Understanding the Business of Library Acquisitions (2nd edition)

Steve Morgan (Deputy Head (Learning Resources Centre), University of Glamorgan)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Morgan, S. (2000), "Understanding the Business of Library Acquisitions (2nd edition)", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 139-156. https://doi.org/10.1108/lr.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The word that encompasses the library function that we have come to know and love – acquisitions – has begun to sound outdated. There are at least two reasons for this, I think. First, library departments with the A word in the title are a dying breed and have often been subsumed under other names such as technical services or purchasing. Far from being cosmetic, these name changes may also have been part of wider staff restructuring exercises. Second, the notion of access (as opposed to holdings) has created uncertainty in relation to the traditional idea of acquisitions, that is buying books and all that surrounds that transaction. Underlying both of these reasons are the new technologies and the implications they have for the profession as a whole and for the particular function formerly known as acquisitions. Since the publication of the first edition of Schmidt’s book (1990) we have seen enormous changes in communications between libraries and suppliers, the mushrooming of various types of outsourcing, an exponential growth in electronic resources and the proliferation of licensing deals while still having to maintain the need to acquire out of print, foreign or antiquarian material. And all this against a background of a steady reduction in the buying power of library budgets. This second – “expanded and greatly enhanced” – edition has managed to take these changes on board and provide the reader with comprehensive and up‐to‐date coverage of the topic – whatever we call it!Each of the contributors to the 19 chapters was asked to synthesize the literature in their area, consider the present as well as the future and also to present best practice in relation to acquisitions librarianship. They have fulfilled their remit admirably.

The first four chapters concentrate on the publishing industry and how it relates to libraries. These are followed by a trio of chapters about vendors/suppliers, what business they are in and how to evaluate them. The central third of the book deals with specialist areas of acquisitions including selection of material from abroad, approval plans, acquiring serials (new to this second edition), out of print material, gifts and exchanges and, finally, non‐print trading. The first and last on that list (and, incidentally, the book’s two longest chapters) contain exhaustive details of different countries (from which to acquire material) and names and addresses of suppliers of non‐print material, respectively. In the final half a dozen chapters we are introduced to aspects of the management of the acquisitions function. These include the various methods and models of outsourcing (another chapter new to this edition) and basic acquisitions accounting and business practice. This latter chapter is remarkably readable given its number‐crunching nature. It is quite refreshing to see the word “ethics” in the title of two of the chapters, covering topics such as consumer protection, payment problems and business relationships. I would argue that the subjects of the final two contributions (on staffing issues and licensing) warrant much more text space than they get. Some of the advice is far too simplistic to be of any benefit – “use active listening skills”, “be honest”, “be fair” etc. I know the contributor says that “management is not a rocket science or brain surgery” (p. 358) but this is taking things a little too far. These pearls of wisdom could fall out of the pages of any number of management theory books. Managing change takes up less than one page. Surely technological developments have been asking serious questions about deployment of staff in acquisitions‐related areas? Although short, the final chapter on licensing offers a helpful three‐page checklist of questions to ask when negotiating a licensing agreement.

Clearly aimed at the United States market, this is a useful snapshot of acquisitions librarianship at the end of the Millennium, with a brief glimpse into the next. In any third edition I firmly expect the “A” word to be relegated to the subtitle, or even disappear altogether.

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