Patron-Driven Acquisitions: Let Them Eat Anything

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson, from the University of Utah, led off the conference with a fascinating presentation on patron-driven acquisitions.  He noted that we are often forced to do things that are necessary but which amount to necessary evils.  The problem is that over time, these things may come to be regarded as core services.  Examples are interlibrary loan, the Big Deal (buying a lot of resources to get access to some that you do), reference and bibliographic instruction (asking 20 people to provide services to 34,000 students in a large university), cataloging (how many records for a work to we need?), and print runs (a terrible way to disseminate information which does not make sense in today’s online world).

Through the 19th century, libraries were generally defined in terms of their collections and the buildings that housed them.  More recently, the definition has shifted to focus on the collections of sources, and not the buildings.  Collections have become diffuse, with access possible from anywhere in the world, and the economies of scale make vast purchases affordable.  Libraries can therefore postpone purchases until need has been demonstrated.

In the next 5 years, budgets will continue to decline or be flat.  Google Books is on the horizon, and it will change everything.  The settlement still remains to be finalized, but the hard work of digitization is well understood and has been done.  Combining Google Books and the Hathi Trust will give us a major collection of content which will knock down the walls of most local collections.  And the Espresso Book Machine will make patron-driven book production possible, removing the need to guess how many books to print ahead of demand.  (The University of Utah has had one for 2 years and once some initial problems were overcome, has had good experiences with it.  They have been surprised at the demand for self-published books and even for bound books of blank pages!)

Anderson concluded with the following observations of the new patron-driven context of the future:

  • Documents tend to be online and are more discoverable than when they are in print.
  • Print on demand is an increasingly available and viable option.
  • Budgets have been dramatically cut.
  • Waste is increasingly unacceptable to stakeholders.
  • When we try to guess what patrons will want, we are wrong nearly half of the time.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

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