Presented at the OLA 2011 Superconference in Toronto by Rick Anderson (University of Utah) and Karen Calhoun (OCLC). Abstract: In these budget-challenged times, redesigning workflows is on library and special collections managers' minds more than ever. One new workflow innovation is PDA (patron driven acquisitions). The speakers present an evidence-based case for process redesign and suggest what library and special collections managers might do to create efficiencies and free up substantial staff time for new initiatives.
Let Them Eat... Everything: Embracing a Patron-Driven Future
Next Generation Workflows for Next Generation Libraries OLA Super Conference 2011, Session #320, February 3Metro Toronto Convention Centre
Rick Anderson, Scholarly Resources & Collections, University of UtahKaren Calhoun, VP Metadata, OCLC
Convenor: Moira Davidson, Lakehead University Let Them Eat... Everything:Embracing a Patron-Driven FutureRick AndersonAssociate DirectorScholarly Resources & CollectionsJ. Willard Marriott Library2This years program is absolutely chock-full of excellent programming on the topic of PDA. But since Im going first and since this is a plenary session, I have the luxury of talking in bold philosophical generalities while letting the folks in more focused sessions deal more with nitty-gritty details.
So, in that spirit: as I get older, Im finding that I tend more and more to like things that are fundamentally sane, and to dislike things that are fundamentally insane. And as time goes on, more and more of the things we do in libraries seem to me to fall into the latter category. Not all of them, by any means, but more of them.
Now, I want to be clear about this: Im not saying that it has always been insane to do them. In very many cases, we had no choice but to do them in the past because of the constraints that our information environment placed on us. But in a good number of those cases, I think weve started to suffer from a kind of Stockholm Syndrome weve come to confuse onerous necessity with professional virtue. Let me give you some examples of what I mean. Toward Greater Sanity in Scholarly CommunicationLess saneInterlibrary loanBig DealsSubscriptionsApproval plansReference/Bib instructionRedundant catalogingPrint runsMore saneArticle purchases (document delivery)WikipediaShared catalogingEase of usePDA (for books)Print on demand
J. Willard Marriott LibraryLess sane
ILL involves shuttling documents around between libs. Hugely wasteful and inconvenient for patrons, and the more its needed the more it reflects our failure to build the right collections. My ILL department is fantastic, but they are fantastic at doing something we really should be figuring out how to AVOID. This is a standard problem in our profession: we get used to doing fundamentally insane things when we have no other options, we get really good at them, we lose sight of the fact that those things are necessary evils, and we start thinking of them as core services. Big Deals, subs, and approval plans are all ways of buying stuff you dont need in order to get what you do. (A journal sub is just a small Big Deal.) Ref/BI are great services, but theyre not scalable if your library is serving a large population. The only way these services can function is if they dont actually reach the vast majority of your constituents. Cataloging how many good records do we need? (One.) How good does it need to be? (Pretty good.) Although weve made significant strides in the direction of shared cataloging, there are still way too many librarians creating way too many records for each book. Print run is not just unsustainable though it is that but more importantly, it makes no sense.* Note: the problem here is not that these practices are old; its that they dont make sense.
Since buying journals means buying what we dont want in order to get what we do, buying articles makes much more sense. But remember her that sane doesnt necessarily mean affordable. Im talking about models here that make sense at a fundamental level; what make article purchasing sustainable or not are the pricing models. Wikipedia Why would I put this here? Because Wikipedia is not just a product; its a model of information creation and distribution, and its a fundamentally sane one. Criticisms about the hive mind are not entirely relevant, because they go only to the content of Wikipedia entries. What students tell us they use W for constantly is not so much for authoritative information, but for links to authoritative information the more you talk to users, the more you hear the phrase jumping-off point. Wikipedia is becoming the preferred alternative to A&I databases in part because, unlike full-text article databases, Wikipedia almost always returns a manageable and reliably relevant result set. Ease of use, as an alternative to BI, seems obvious, doesnt it? And yet how much time do we spend arguing with colleagues who seem to think that if its easy for patrons to find the sources they need, were somehow failing to provide them with a real educational experience? PDA and POD: the fundamental sanity of these twin approaches is obvious, because in the first case were talking about buying only whats demonstrably wanted, and in the second were talking about printing only whats demonstrably wanted. Up until very recently, though, the fundamental sanity of these approaches hasnt made them actually available. PDA and POD are where Im going to focus my attention today, but I want to start by quickly reviewing whats happened over the past hundred years or so to get us to a place where it actually makes sense for us to start moving away from the idea of traditional collection building in favor of just-in-time resource provision.3Up through the 19th century, a library was...... a building, room, or set of rooms, containing a collection of books for the use of the public or of some particular portion of it, or of the members of some society or the like; a public institution or establishment, charged with the care of a collection of books, and the duty of rendering the books accessible to those who require to use them. (OED)
... a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale. (Merriam-Webster)
J. Willard Marriott LibraryHere are a couple of very traditional and noncontroversial definitions from a couple of venerable and respected sources.
Notice the fundamental elements cited by both of these definitions (the library is a place with a collection).
Heres my attempt at a visual representation of the reality that made these definitions accurate:4
(Up through) 19th-century model
J. Willard Marriott LibraryThis is a crude visual representation of the scholarly information environment up through the 19th century. The oval represents the universe of available documents, and the colored dots are the documents themselves. The library is relatively small, and its walls are relatively solid (meaning that the documents it acquired were only available from inside the library itself). It contains only those documents that librarians go out and grab and bring back. Because documents are relatively expensive and the process of going out and getting them is also expensive, they are carefully chosen for match to mission. (Notice that this reddish library is grabbing only reddish documents.)5A more recent definition:... a collection of sources, resources, and services, and the structure in which it is housed; it is organized for use and maintained by a public body, an institution, or a private individual. (Wikipedia)
J. Willard Marriott LibraryNow heres a more recent definition of the word library. Notice how the language has changed. The OED said that the library is a building full of books; Merriam Webster said that its a place that contains documents in various formats. Wikipedia says that the library is first of all a collection of sources and services, and also a physical place.
You can see the definition of the library getting fuzzier from the OED to Merriam-Webster to Wikipedia.
Heres an image to represent this evolved reality:620th-century modelJ. Willard Marriott LibraryHere we see an explosion of available documents, because in the 20th century there was significant growth in scholarship, research, educational funding, and library resources; thus there are more documents to choose from and libraries had more money with which to buy them and more librarians who could go out and get them. During the 20th century, the unit price of a scholarly document dropped dramatically.Consequently the library is quite a bit bigger, but its walls are also becoming less solid. Although the documents are still almost all in physical formats they are no longer completely contained in the box; access to them is starting to become available to patrons who are at some distance from the library (via telephone, or home delivery, or ILL).But the librarys walls are still fairly solid, its collection is fairly well-defined, and you could argue that an individual library is at least partly defined by what it doesnt contain.7In other words, when we say library weve usually meant:a structure, filled with
J. Willard Marriott LibraryBut all the way through the 20th century, these fundamental definitional elements apply: we generally thought of the library as a physical place that contains a collection. Its actually what the word itself means in French, Spanish and Latin the word library is cognate with the word for bookshop. To call something without books a library would be a bit like calling something without wheels a bicycle.
And its important to bear in mind that we became really good at this kind of librarianship. Over the course of the 20th century we figured out how to construct good library buildings (except for in the 1960s), how to move books and journals around fairly efficiently, and how to build excellent collections. In fact, collection development became a whole subdiscipline of librarianship. We figured out how to craft approval plans that would allow us to stop using up our time making the most obvious selection decisions so that we could spend more of our time applying our hard