater increase in the use of virtual services and virtual coursework in universities. While virtual reference, digital document delivery, off-campus access of electronic resources are fairly commonplace in academia, as universities increase the number of courses offered online, these services will become even more necessary. Borin and Li (2008) also highlight the fact that most users have greater technological competencies than in the past. We should expect that most of them will try to access resources from outside the library via digital networks, even when on-campus. Collection development librarians should consider these realities when making decisions regarding format and access models of resources.



Proposition 4: Libraries should push for increased ownership of digital materials and focus more of their efforts on local digital collections.

Universities have always been catalysts for original ideas and research. In the past, medieval and renaissance libraries were the custodians of that knowledge, managing incredibly complex and unique collections of original works, and eventually founding their own publishing houses to disseminate that material. Since the rise of commercial publishers, however, much of this responsibility to publish and disseminate material has moved into the hands of outside entities which were more adept at covering overhead costs and managing production. With the rise of the digital era and the falling cost of computer hardware, many libraries are reconsidering their role as publishers and producers of knowledge.

Some writers are calling for libraries to take greater responsibility in digitizing print resources and archiving born-digital materials (Adams, 2009; Atkinson, 2006; Hans, 2008). Alire (2010) and Pochoda (2008) emphasize the importance of building institutional repositories (IR) and the need for librarians to work with university administrators to encourage faculty participation. Creating a successful IR system will require changing the culture of academia by, among other things, raising awareness about the ongoing serials crisis in light of shrinking budgets, redefining the tenure process, highlighting the prestige of local archives, and improving access to institutional knowledge. Collection development librarians will need to use their expertise and experience working with complex collections in order to address the inevitable questions that will arise, such as: How will the collection be organized? What formats will be accepted? What types of materials will be included? Who will have access? and so forth.

More to come…




Adams, R.A. (2009). Archiving digital materials: An overview of the issues. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 19(4), 325-335.

Alire, C.A & Evans, G.E. (2010). Academic librarianship. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers

Atkinson, R. (2006). Six key challenges for the future of collection development. Library Resources & Technical Services 50(4), 244-251.

Borin, J. & Li, H. (2008). Indicators for collection evaluation: A new dimensional framework. Collection Building, 27(4), 136-143.

Hans, T. (2008). Mass digitization: implication for preserving the scholarly record. Library Resources & Technical Services, 52(1), 18-26.

Mullins, J.L., Allen, F.R., & Hufford, J.R. (2007). Ten top assumptions for the future of academic libraries and librarians. College & Research Libraries, 68(4), 240-246.

Pochoda, P. (2008). Scholarly publication at the digital tipping point. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 11(2). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0011.202

Sennyey, P., Ross, L., & Mills, C. (2009). Exploring the future of academic libraries: A definitional approach. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 252-259.

photo credit: from Evan G on flickr (used under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Propositions about the future of academic collections (Part 1)

September 19th, 2011 § 4 comments § permalink

photo credit: mebrett

I’ve been thinking about library collections and how they’ve changed over the past decade (again, culminating MLIS coursework is full-throttle until December). This week, I thought I would share six propositions for the future of academic library collections. Think of them as mini-Taiga statements that highlight the current state of collection development practices and philosophies but also present crucial factors that may determine the future of collections. Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments!



Proposition 1: In the battle between ownership and access, “access” has become the predominating paradigm.

Miller’s (2000) analysis of the period between 1980 and 2000 shows that the two paradigms that predominated collection management in the late 20th century were “ownership” and “access.” Libraries struggled to find a balance between the storage and preservation of information resources and the ability to provide constant and immediate access to them. This struggle was highlighted by the emergence of electronic resources, increased serials costs, the splintering of the academic publishing landscape, and the ubiquity of personal computers. Whereas libraries once fell decidedly upon the “ownership” side of the equation, the 21st century academic library is driven primarily by the “access” model of collections development, especially when it relates to serials acquisitions. The shift has not been entirely to one side, nor is it likely to ever shift completely to an all access model. However, the preference for ownership still predominates librarian education (Tucker and Torrence, 2004) and there is even some evidence that academic libraries may move back toward increased ownership with regards to digital materials.

Martell (2009) goes a step further to argue that the next paradigm in collection development will be what he calls “sAccess”: a social access model. Martell looks at the predominance of social networks and virtual communities and predicts that the next paradigm shift will focus on finding ways to provide resources to users within these spaces. Current licensing agreement models and format incompatibilities will make this difficult, but if academic libraries continue to push for increased ownership of digital materials, it is likely that we will see librarians trying to find ways to push this material into these spaces.



Proposition 2: Co-operation and collaboration will be even more necessary to maintain collections at a level of access that patrons will accept.

Academic libraries have been working together to share the responsibilities of collection development since the creation of the Farmington Plan at end of World War II (Evans and Saponaro, 2005). Current programs like OHIOLink and Link+ in California are testaments to successful resource sharing. It is generally acknowledged within the literature that libraries will not survive in isolation: resource sharing is a necessary activity. This is especially true for electronic resources. Consortia like SCELC, the Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium, established in 1986, bring libraries together to leverage purchasing power and maximize limited financial resources (Atkinson, 2006; Horava, 2010; Kinner and Crosetto, 2009).

While the success of consortia is indispensable, it will not be enough. Collaboration will be necessary in other areas as well. One such area is advocacy. According to authors like McGuigan and Russell (2008) and Atkinson (2006), libraries need to work together “against” publishers, not maliciously, but in order to create a more realistic purchasing market and to make resources more accessible. If librarians do not advocate for standardization of digital material, more affordable pricing models, and increased ownership of e-resources, commercial enterprises like Google or Microsoft will ultimately step in and do the job for them; and librarians risk being excluded from the negotiating table. This is especially true with regards to academic publishers. For the most part, libraries are the only market for scholarly presses. Librarians need to work together above and beyond institutional boundaries rather than functioning as isolated buyers. It will require renewed entrepreneurship and stronger leadership to make this happen.

More to come…




Atkinson, R. (2006). Six key challenges for the future of collection development. Library Resources & Technical Services 50(4), 244-251.

Evans, G.E. & Saponaro, M.Z. (2005). Developing Library and Information Center Collections. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Horava, T. (2010). Challenges and possibilities for collection management in a digital age. Library Resources & Technical Services, 54(3), 142-52.

Kinner, L. & Crosetto, A. (2009). Balancing act for the future: how the academic library engages in collection development at the local and consortial levels. Journal of Library Administration, 49(4), 419-437.

Martell, C. (2009). sAccess: The social dimension of a new paradigm for academic librarianship. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 205-206.

McGuigan, G.S. & Russell, R.D. (2008). The business of academic publishing: A strategic analysis of the academic journal publishing industry and its impact on the future of scholarly publishing. Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship, 9(3).

Miller, R.H. (2000). Electronic resources and academic libraries, 1980-2000: A historical perspective. Library Trends, 48(4), 645-70.

Tucker, J.C. & Torrence, M. (2004). Collection development for new librarians: advice from the trenches. Library Collections, Acquisitions, and Technical Services, 28(4), 397-409.

photo credit: mebrett on flickr

It’s for my research, I swear!

April 18th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink

This probably isn’t new to any librarian who’s been in collection development for some time, but it was new (and strange) to me. Last week, a discussion about student book requests erupted on the LES listserv (the Literatures in English section of ACRL). An academic librarian from a university in Illinois received a book purchase request from someone claiming to be a student. The email read as follows:

Dear [Librarian],

I am wondering: is there a way for students to request the acquisition of new books, or is this left entirely to the library staff (or faculty)? Specifically, I would like to know whether the library plans to order _Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama: Comic Elders on the Italian and Shakespearean Stage_, by Anthony Ellis (Ashgate, ISBN 978-0-7546-6578-6).  I am interested in both Shakespeare/early drama and the study of old age. This book also appears to have a gender-studies focus, which could interest some people here as well. Thank you in advance for your time.



The requested book would not be an unusual purchase for an academic library collection. What is suspicious, to me, is the language of the email. The author uses the word “acquisitions” and differentiates between library staff and faculty, indicating that they are more familiar with academic libraries than the average student (undergrad or graduate). The student also mentions the publisher, something that, in my experience, rarely happens unless the user submits a book request through a web form. It’s all a bit too formulaic.

Well, as soon as this email went out over the LES listserv, other librarians immediately responded (on the weekend no less!) indicating that they had received an identical email (or a subtle variation) from someone claiming to be a student but using a non-university email address. Most decided not to purchase the item for that reason alone. Some librarians followed up with the student of the same name at their university. No surprise: the student didn’t know anything about the request.

Apparently, someone is grabbing a student’s name from a university directory, creating a bogus email address, and emailing librarians. But to what end? Not for money, I would think. Academic publishing is not a high profit enterprise for individual authors (unless it’s a textbook). For the prestige? But then what would it matter to a single author if X number of libraries purchased their book? There’s only a snowball’s chance in hell that someone will serendipitously come across it, unless it’s mentioned in the professional literature. Rather than scam acquisitions departments, it would make much more sense to scam book reviewers. Get the word out. Academic publishing is all about the conversation: if you want prestige, you have to get people to talk about your book, not just buy it.

Ashgate is a reputable publisher and it would seem beneath them to resort to these type of tactics. I know nothing of the author of this book. So I won’t make any assumptions about who is behind it, but it does bring up a few interesting reminders:

  1. University email addresses. While there has been some debate over whether university domain emails addresses should still be required for all students, this is one situation where having the @school.edu handle would cut down on fraud. (Though, the same could be accomplished with a university ID)
  2. Collection development policy. As I said, the book is not out of character for an academic library collection, but having a clearly defined collection development policy that outlines preferred subjects, publishers, vendors, and consortia agreements would help younger librarians decide whether or not to make a firm order.
  3. Collaboration. As a result of the Illinois librarian emailing the listserv (and others chiming in with similar data), other libraries are more informed about fraudulent (and let’s be honest, kinda sleazy) marketing practices. Including… [thumbs up to chest]… this guy. Some people are shocked when I tell them I participate in listservs (“the 90s called…”), but some continue to offer great resources and a tight community of librarians.

The lesson here, I think, is to make sure what you order for your collection is a good fit for your institution. And, if you want to get people to buy your book, bribe students to email librarians from their own .edu addresses. ;-)