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Charleston Conference 2013
Nov. 6-9 “Too Much is Not Enough!”
With the looming confluence of two dire developments, de-selection AND e-books, these rather fraught issues were the inevitable themes of several sessions I chose to attend at this year’s Charleston Conference, held November 6-9.
“Not So Fast:” Researcher Preferences for Print or E-Books,” presented by two librarians from McMaster University, Janice Adlington (Collections & Information Resources Librarian) and Wade Wyckoff (Association University Librarian, Collections) offered an interesting counterpoint to some aspects of e-books issues as we manage them. The library has no approval plan, but librarians do firm ordering for both print and e-books on a title-by-title basis. They purchase front list titles from Oxford, Harvard, IEEE-Wiley, Springer, with some consortial arrangements, and add more e-books than print per year, with a total now of 4000 unowned EBL titles. Unlike ZSR’s compassionate policies, they do not provide intentional duplication of print and electronic, and there is no ILL for print if the e-book is owned (with few exceptions). ILL is unmediated, and 25% of requests are rejected. Predictably, there has been faculty and graduate student pushback, providing anecdotal evidence as well as lengthy, detailed, and persistent complaints regarding a specific e-book package. The librarians felt that they needed more structured input in order to develop more nuanced collecting strategies and to better support those most likely to engage deeply with texts (and to discern more than the squeaky wheels). So they devised a 7-point survey (using Survey Monkey) covering demographics, general preferences, and usage, plus an open-ended content box-and garnered strong opposing viewpoints. The survey went out to faculty, graduate and undergraduate students alike. Many individuals use both formats, and all levels of response preferred print books, particularly among the undergraduates. The Humanities and Social Sciences were over-represented, reflecting the importance of monographs to their scholarship, and they strongly prefer print. The Sciences change to a greater acceptance of electronic. The open question box pulled in a wide range of comments. Some saw benefits to both formats. The EBL and Ebsco platforms provoked negative comments. Even among the scientists, print was seen as offering a richer learning experience, easier to browse and assess for relevance; as one person put it, one can’t put one’s finger in the page to refer back. By contrast, e-books are fine for reference and scanning. There were frequent remarks on the use of the printing option and downloading to tablets, in order to have easier access to sections they needed. Humanities showed the highest use of printing and downloading to tablet or reader, but not as many downloaded to laptops as in Science/Engineering. One science professor confessed to buying print to avoid reading e-books. The comments included reflections that with e-books one reads less intently, and one doesn’t absorb enough information; one can’t double back; one MINES e-texts but READS print books; there is greater difficulty reading closely and retaining information; one is more likely to read a print books in its entirety.
As a result of the survey, the librarians changed their approaches. They stopped buying the front list from a problematic publisher. They will continue print for the Humanities, with the traditional scholarly academic monographs. They will also re-think their ILL policies and revisit acquisitions policy, addressing the question of buying print if they already own the e-book title. They plan to exercise caution in weeding print based on e-book availability for their legacy print collection. Interestingly, they remove the short term loan availability for e-books if they buy print. They wondered if e-book records encourage print circulation, a question to address perhaps in the future. They had expected greater enthusiasm for e-books. They were hit by the EBL textbook policy, and fear that as a consequence faculty are re-considering e-books and do not trust them now (even more than before?). Afterwards, in the discussion, one person stood up and pointedly asked, “Why are we doing this?” if there are so many user problems. Are we just solving our problems but not our users’ problems? Someone else pointed out that there are moral problems if users have to pay to print out texts when they cannot read print. And finally, one attendee from Germany gave an international twist to the survey’s findings: in Germany the preferences for print fall along similar lines.

Perhaps not too many collection management projects involve comparing one’s library holdings with those of the State Library of Norway. This unique relationship emerged from the session, “Janus-Faced Collection Ecology: De-Selection and Preservation at St. Olaf College Libraries,” presented by Mary Barbosa-Jerez , Head of Collection Development (and clearly not of Nordic origins, she acknowledged). “Janus,” with its allusion to facing the past as well as the future, suggests being mindful of unique cultural heritage holdings as well as future space needs for books and collaborative areas. In addition to supporting the St. Olaf College curriculum, the Rolvaag Library serves as the primary book repository for the Norwegian-American immigrant community, with formal ties to the Norwegian American Historical Association. The St. Olaf libraries had never been subjected to comprehensive collection assessment or to systematic weeding, and with pressing space issues, a weeding project was devised that included identifying, segregating, and protecting (as well as enhancing discoverability of) culturally important materials (the library was “off the charts” in terms of unique holdings associated with the Nordic communities). The speaker emphasized the cultural heritage not only in terms of library holdings, but also in terms of culturally based attitudes. As a self-isolated culture of frugal savers, every gift had been regarded as important. High pride in the work of forbearers meant that each item should be saved by the sub-culture; other holdings included items that had been selected carefully by well-loved faculty members. These attitudes, she noted, were at odds with the reality of physical space and the library’s mission. A vault valuation project for the Nordic-American collection reflected the value of Nordic-American Imprints and began by segregating heritage materials for protection. This process was based on identification of heritage criteria and involved coding in OCLC. She achieved stake-holder buy-in by means of a library faculty committee educated in the issues involved, and the conversation regarding de-selection always included a preservation element. She held multiple meetings of all concerned parties, reported on progress, gathered feedback, and got recommendations for the next step. Billing the undertaking as a pilot de-selection project meant that it was a low stress but high impact test. She insisted that de-selection decisions would be restricted to decisions and actions of the library staff; there had been so many preliminary conversations that additional reiterations would be redundant. In the end, a separate space was identified for heritage collection items, and genuinely deselection-worthy items could be identified as well and disposed of accordingly. She emphasized the importance of awareness of one’s unique holdings, as well as the future paradigm of one-in-one-out for the library’s collection management.

“Transforming a Print Collection” was a (heavily) statistically-driven presentation by two librarians at Temple University faced with the wondrous prospect of a new library on the horizon: Fred Rowland (Reference Librarian) and Brian Schooler (Head, Acquisitions and Collection). Naturally, the structure was not to be a 50 million warehouse for print ; the library already has an offsite storage and retrieval facility (1.1 million volumes in the library and 4 million offsite). As a preliminary planning step, they wanted to achieve a sense of the importance of print among various disciplines and developed two independent but complementary projects to track patterns of print use. They looked at recent circulation in the past 2.5 years and grouped them into publication dates with call numbers. They found that 21% of the N and M classes had circulated within that time span, 15% of history, and Humanities overall 14.9, compared to 10.4% in the STM fields, underscoring the relative importance of monographs. A broader overview of the circulation history revealed that 33.3% of the collection had circulated since 2010, then 30% dating from the 2000s, 17.9% from the 1990s, 11.1% from the 1980s, and 6.6 from the 1970s. Pre-1980s publications were stable at the low level of 3-6%. Tracking the linear curve of this, the Humanities showed a steeper jump from the 1970s to the 1980s, more so for history and yet more so for the Arts. Then there was some leveling off in the 2000s and in more recent years. Specific classes have different patterns from the broader categories, but the multiple lines of color for various LC sub-classes became rather messy slides, by their own admission. The Humanities showed more heavily used older materials; so those disciplines benefit from a larger amount of older materials in open stacks. Overall, they saw strong circulation of new books within 10 years of publication date. For the past 10 years, 55.2% of the collection had circulated, with 1.6 average circulations per book. 10% of the books account for 48% of total circulation, and 25% of books account for 76% of total checkouts. Humanities make up 51% of all the books, and 52% of Humanities titles have circulated. 53% of total checkouts are Humanities while English books circulated at around 59%. The peak of checkouts occurred in 2008/2009 after which they have been decreasing, perhaps attributable to buying fewer print books and more e-books. The session ended rather abruptly when time ran out and we all resigned ourselves to the respite from the relentless rain of statistics.
Lynn was one of the panel members in “If the University is in the Computer, Where Does That Leave the Library? MOOCs Discovered” and made a compelling presentation on our contributions to what she defined as MOOCs’ role in contributing to the social imperative in global institutions’ quest for high quality education, and highlighted ZSR’s-and Kyle’s-roles in meeting those needs. The first speaker, Meredith Schwartz of Rittenhouse Book Distributors wittily outlined the life cycle of many innovative efforts: Technological trigger > Peak of inflated expectations > Trough of disillusionment > Slope of enlightenment > Plateau of productivity. Perhaps we are avoiding the trough of disillusionment by having had reasonable expectations as ZSR embarked on its own version of a Pilgrim MOOC’s Progress.

Rich in both content and relevance, Charleston is a conference I look forward to attending again in future years. In the meantime, the conference theme (“Too Much is Not Enough!”) emblazoned on the sturdy conference bag seems very suitable for re-purposing as a shopping bag.