From collections to connections

Reference Reviews

ISSN: 0950-4125

Article publication date: 1 January 2004



O'Beirne, R. (2004), "From collections to connections", Reference Reviews, Vol. 18 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

From collections to connections

Stock selection is professionally rewarding. In an ideal world, where financial constraints are not crippling and internal politics not paralyzing, choosing materials can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of a librarian's working life. In most libraries and organizations ample guidance is given through the various policy documents. These usually bear such titles as "stock policy" or "collection development policy". There are, as one would expect, differences of approach to stock selection depending on the type of library, these being influenced greatly by whether it is a school library, an academic library, a special library or a public library. Of course, stock selection is very much entangled with other library activities such as loans, cataloguing and financial management, and is dependent upon related policies and procedures.

Over the past five years or so the whole framework for collection development has needed to adapt to accommodate the growth in electronic resources. Initially, at what we might term the dawn of the electronic era, there was a need to regard online resources as novel, and in some way special. Then came the tendency to try to add-on electronic resources, treating them in a similar way to books. This in itself brought difficulties and tensions; yes, evaluating online databases was different from choosing books, but few libraries were prepared to overhaul their tried and tested selection methodologies. Policies and procedures were tinkered with and tweaked until many were over-complex.

Subscriptions to online databases and full-text versions of journals can be difficult to negotiate. Librarians have needed to develop new skills, to gain a rapid understanding of complex pricing models. The dilemma of ownership versus access is brought into play once a subscription has ceased, catching many by surprise. One obvious solution currently being investigated is that of more extensive archiving of online material, coupled with secure and efficient access strategies for the future.

The current era sees Internet access as ubiquitous. Any policy on stock needs to be tied in with the wider access policy of the library. How then does a library reconcile the provision of printed reference materials with that of Internet access revealing the same information? This is the central thrust of the debate facing librarians, certainly those working in the public sector. Access policies, themselves still evolving, have so far paid little attention to stock policy. The emphasis has been on the provision of technology as an end in itself rather than as a complement to traditional stock provision. The next stage should witness the emergence of an intrinsic link between stock policy and access policy. Once this connection is made a greater link can be forged with wider library policy.

It used to be perfectly acceptable to measure how well a library was doing simply by counting the number of books that were issued, or the number of readers that joined. In an increasingly electronic information service this yardstick is no longer relevant or efficient.

Ronan O'BeirnePrincipal Libraries Officer Information, Bradford Libraries, Archives and Information Service, Bradford, UK

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