11 November 2011

User-driven acquisition practice

Involving learners in shaping their college experience, including learning itself, has become an important aspect of educational process. This has affected libraries too.

A few years ago it was almost an axiom in my library that stock acquisition was driven by curriculum and tutors. The librarians kept some funding aside for replenishing the lost and damaged stock and subsidising collections for new programmes. We also kept a note of unresolved enquiries – to purchase the resources on the topics which were not covered in the library collection sufficiently enough.

On the surface, this is still mostly the same: the library allocates 2/3 of its budget to curriculum areas to spend on tutors' requests. However, the emphasis has moved heavily towards active observation of what learners borrow and enquire about. On that basis, I research available publications.  While we rarely receive requests for particular titles from learners (despite encouraging that), I keep my eyes wide open to what is borrowed. Usually this observation takes place while I am at the enquiry/issue desk or talk to users in the library. Often I check bibliographical databases (Nielsen BookData is particularly good for that) what else has been published by the same author or in the same series. It is not unusual for the library to have superseding editions of the titles on reading lists provided by tutors.

Being at the issue desk has become for me an exciting time of listening to learners: what they borrow and what they enquire about, even – sometimes – what they talk to each other about. From all that I deduce what’s in demand now and what will be in demand soon.

This all will be impossible when we - hopefully, next year - introduce a self-issue station. Interaction with users will decrease, and with that - an immediate knowledge of what they borrow and why. This is unavoidable: what I described above is not cost-effective in a middle size college library as ours. Usage reports from the LMS in universities can be informative taking into account that those libraries can employ subject libraries who can make sound judgements based on those reports. Unfortunately, this is not the case in a FE college library employing one or two librarians. Therefore, a radically new acquisition model for FE is badly needed.

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