PDA and Stewardship: Are They Compatible?

MultiGrain: Conversations Linking Librarians, Publishers, Vendors and Others

MultiGrain, a brand-new feature of the Against the Grain website, will feature ongoing discussions with a forum for conversations and debates online about the issues that impact us all day-to-day.  Our first topic of discussion is PDA and Stewardship: Are They Compatible?

“Article purchasing by document delivery is a saner use of money [than subscribing to the big deal.]” ­
“Libraries can put off acquisition until need is demonstrated.”­ Rick Anderson, Associate Director for Scholarly Resources & Collections at the University of Utah

“Stewardship is a core value that includes notions of mission, responsibility, integrity, trust, accountability, service, preservation and sustainability for future use.” Sharon E. Farb (First Monday, 3 July 2006) quoted by Brian Schottlaender, The Audrey Geisel University Librarian, University of California, San Diego

These statements were made at the 2010 Charleston Conference, and we’ve asked Rick and Brian to give us their thoughts. Are these statements compatible? What is the relationship between user need and stewardship? Is it all a matter of money and user of the moment as Rick says, or should we consider future needs and the preservation and sustainability of our collections? What does our answer mean for a collection development librarian in the twenty-first century?

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6 thoughts on “PDA and Stewardship: Are They Compatible?

  1. I do believe these two statements are compatible, because I don’t think either one can be taken as an absolute rule in all cases.

    One of the things I pointed out in my presentation is that we will probably always need a limited number of libraries to serve as comprehensive, permanent repositories of our printed intellectual legacy (I sometimes call them “Monument to Western Civilization” collections). For libraries that have this level of funding and this breadth of mission, stewardship will be a core function as well as a core value.

    But the vast majority of libraries, even academic ones, have neither funding sufficient for this kind of collecting, nor a scope of mission that really includes it. While virtually every research library contains some unique or locally-significant content for which it has a strong stewardship responsibility (i.e, special collections), in most cases the bulk of its collection serves primarily a functional rather than archival purpose, and here stewardship should (I believe) take a back seat to access. In other words, if I have to discard a low-use book to make room for a high-use one on the shelves of my circulating collection, so be it — especially if the low-use book in question is one that can reasonably be expected to be held in one or more of the Monument to Western Civilization collections.

    It’s been pointed out to me that the arrangement I’ve described would basically mean that the MWC libraries would be acting as permanent archives in support of all the smaller ones, and that if such an arrangement were formalized, it might make sense for the smaller libraries to contribute to the support of those larger libraries. I agree completely. What might such an arrangement look like in practice? For one example, look at Hathi Trust. Other arrangements are possible, too.

    But, typically, I’ve talked too much already. I look forward to reading Brian’s thoughts on this issue.

  2. On principle, I believe librarians are never wrong; maybe, we may not always be right. For the first Multigrain, I declare them both right. Brian’s stewardship is stewardship with a capital S. Let’s call it “Big S”. Brian’s quote depicts our mission; the words underpin our whole enterprise. This is a vision of collections librarians are proud of.

    Rick’s words, to the point, challenge us by suggesting one way of doing Big S especially in current times. By encouraging us to play with the idea of just-in-time book and journal acquisition, he takes us towards constant improvement. It is stewardship with a little s but, who knows, could be successful in a big way, becoming Big S.

    If I were ever in a position to give the 30 second spiel to a Big Shot (another BS), I’d go with either depending on the mood. Nothing like building future collections subspecie aeternitatis —for the kids in a sustainable world—and here’s one way were experimenting—your choice, your collection—to grace the presence of your funding authority with the right stuff.
    Remember, we are never wrong. Go Packers!

  3. Rick’s vision of a division of labor makes perfectly good sense from a librarian’s point of view. However, what may be rational from that perspective may not be rational at the systemic level. How is scholarly publishing going to be sustained if most books are ordered only by a handful of MWC libraries while all the other libraries depend on PDA? Unlike traditional approval plans, which assured scholarly publishers of a minimum sale of a 100 or so books at the point of publication, PDA seems likely to draw out the ordering cycle over a much longer period and be far less predictable from the publisher’s standpoint. In the face of this uncertainty, it would be rational for publishers to concentrate even more on the books that have the best chance of more general sales, or strong course adoption potential, leaving the valuable but more specialized monographs to go unpublished. If that is what happens, academe will need to devise some other ways of making that research available–through IRs?–and to adjust the requirements of the promotion and tenure process.

  4. I’m going to take the somewhat controversial position here that the two concepts are fundamentally incompatible. It seems to me that what the original question poses is actually is not something that is just now being introduced via the emergence of PDA models as a hot topic in conference presentations and the literature; rather, it is an issue that has been haunting the professional discourse since the 1990s when libraries made their first real strides toward the acquisition of resources in electronic format. The issue is generally characterized as the “access versus ownership debate” and this debate is generally dispelled via some variation on the old truism that “it’s not a case of either/or but both/and.” That truism sounds really nice and comforting but I think that today it’s becoming increasingly clear that it doesn’t really address the core problem. Instead, it gives us a convenient “out” that alleviates us from considering hard questions about libraries’ core values and missions. The fact is that today perhaps more than ever (at least more than any other time since the electronic format gained dominance in collections) tight budgets are requiring that libraries make either/or decisions about access and ownership. Decisions like, either I focus funding and staff time on crafting a carefully developed collection that will remain intact far into the future and will meet the anticipated needs of generations to come, or I focus that funding and staff time to develop the tools and services that will most effectively meet current patron needs as they arise. Obviously, these question are tough ones and they can involve painful trade-offs. It is because of the existence of these trade-offs that I think stewardship and PDA are necessarily at odds.

    While the fundamental issue has been around for at least a decade or two, our ways of considering how to address that issue are evolving with changes in technologies for information creation, access, distribution, and discovery. Like for example, what does the emergence of the longtail information marketplace (which is creating incentives for commercial interests to make a vast catalog of content easily accessible to researchers at an affordable price) imply about stewardship concerns? Can such a marketplace be used as the basis for scaling back those concerns or of thinking about those concerns in a new way? These questions are too big to delve into here but, if you’ll excuse what might appear like a bit of self-promotion, they are questions that I do attempt to explore in a more sustained (but still very limited) way in a couple articles that are published in the most recent issues of Against the Grain (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/3142) and LTRS (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/3139).

    I think we should use the tensions between PDA and stewardship as an entry point for asking bigger, lingering questions about the evolving roles of libraries.

  5. I just finished reading an article in the latest New Yorker (Feb.14&21) entitled “Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us.” by Adam Gopnik. This article is about the conversations about books and why some praise them and others predict their demise. Gopnik gives us glimpses inside various much-talked-about books about the Internet. I have read completely only one of the books, Hamlet’s Black-Berry by William Powers. Gopnik puts the categories of authors of these books into Never-Betters (like Clay Shirky), the Better-Nevers (like William Powers), and the Ever-Wasers (like Ann Blair) . This article is lengthy and worth more than one close reading. Says Gopnik: “Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.” What does this have to do with PDA and Stewardship? Our thoughts and actions as librarians are being driven by devices and technology. That and what our budget is and what our users say they want. But our budget priorities will change and so will our users. We have a responsibility as professionals to view the present but also the past and the future. I don’t pretend to know the magic answer. All I believe is that the answer is not a matter of either or. It is a matter of a little bit of both.

  6. PDA–but what drives the patron? A common driver is ads. Will the most acquired publisher be the one with the largest budget?

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