by Kelly Smith (Coordinator of Collections and Discovery, Eastern Kentucky University Libraries)
Until 2012, Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) Libraries, like most academic libraries, allocated a set amount of funds to each subject liaison to spend in their area. As we began to dip our toes into patron driven acquisitions (PDA), a small “discretionary” fund had been used for this purpose. But as PDA became more popular with our patrons, the idea of pre-determined subject allocations quickly became challenging from both practical and philosophical standpoints. When discretionary funds were exhausted, how would we replenish PDA deposit accounts? Would we have to ask a liaison for “permission” to use their funds each time a book was requested? With a deposit account in a multi-disciplinary PDA package, how was that even possible? And if the evidence showed that patron requested materials were more highly used than librarian selected titles,1 why were we still prioritizing librarian selections? Especially at a medium-sized comprehensive university where liaisons did not necessarily have subject expertise?
So when I was promoted to Coordinator of the division that handled collections in early 2012, one of my first actions was to propose a “pilot” year where we took all subject-allocated monograph funds and put them in one big pool of funds to see what would happen. Liaisons were skeptical. They had questions, lots of questions. But I emphasized that this change was not permanent. That we would try it and find out what problems arose, what problems were solved, and whether the problems solved outweighed the problems created. I also made sure that the branch librarians had more leeway to request titles. For example, the music librarian could still send us lists of scores to purchase, but he agreed to let the music histories, biographies, and other monograph purchases be driven by patron requests.
So in FY2013, we collapsed all the funds and set up a workflow in Illiad for InterLibrary Loan staff to send monograph requests through a quick review by the collection development librarian. Based on our collection development criteria, requests were either forwarded to acquisitions staff for purchase or sent to ILL to be borrowed. Additionally, we committed more funds to patron driven online collections, including both eBooks and streaming videos.
So, what were the results of our “pilot”?
In terms of problems, there were only two big ones. First, and this surprised us: many faculty were annoyed that we had purchased titles that they had requested through Interlibrary Loan! They had “only wanted to review them.” We solved this problem through education, explaining that they could indicate in the notes that they would prefer ILL, but that we would use our professional judgement to determine whether individual titles might have a broader use potential that would justify purchase. Second, the onslaught of textbook requests at the beginning of each semester is hard to manage. We maintain a small collection of textbooks on reserve — primarily those donated by faculty or students. Occasionally, we will purchase a textbook for introductory classes or high DFW classes, especially to support students at the beginning of the semester as there is often a lag-time before they receive their textbook vouchers from the financial aid office. So students know that we buy textbooks and some of them request we purchase all of their textbooks. We are managing this through education and a lot of communication, but it is still a problem that we are working through, and we don’t have a set policy yet.
In terms of benefits, I could probably use this entire column to list them, but I will focus on the main ones.
- Flexibility. We can purchase whatever our students and faculty need, at the point of need. If a new faculty member comes and identifies an area in need of more core titles, we can afford as many as they need — there’s no set number. If a program is added (or removed) we can add more titles in that area (or adjust our PDA profiles).
- Efficiency. We don’t have to have extensive email strings between faculty, liaisons, and the collection development librarian to get “approval” to spend funds. Requests are fulfilled with no intervention from the liaison.
- Resource optimization. In this case, I’m talking about staff resources, in addition to collection funds. In the past, liaisons would spend a lot of time looking through catalogs, choice lists, etc., and taking educated guesses about what patrons might want. Now, they are using that time to build relationships with faculty and taking on a more curatorial role — instead of searching for new things to buy, they are exposing our vast collections to their faculty.
- Insights. Tracking the request patterns of patrons is fascinating. We are getting a better understanding of what students and faculty want.
We have continued to use one large budget bucket for monographs since its successful rollout in 2012. One of the big concerns that liaisons had when I proposed this new purchasing model is that their areas would suffer from not being actively “developed.” On the contrary, looking at the evidence, we think that the mix of resources has been enhanced, and the purchasing trends have simply mirrored the trends across our curriculum. I pulled data comparing our 2012 allocations with our 2017 expenditures.
- The biggest change in purchasing was in the “multidisciplinary” category. This category includes the deposits we make into our current PDA pools — JSTOR eBooks and Kanopy streaming videos — and other online monographs collections. We cannot track these by subject in our LMS, but looking at the usage reports, they represent a wide range of subject areas including humanities, science, social sciences, and health. This subject category now represents 45% of our monographs spend.
- Looking at the rest of the subjects, which represent title-by-title purchases, the biggest increase was in psychology, which increased by 8.75%. Usage data of psychology resources increased similarly. Psychology happens to be our fastest growing program.
- The biggest decrease was in business, down by about 5.5%. Business has shifted somewhat to using more online resources that are available in aggregated databases.
- The median change among all individually tracked subjects was about plus or minus 1%. For the most part there was very little deviation from the 2012 expenditures. So the patrons are doing fine in building these collections.
- The only area that had no monographs purchases in 2017 were Interior Design, a program that was eliminated two years ago.
Now that PDA is firmly entrenched at EKU, we are actually taking a step back and looking at how we can also encourage serendipity through curation. We started a staff picks display in our main reading room, modeled after employee staff favorites at bookstores. Staff members recommend their favorite books and we attach a fun description to each book, as well as the name of the staff member. We’ve also started a robust rotation of thematic displays, tied in with campus initiatives or seasonal themes, and before we set these up, we purchase new titles to refresh those topical areas. So while we still have a single monographs budget, we are reintroducing librarian and staff selected titles into the mix. The great thing is that our budget has the flexibility to accommodate both approaches.
- Price, Jason S. and McDonald, John D., “Beguiled by Bananas: A Retrospective Study of the Usage and Breadth of Patron vs. Librarian Acquired eBook Collections” (2009). Library Staff Publications and Research. 9. http://scholarship.claremont.edu/library_staff/9.