Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Splintering Collections

Recently I learned that one of our academic departments purchases special access to an expensive database that the library also buys. This duplicates holdings, obviously, and the library is now on the verge of losing the database. The other department seems willing to pay for it on an ongoing basis.

I'm having trouble formulating an argument for why this scenario shouldn't repeat itself in the future. It might very well be cheaper for each academic department to subscribe to a resource when its students need access, instead of the library signing up for a college-wide subscription. It is a neat budget-saving trick. It may bring producers of specialized content one step closer to their primary audiences. However, it completely cuts out the library and the idea of a shared, general collection accessible to all.

And frankly, it is a negative consequence of accountability: Rather than appeal to the institution and the library's stretched purse, it might seem less of a hassle for departments that need specialized resources to absorb them into their own budgets. (If it meant that library money was freed for other things, I might feel better, but it doesn't.)

I'm sure not all departments will have the money or the willingness to tackle this type of shared resources model, however. Perhaps the healthiest reaction is to incorporate it into the modern, multifarious collections environment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hard to Want It Online Until You Know You Need It

With some regularity, I find myself saying cheerily to students, "It used to be in print, but now it's online."

And just last week it dawned on me that they might think I'm talking about the free web.

Nope; I'm talking about subscription periodicals and books -- the library is still buying them, but they're online.

And then I realized we may have shot ourselves in the foot here, because a lot of the library's online subscriptions may as well be invisible now that they are exclusively web-based. Invisible, that is, until someone identifies a need for them and thinks to wonder if they are available on the computer -- a process and a step beyond many of the first year students I work with, I'm afraid. It takes being aware of the existence of scholarly books on a broad range of subjects to imagine that those same books could be accessible through a computer. At the community college, I'm pretty sure most students have little idea of the breadth of scholarship that's out there. I couldn't say precisely when I started to comprehend it either, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with walking through rows and rows and rows and rows of books on particular subjects.

Now that the community who previously relied on those rows and rows and rows and rows of books is happily whittling them down to just the core texts to keep in print, it should be time to celebrate that everything is online. But everything can be nothing if you don't already know it's there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Anecdotes from Textbook Reserves

While I was away, there were a few developments with the textbooks on reserve project. I thought they were worth mentioning here.

First, I won't be presenting or writing formally about the project anytime soon. This makes me a bit sad, as I like to spread the good news in libraryland. But I'm not sure what we could say. We have no budget and little administrative backing (gratitude is a different matter). It seems like the participating businesses could change their minds tomorrow, and the service would be over. It is clearly unsustainable the way it is, plus everywhere I look I see evidence of a sea change as course materials go online. 

In fact, a common refrain from students using the textbooks is "Why can't I download this online, for free?" This is a good illustration of the tendency among students to equate online with gratis, and although I don't see it happening, especially under the purview of textbook publishers, the expectation is there, and they may at least get half of what they wish for at some point soon.   

Another trend is that students taking online classes expect support from our physical library. Most recently, a student living in Camden and taking a class online expected the book at our Camden campus location. We have a sharing agreement with Rutgers Camden, but the Blackwood campus is the primary location for the college, and we did have the book at the Blackwood library. This was apparently insufficient for the student. I should figure out how to capture this as data -- it would be interesting to have numbers showing how much we are supporting the online classes. 

We've also had a couple of thefts, one where it seemed the person walked straight through the security gates. What's that saying in libraryland, about how stolen books are the highest praise for your collection?

But as the end of the semester approaches, overall I'm still satisfied that we're providing a popular service to the college community.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Should Our Taxes Go to a Public Library ...

... when we can just pay Amazon directly instead?

At least, that's what I anticipate will be the reaction.

Of course, Amazon has a ready-made population of e-book enthusiasts who are using kindles. And public libraries do lend e-books,  but not all of their patrons know about them or use them.

But all hail Amazon. A lending library, what an original idea.

Sorry if this sounds snarky; it's getting toward the end of the week here.

(Full disclosure: I'm a big fan of Amazon & use it a lot, although I don't have a kindle.)