At the Charleston Conference I generally seek out sessions that focus on liaison- or user-related issues, but a dominant topic of recent years–user preferences for print or electronic books—seemed to have loosened its grip on the Conference, and I had the opportunity to explore a diverse range of topics. So, pleasantly enough, my notes are not filled with frantically scribbled statistics and formulae that dissolve haplessly into broad generalizations along the lines of “If E then P, but also If P then E, maybe.”

In “Collections as a Service,” Daniel Dollar, Director of Collection Development at Yale University Library and self-styled grief counselor (see below), argued that collections are not an end in themselves, and that one may move away from acquiring books in certain areas when there is no near term anticipation of use. He makes data-informed decisions, guided by a collection development philosophy of collecting materials that align themselves with research and teaching needs as well as with strategic developments. He outlined five data “stories:”

  1. Approval titles consist largely of print YBP titles for English language, plus European plans. They found that Harrassowitz circulation statistics were decreasing for approval titles (circulation rate goes up to about 15% compared to YBP’s 60% after a few years), and so adjustments guided by the circulation data were made, transitioning some money away from the European plans to e-books. In addition they expanded shelf-ready services since English language titles are used so heavily.
  2. Borrow Direct is an “Ivy Plus” service (the Ivy League schools plus Stanford, MIT, and Duke) used mostly by graduate students requesting materials, so to accommodate this need the libraries may have second and third copies of titles.
  3. Print books, always singled out as important for immersive reading, reveal declining use statistics: undergraduate circulations decreased 47% from 2006-2015, and graduate circulation decreased 51% from 2011-2015.
  4. Ebrary Academic Complete has been in place since 2003, including a “deep dive” in Religion, Philosophy, and Psychology. 42% of Ebrary is available in print at Yale, but there is diversity of use: for 45-50% of the titles both print and electronic were used, 10% electronic only, 25-30% print only, and 25% were not used. So he believes that there is a role for the “good enough” concept (e-books in lieu of print), even in areas of the humanities.
  5. E-resource usage (with print circulation flat) shows e-books and e-journals going up. The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library predictably distorts the numbers somewhat, with significant expenditures and use in humanities-related primary source materials, which continue to grow. But if one takes out the Beinecke, e-resources show 70% use, monographs 18%.

So where is this leading? There is an inexorable movement towards digital and e-resources, accounting for most of the resource collections expenditures. But there are clear differences among the various subject libraries: for example, 90% electronic use for the medical library, compared 10% for the art library. Collection development and management are part of multiple networks, in Yale’s case Ivy Plus, HathiTrust, and CRL. He acknowledges that he plays in part the role of grief counselor because there is some sense of loss and concern for the scholarly record. He singled out the need to work closely in particular with graduate students, for help in understanding emerging areas of scholarship, or very narrow areas of inquiry in which they pursue their research.

The panel discussion on “Size, Perception, and Power in Library/Vendor Relations,” included librarians from a range of large and small institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (the largest public university library system in the country, and second in size to Harvard), Appalachian State, UNC Asheville, and Caltech. The discussions focused largely on the question of how smaller schools with less name recognition and smaller budgets fare in the stratified arena of sales and acquisitions. Librarians from smaller libraries, both on the panel and in the audience, spoke to the challenges at times of even obtaining responses from vendors: the Caltech librarian had previously worked at a small school with “ZERO” name recognition, and both institutions were approximately the same size, but now at Caltech she finds that there is no problem with vendors getting back with requested information. The assumption appears to be that the smaller school library could not afford products, but ironically her previous institution had a substantial endowment. Moreover, smaller schools, she pointed out, often do not have the luxury of waiting a year to see if statistics improve. Vendors were not universally deplored, however; it was noted that they may contribute to improved use of a new resource by providing turn-away numbers or pointing out if a resource was omitted from a LibGuide. By contrast, the UIUC librarian, from a Tier 1 Research Library, enjoys all the expected major name recognition. She pointed out that with size comes a multiplicity of relationships, and it is important to open up vendor visits to the larger community. Clearly the impact of a product is larger, with a corresponding amount of potential feedback compared to smaller institutions, although in smaller libraries, librarians may wear multiple hats and therefore can give feedback from multiple perspectives. The speakers also addressed ethical issues inherent in the tension between larger institutions’ priorities and wishes, vs those of smaller ones: UIUC will get what it wants, and it will not necessarily be what is best for smaller libraries. Consortial efforts exist to counter the relative powerlessness of small institutions. But smaller libraries have less of a voice regarding their interests and price issues; if such an institution drops a subscription, how much will it matter? The UIUC librarian pointed out that if a large school buys a product, it is not necessarily an endorsement and the product may not be relevant to smaller schools’ priorities and needs. One should not assume that a larger library made the better decision; it made the best decision for what it needs. A show of hands at the beginning revealed a commendable number of vendors in the audience, but I was not aware of any of them participating in the give and take regarding the issues raised in the presentation and discussion!

Who knows how many conference attendees were lured by the alliterative title of Doug Way’s “Saying Sayonara to the STL: Strategy, Scale and Systematic Abandonment in the Ebook Marketplace”—but I was also drawn by his place of employment, since he is AUL for Collections and Research Services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I earned my library degree and worked for many years at the beginning of my library career. He began by asserting that he likes DDA; what he dislikes is the notion that one size fits all. Scale is an important consideration, and UW-Madison is a Research 1 institution, with 43,000 students, of whom 12,000 are graduate students. The local environment is significant: what kind of users there are and how many, the mission of the library, attitudes and dispositions, and level of faculty engagement. He noted that librarians expressed disbelief when confronted with the actual amount of of e-book usage and surprise at the fact that the highest EBL use was in the social sciences, not the STEM fields. Librarians may express dissatisfaction from a lack of clarity (why they are doing what they are doing) and from workflow problems (which often are homegrown–we did it to ourselves). So they decided to reboot the e-book program. The strategy was not a collection development policy and not a values statement, but an internal document with a short to medium term frame, guiding areas of focus and emphasis. There was an emphasis on efficiency of access and price, flexibility, and choice. Preference was given to providers who allow resource sharing, offer content without DRM, allow simultaneous users, ensure access by way of perpetual licenses, and preservation options such as Portico. A task force reviewed the DDA program with a familiar EBL $250 price cap, $50 cap STL, and purchase after 3 STLs, for a collection of 23,000 titles.

The program was taken down due to a long list of challenges and problems: workflow inefficiencies (albeit locally created ones), scale (a limited budget and the limited size of the candidate pool of 23,000 titles–vs 900,000 print titles), the limited ability to increase access to content, price increases for the STL cap, publishers pulling out including top publishers (CUP, OUP, PUP), and the opportunity to effect “systematic abandonment.” He cautioned against a reluctance to abandon dying or declining services when declining services neglect or stunt the growth of new and growing services– the trap of sunk costs. He turned to Academic Complete for a 3-year contract, with its top use titles, multiple users, purchasing options for long term access if titles will be going away. (In response to a question about the missing front list in Academic Complete, he responded that AC is but one part of the entire strategy.) They have also started a pilot with Project Muse with evidence-based access, selecting individual titles for long term access, ILL rights, and DRM free e-books in the Humanities and Social Sciences.

The revised e-book program goals include increasing the number of e-books available to users (now 250,000 at lower annual cost), saving money over the existing DDA program, and experimenting with EBA acquisition models. There is continuing increased e-book use. He said that they may return to STL, perhaps as a supplemental program. With announcements of the death of STL, publishers have the hatchet, as he phrased it. They can raise the price of STLs, but he for one does not have more money hidden around the office. If publishers raise the price and pull e-books, then he will not buy the books. It was rather stunning to hear that the UW-M library system has had a flat budget since 2000; a library probably does not recover from that kind of extended deficit and resulting lacunae in its collections. He stated that he needs books that get used; in addition, he noted that the school is both a top ILL lender and borrower. He acknowledges that everyone prefers print but given a choice between waiting for ILL, requesting from offsite, many users choose immediate access—another nod to the “good enough” notion.