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Boston University is one of the 10 universities helping shape the development of ProQuest Rialto

This groundbreaking solution addresses the challenges of selection and acquisition for academic libraries. Boston University Libraries are home to more than 2.4 million physical volumes, over 45,000 current unique serials and 77,000 media titles.

ProQuest’s Rhonda Foxworth recently spoke with three librarians from Boston University Libraries about their pain points and how they’re hoping to improve the processes around collection development.

Rhonda Foxworth, ProQuest: What do you feel are the most pressing problems around the selection and acquisition process?

Anna Lawless Collins (Associate Director for Systems and Collection Services, Fineman and Pappas Law Libraries): At the law library, our selectors are also our reference librarians, with subject specialties. They are such busy people. They teach our legal research and writing classes. They teach for-credit classes. They teach in the legal research certification program. They advise journals, liaise with faculty and law school departments, and support law school programs. They sit on the reference desk. I'm really looking for a tool that's going to be more efficient and make the job of selecting content easier.  For example, they don't interact with Alma on a regular basis but that's where their fund information is stored. If there was a way to get that information to them in a friendly user interface, that would be a huge help.

Amy Limpitlaw (Head Librarian, School of Theology Library): Avoiding duplication is my problem to solve. It seems like a simple problem to solve, especially when I’m doing basically all the selection and ordering myself since we have such a small staff. I always check to see if the book is already purchased by one of the other libraries. Every so often, we'll still see duplication. It’s usually with ebooks. Our other libraries often buy ebooks in large packages, but we tend to buy individually by title. I'm not sure what ebooks are in those packages and the contents of the packages change.

Steve Smith (Head of Collection Development, Mugar Memorial Library): Just to follow up on what Amy said, that's what our problem is in a nutshell. We're getting books through all sorts of different purchasing methods, like through demand-driven acquisition and publisher packages, and it’s hard to avoid duplications.

Getting things to our patrons quickly is no longer the issue and we don't need to have it on the shelf waiting for them. But we still have this kind of methodology where everyone is selecting at that point of book availability and that causes problems. This creates problems with duplication, and inefficiencies because maybe this title is going to appear on one of the publisher packages, but we don’t know. The way the work happens needs to be done differently. And the way we present the work to the [selectors] needs to be done differently.

Amy:  Yeah, I agree. I have created my own workaround. I get my list of slip notifications weekly. I never buy anything right away. I keep a list of what I want to buy eventually but always wait about two or three months to avoid duplications.

Steve:  And that's the thing. This gets really labor-intensive when we have 15 people doing selection. People are having to go in and move things to a folder and then go back to it. It’s not very efficient. These are specific cases but are the real headaches we have.

RF: Why hasn’t there been change before now?

Steve: A lot of it is inertia. Individual selectors or bibliographers are so entrenched with their funds to buy for their subjects. Things don’t change even though most places have fewer people doing selection. They'll often just move that pot of money to someone else. Also, libraries like Harvard and Yale have a lot of endowed funds with subject restrictions which keeps hands off budgets.

I think there's been a lot of inertia because no one has seen a good model of how we can do it better. While there are a lot issues around selection, the people doing it often love it to death. Though it can be just a part of their job, they love doing it, and are very protective of it. They don't want to see it go away.  So, it would be a real problem to say we’ll stop doing it, because it’s not clear there is a good alternative.

Amy:  I do think there are some people who get very entrenched in how they've always done it. It works for them so it's a little bit scary to move away from the old model.

Steve: With all the budget pressures, most places have been seeing their monograph budgets reduced a great deal. This hasn't been forcing the change in the process because people are buying fewer books with that money going in serials. That's really been where we've been seeing the changes. People are not trying to do book buying more efficiently or more effectively, but just doing less of it because they have to put that money into other things.

RF: How do you hope to help the industry by being a Rialto development partner?

Steve: These issues were why I was really interested in learning about Rialto when ProQuest and Ex Libris first started making quiet little noises about this project. I knew it would be really interesting, so I wanted to make sure we got in on it.

I’m hoping to get us all rethinking how we do this work to find some better and more effective ways to do it. I want our selectors to feel confident that we're getting what our users need and at the same time, being good stewards of our resources.

Libraries haven't shifted how we do this work, even though we're buying so much. A recent report on library book acquisitions from Ithaka S+R was fundamentally flawed as it said libraries are buying more print than ebooks. [The data] appears this way because we only have order records for the books we purchase individually.  Most of our ebooks are purchased in huge collections which have only one order record in Alma. This is just evidence that we're not thinking clearly about how we are doing selection work. This affects not only the libraries, but the scholarly publishers and university presses. They don’t have a handle on how we're collecting because they just get revenue from aggregators and distributors. Publishers don't know how it relates to individual title usage. It's really left everybody in a big muddle about what’s really happening. I'm really hoping that the conversation around Rialto can help shift the whole way we think about the work and how we and the publishers understand what we're buying.

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