Another fiscal year has ended and my library again was able to use unspent and reserve funds to acquire a number of large sets, including digital packages. One of these purchases is directly tied to my discipline so I am grateful for our ability to acquire such materials. However, I am also aware that not every institution uses funds this way or makes such a commitment to large packages– even those institutions with stronger collections budgets.
So I would like to review reasons for and against large purchases. Purchasing large sets at the end of the fiscal year is an easy way to spend down the budget and make a big impact. These resources are the kinds that one can advertise on library sites and describe in newsletters. To some extent, our library sets aside some funds specifically in order to make such purchases, intended to offer new content to a broad spectrum of the user population.
Large packages are often cross disciplinary- so do serve the community at large. As pre-selected content, the end use does not need to spend time trying to locate appropriate material- it is there conveniently prepackaged. Such packages allow the library to quickly build up a collection of resources to meet new program needs.
So what is the downside to such spending practices? Title by tile selection is not available to the librarian. Not all important academic content has been packaged or digitized. Scholarly titles may account for a very small percentage of the e-market. Duplication of existing materials in the collection may occur. Vendors are generally free to add or remove content during the negotiation process. While digitized content is most often of high quality, sometimes licensing agreements preclude inclusion. So the user assumption that the prepackaged content contains all the necessary material may not be accurate.
Large packages, especially digital ones, are not always cataloged down to the title level. Vendor supplied cataloging and search engines are making it easier to identify such material. Vendor access policies also vary greatly; the number of pages that can be printed may be limited. Preservation and maintenance of e-packages presents unique problems to the library already operating with less than optimal staffing. And what about the content that is not used or useful?
The pros and cons of large (digital) packages are considerations which must be weighed against the content being offered. E-packages allow 24/7 access. Archival content – not previously available – may only be offered via subscription to the whole. Such content may be new or just reformatted.
There is no right or wrong to the practice of acquiring this type of content. While the librarian may wish to have more monies available for title by title selection at a smaller scale, this may not be an option at the time.
My interest in writing this blog is not to challenge the purchasing method but rather to have collections librarians understand the differences in their institutions buying practices, share their thoughts with colleagues and learn from such discussions. Clearly more research on this is needed and should be considered. But as a start, I would certainly welcome your thoughts. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org