The Power of Collecting

The most striking thing about Cynthia Orr’s article, Collection Development in Public Libraries, is Orr’s mention of the client-centered approach to collection management. The Internet and new technologies have provided more avenues to people searching for information, and this has changed the traditional modi operandus of the collection development librarian. Orr says, “the future of collection development librarians lies in moving from a philosophy of identifying, purchasing, and maintaining finite collections, toward making their libraries gateways to both local and external sources in order to deliver the content needed by the user…” (1098). This word, “gateways,” is emblematic of our current media-saturated environment. I immediately think of subscriptions to online media content, and web portals which link to a variety of integrated services. Indeed, digital access to goods and services is the hallmark of our day. There has been a proliferation of digital content platforms that libraries have courted to provide better services, such as Hoopla and Audible. While I am not overly familiar with these services (I am still an old-fashioned book buyer), this is exactly what Orr is discussing when she says that collection development librarians will be spending more time catering and cataloging content through third-party vendors and providers.

Information is coming at us faster than ever. It is a tired cliche. But in terms of technological celerity, it is not just digital information resources that are changing. Traditional print media is changing as well. It is remarkable to witness the trends in both the popular and indie publishing arenas, whereby print books – especially series – are becoming serialized. Perhaps for the first time, it is not just installments of a book in serial form, but the entire work that is sent to press from the moment you hear about it. This complicates the collection development strategy, as now the collection development librarian will not even have a ready source for review before deciding to purchase. She will only have teasers from the author’s own social media marketing team!

There is, of course, justification for this, both for the author and the book retailer. It is all part of staying in business and staving off extinction. For example, you find a way to create hype, and then you provide the option for presale order, where people spend just a little bit more to guarantee they have that new Harry Potter or G.R.R.M at the “lay-down date.” But these kinds of trends, both the digital and the accelerated print publishing trends, create new horizons for the collection development librarian. Indeed, instead of relying on traditional review journals like Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Choice, etc., collection development librarians will be keeping track of (along with the requisite jobbers) things like blogs, podcasts, e-newsletters, and even popular radio (or their web forms) like National Public Radio’s Books or Book Concierge.

The discussion of marketing public libraries is extremely interesting as well. I remember this discussion quite well when I was working on an associates degree in Library Technical Services seven years ago. The discussion centered on how public librarians and administrators were beginning to see the purpose of doing what users wanted, and were in fact starting to model their spaces off of conventional bookstores. Some of the more intrepid, I recall, were moving away from Dewey altogether and organizing their shelves by displaying large, flashy subject headings that were very Borders Bookstore-esque.

Anyways, the discussion of marketing public libraries is extremely interesting to me. I was not aware that there was such a dilemma between “give them what they want” versus “we collect in the following areas” as types of collection development strategies. It seems that the “Long Tail” marketing theory mentioned by Orr is related to the latter strategy. In other words, public libraries can demonstrate that they are providing a worthwhile (and budget justified!) service by circulating a wide variety of books to a niche market, instead of spending large portions of the budget on popular materials. Sadly, limiting the purchase of demand-driven books is a big part of balancing the budget.

Although my experience is in academic libraries and not in public, the literature on research libraries is a little more arcane and less accessible or interesting to the casual reader. But there are definitely some interesting issues at stake in the public library sphere when it comes to administrative structuring, marketing, user analysis, content management, contract law, and collection development strategy in relation to digital content service monitoring.

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