ILS-519 Acquisitions & development
of library and information resources

©2004-2007 Amy Ranger
Interview with an Acquisitions librarian
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Special project: Collection analysis of Typography books at Western Michigan University

This interview was conducted and written by Amy Proni (now Amy Ranger) for the course ILS-519, Acquisitions and development of library and information resources, taught by Dr. A. Bielefield, Southern Connecticut State University, Fall, 2004.

Assignment: Your main task is to interview an acquisitions librarian—not in the library in which you work—the larger the library, the better. What I want you to do is to sit with that person and interview him or her and ... actually see a hands-on demonstration of how he or she performs the acquisitions process, start to finish.

Randle Gideon, Acquisitions Librarian, Western Michigan University

I interviewed Randle Gideon at Waldo Library, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, for this assignment. View the University Libraries website here. The Acquisitions and Serials Department website may be found here.

Selection for the University Libraries is made by a variety of individuals, chiefly the Subject Liaison Librarians. Liaison librarians are responsible for determining all firm orders and orders from publishers’ catalogs. Faculty input was at one time an important part of the acquisitions process but is significantly less important now. However, university faculty, staff, and students are welcome to submit recommendations for the purchase of new library materials. All recommendations and rationales for purchases are referred to the appropriate library liaison for further consideration.

Resources used in the ordering process include Blackwell’s Collection Manager and Approval Plans, which are based on a profile of the university’s collection and programs. One Approval Plan offers a mechanism to purchase all new titles from various university presses in desired subject areas, but limits purchases by implementing a price cap. Blackwell also provides support for standing orders (serials) and firm orders. Form ordering (individual titles) is done through Collection Manager, but items may also be ordered through the Barnes and Noble and websites by either the Acquisitions Assistant (Ordering) or the Coordinator of Monographic Acquisitions.

Selectors may fill out an online form found on the website of the University Libraries — which will then be routed to the appropriate library liaison, not for approval, per se, but as a means of informing the liaison. Choices made by selectors are subject to the approval of staff in the Acquisitions Department, based upon monetary considerations. Items priced below $300 may be approved by the Acquisitions Assistant (Ordering); items priced between $300 and $600 may be approved by the Coordinator of Monographic Acquisitions; and items priced between $600 and $1,000 may be approved by the Head of Acquisitions & Serials. The Collection Development Committee, chaired by the Assistant Dean for Resources, must approve requests for items costing more than $1,000.

An AV specialist and the Head of the Visual Resources Library select titles for video recordings and slides. Video recordings (including recordings on videotape and digital video discs) are typically ordered from A small collection of films remains, but new titles in that format are no longer purchased. Slides are purchased from different vendors, including Saskia Cultural Documentation and Davis Art Slides.

The library rarely purchases titles in multiple formats. Having said that, however, I must note that they have purchased access to the entire eBrary collection (through a 3-year subscription that provides unlimited access to 45,000 electronic books and journals, and which must be renewed for continued access). An additional 20,000 titles have also been purchased from netLibrary in concert with the Michigan Library Consortium and the Michigan Electronic Library. In theory, permanent ownership is attached, that is, no further payments are required. The eBrary titles may be viewed simultaneously by an unlimited number of users — although I would surmise that the limitation is really the number of electronic connections that the eBrary server can handle. The netLibrary titles are accessed with the single user concept in mind: if a title has been “checked out,” it may not be viewed by another user until it is returned, or checked back in.

Electronic titles cost, for the most part, more than equivalent print materials. Even so, the University Libraries have changed subscriptions on hundreds of journals in the past two years from print to electronic — with the condition of archival access.

The steps in the process for acquiring selected titles is fairly straightforward. The Acquisitions Assistant (Ordering) places orders on a daily basis via web-based interfaces through Blackwell’s Collection Manager or the Emery-Pratt Company (a book distributor based in Michigan which offers a searchable database and has a good fill rate.) A web browser is all that is necessary for placing orders.

The University Libraries use Endeavor’s Voyager system (installed in 1998); unfortunately, the back-end of Voyager, that is, the tools used by staff in Technical Services, is not as useful to them as they would like it to be. The Voyager system will not allow a Purchase Order to be entered without bibliographic records for each item that is on the P.O. “Pre-order searching” is a process that can take 2 to 3 weeks, and is currently being handled by staff in the Cataloging Department. For routine items, this is not seen as much of a problem, but for “rush” items, it is problematic. In those cases, the Acquisitions Assistant (Ordering) must create a provisional bibliographic record; this record will later be overlaid or modified by the cataloger who processes the item. This situation is rather touchy, I gathered, and is due not only to the software problems but also to the personalities of the various department heads in Technical Services. Little was said directly, but much was implied.

Materials are not purchased with processing, except for “pre-binding,” a library quality binding for paperbacks that costs about $8.00 and is done instead of purchasing a hardcover book. Most cataloging and processing is done in-house, with the major exception of MARCHIVE records for government documents.

The rate at which orders are filled varies, but in general shipments from Blackwell arrive each Wednesday. Orders from other vendors, such as, Emery-Pratt, and Barnes and Noble, arrive regularly. The Acquisitions Assistant (Receiving) opens each box, checks the items against the packing list and purchase order, and creates a processing slip for each item. The items are then shelved in the Acquisitions area, and Library Liaisons are notified so that they may look over the new arrivals. This is their opportunity to reject an approval book (unless it is one that has been pre-bound: the act of binding a volume negates any chance to return it). Typically items received on Wednesday are processed by Thursday, viewed by Liaisons on Friday and Monday, and sent to Cataloging the next Tuesday.

Cataloging presents something of a bottleneck: the time it takes to catalog and process a book (processing includes labels, bar codes, identifying stamps, and the 3M Tattle-Tape anti-theft strips) can range from a few days to a few months. Print materials are divided by cataloging status: works cataloged by the Library of Congress; works cataloged by a member library in the Program for Co-operative Cataloging (PCC); and works not yet cataloged. Items which have already been cataloged by the Library of Congress typically go through the system quickly. There are catalogers for non-print materials (2); maps and scores (1); serials (1); special collections (2); children’s collection (1), and fast cataloging (2).

Materials purchased on standing order include: sets, series, periodicals, microfilms, newspapers, reference works, and items published on an ongoing basis. Standing-order annuals are purchased every year.

The University Libraries participate in several approval plans. The primary plan is offered by Blackwell; through it the Libraries receive much of the output from university presses and other academic publishers. The plan was drawn up in 1998, when the Libraries migrated to Blackwell from Baker & Taylor. Liaisons worked with the Head of Acquisitions and the Blackwell sales representative drew it up using a hierarchy and descriptors; it is revised on an ad-hoc basis. In FY2003, the University Libraries received 9,064 books on this plan at a cost of $355,910. [Purchase orders accounted for 5,370 titles; and 9,276 titles were received as form orders.] Other approval plans include: European publisher profiles: Germany (through Otto Harrasowitz), Italy (through Casalini Libri), France (through Jean Touzot) and Spain (through Puvill). Yankee Book Peddler provides the Libraries with a plan for award-winning children’s books (Newberry, Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Marie Matchelder and a few more). Theodore Front offers an approval plan for providing musical scores which was designed by the Head of the Music Library.

With regard to leasing plans, best-sellers used to be leased but now are purchased, primarily from Barnes and Noble. The Assistant Dean for Resources handles all gifts to the University Libraries. There is a policy on what constitutes an acceptable gift, but it is not available on the libraries’ website (nor are any of the approval plans, for that matter). The Acquisitions Librarian explained that gift books (the gifts are primarily books) are typically laid out in the Resource Sharing Department, so that Library Liaisons may review the titles and decide which should be retained and which should be given to the Friends of the University Libraries for their semi-annual book sale. A letter of acknowledgment is usually sent to the donor.

Twelve people work in Acquisitions & Serials. The head of the department is a tenured faculty member. He supervises the Coordinator of Monographic Acquisitions, the Electronic Resource Specialist, and the Bindery Coordinator. The Coordinator of Monographic Acquisitions supervises two Acquisition Assistants: Ordering and Receiving. The Electronic Resource Specialist maintains a database of more than 7,000 titles; he supervises the Coordinator of Serial and Electronic Resources and the Coordinator of Serial Holdings and Data. The Bindery Coordinator supervises an Assistant (who also works part-time in Processing). Books and journals are sent out for binding approximately twice a month; the monthly total of items bound is between four and five hundred. The Coordinator of Serial and Electronic Resources has one Assistant who processes invoices, and the Coordinator of Serial Holdings and Data also has one assistant; they monitor the data and records (holdings) for serials and standing orders.

The budget for materials is determined by the University Provost in concert with the Assistant Dean for Resources. Approximately 70% of the budget is earmarked for serials; 30% for monographs. The total library budget is close to evenly divided between materials and personnel. Six and a half million dollars (roughly) are used for Acquisitions; five and a half million dollars are designated for personnel. A lot of what I call “hand-waving” occurs during the budgeting process: there seems to be magic involved. The library budget has been cut twice in the last two years. Some savings have been realized through early retirements and a reduction in journal titles. Purchases of monographs were suspended for several months in 2003. Overall it is easy to see that inflation with regard to the cost of serials is ghastly; vendors are absolutely gouging academic libraries. Every department in the University Libraries has been forced to make difficult choices in the past year, and with enrollment lower than expected for this Fall semester of 2004, there is no reason to think that the immediate future will offer anything different.

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Last updated 2007-06-10. ALR. Contact me.