ATG Hot Topic of the Week: PDA/DDA

Editor’s Note: As you may be aware, our web host suffered a recent malware attack and we are still in the process of playing catch up.  This “Hot Topic” column was submitted on July 6 and was delayed in publication due to ongoing problems.  We’re finally in the clear and ready to move on, thank goodness!  Enjoy this column, and we’ll be starting back up with regular posts next week.  Please contact Leah Hinds with any questions at leah@katina.info.

by Jonathan H. Harwell, Rollins College

Yesterday I received the new July 2012 issue of Library Resources & Technical Services, in which William H. Walters of Menlo College argues that “PDA programs are unlikely to improve the quality of academic library collections” (pp. 199-213).

In an article posted on June 20 at Inside Higher Ed, Steve Kolowich looks at PDA and its possible adverse effects on university presses.  These presses tend to rely on academic librarians to buy scholarly monographs that might have few readers.  What happens when the librarians base their purchasing on usage?  The article has spurred some discussion in the comments thread.  Interesting to hear some faculty perspectives from beyond the library, although there seems to be some misunderstanding about what PDA/DDA is and how it works.

It strikes me that some of the anti-PDA/DDA arguments are framed in terms of librarians yielding collection development decisions to our patrons.  Wild-eyed first-year students might be set loose to build our collections for us, resulting in electronic stacks full of Stephenie Meyer novels and Cliff’s Notes.  In reality, what  librarians are doing with DDA is selecting sets of books based on subjects, costs, and other parameters–  just like we’ve done for ages with our approval plans.   The difference is that we can afford to select many more books, because we’re only going to be paying for the ones that receive substantial usage.  The patrons are only making these decisions for us in the sense that their usage is determining the number of books we actually pay for.  The librarians have already driven the selection ourselves, determining which e-books appear in our collection.  We could just as easily call DDA something like “reader-triggered invoicing.”  If a book doesn’t have its reader, as Ranganathan might say, it doesn’t have its invoice.  If it has a glancer instead of a reader, it’s still free and still part of our librarian-selected collection awaiting readers with instant and seamless access.  How exactly does this prevent libraries from fulfilling our missions?  (Yes, Fridays are for soapboxes.)

Take a look at Steve’s article and the comments (note the interesting assertion spelled out in the URL!), and add your own thoughts, here or there.  And keep an eye out for the special November “Charleston Conference issue” of Against the Grain, which will focus on pushing the boundaries of DDA/PDA.  Let’s continue the conversation, Charleston-style!

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