Monday, March 26, 2012

Collection Development - The Beginnings of a Philosophy

Lately I've been working on library collection issues. Many things keep cropping up, and I'm hoping to eventually work them into a coherent philosophy. The biggest one on my mind right now is this: To put it simply, I think the library should not hope to win on quantity, but we should try to win on quality.

The problem is that many online library products come in bundles. And as with a cable TV package, the library ends up with a mix of the great with the less than stellar. Unfortunately, the content that is less than stellar degrades the entire library brand. With free web search, there is little expectation of quality. But usually if you look long and hard enough, you can find something relevant due to the sheer quantity. The library should be stepping in to provide a shortcut to quality when people get overwhelmed by or weary of quantity. Instead, I notice the trend is to mimic the open web and to emphasize the idea that something is better than nothing, even if that something is frustratingly irrelevant.

On the one hand, and in the context of human/computer interactions, if a computer gives you something irrelevant, at least it's not implying you're stupid by refusing to give you anything at all. Instead of a null, you're getting some feedback, which might give you a clue about how to get the thing you really want.

But what I'm really worried about is whether we're misdirecting time and energy (and, let's face it, money) away from serious collection building into efforts to make the library more user-friendly. Text the library! Use this one single box to search across everything in the collection, sort of!  Read this 25-page research article on your iPhone! These types of tools are only valuable when there is strong content underneath.

I'm not recommending that we ignore the Long Tail, but instead of trying to be all-inclusive we could focus on acquiring and maintaining core materials in whatever discipline or disciplines are relevant to our patron group. And then for the things we don't have, educate patrons about how to get them -- this is usually well within our power.

So I am I crazy? Why do I feel like I'm swimming against the current here?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spring Break Projects

It's spring break right now. The parking lot is empty, but inside the library I'm playing catch-up again. Here's what is currently on my plate:
  • I'm re-working drafts of a portion of the library's information literacy tutorial, which will hopefully be ready for the Fall 2012 semester.
  • I'm making collection recommendations for a couple of academic divisions on campus.
This seems like a short list when viewed on the page here, but it has absorbed the entire week!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Library as Place: Warehouse Space

Having managed library reserves for several years now, I notice a common attitude toward the library is that it's like cold storage. Drop the stuff at the library and forget about it -- the library will keep it there for posterity. This mentality explains the sometimes-palpable sense of disappointment when we don't have something, or when we used to have something in print but now "only" have it online.

I suppose this warehouse function of the library was more prominent in the past. Perhaps libraries used to be less inviting as productive spaces to spend time in, because they existed primarily for storage of paper-based materials. Now, however, if something is taking up real estate in the building, it had better be in demand. From what I've read, this mentality is not just in community college libraries, but also at research libraries where infrequently-used materials are being moved off-site.

The funny thing is, the library probably became a popular place to study because it was a centralized repository of shared information. Now that information is no longer limited to a particular physical space, will the popularity of libraries as study spaces continue, or is the modern use of library space based in nostalgia that will fade over time?