By Allison Campbell-Jensen
The University Libraries had been shifting its collections investments towards e-books, electronic journals, and electronic databases. In fact, in fiscal year 2021, 88% of the Libraries’ expenditures were for electronic resources. Despite this, the Libraries still had some commitment to print. Then the pandemic arrived.
“COVID was when you saw a very dramatic shift from print to electronic monographs, out of necessity,” says Julie Rashid, Acquisitions and Rapid Cataloging Manager. “We knew it was on the horizon, but COVID took it from the horizon and put it on a superjet, and it got to us fast.”
Even those faculty who really like print are more accepting of materials in electronic formats now than they were prior to COVID, says Melissa Eighmy Brown, Interim Director of Content Acquisition and Delivery. For Rashid’s team, the change has caused a shift in focus but the goal remains the same: to work together to get content to users.
Biting into backlogs
A large part of acquisitions is carried out as approval purchases. Subject liaisons don’t always hand-select individual titles; instead, the Libraries relies on approval vendors who are set up with specific criteria for subjects, type of books, price, and so on. “Any new book that fits our criteria, including a preference for unlimited use e-books, comes to us automatically,” Rashid says.
The Libraries also does much more purchasing on demand, through orders from the subject liaisons or via interlibrary loan. When a request comes in, they generally order the item within 24 hours; about 80% arrive within 1 to 10 days.
At the start of COVID, the Libraries was not able to cancel all approval orders; in addition, many items were in transit. As time passed, Rashid was concerned about books and journals piling up in the shipping room. She was able to get permission from the Libraries administration to enter Wilson Library on July 8, 2020. She began opening up boxes and journals and repacking them for her staff to take them home, receive them, and bring them back.
“By the time the staff physically came in on August 28 of 2020, our backlog was almost caught up,” she says. Meanwhile, she heard from other Big Ten academic librarians who were not able to enter their libraries and so were overwhelmed by the flood of materials. She’s grateful her team is so willing to help out.
Collaborating with other groups
Another way the team has stepped forward is to do rapid cataloging. Professional catalogers set up a template with required fields for a book to be cataloged. If the fields are part of the record, Rashid’s team can catalog the book immediately. They have been doing this work for a while.
When the cataloging group lost quite a few people to the early retirement program, Rashid and team offered to search the titles waiting for cataloging a second time to find titles with OCLC records and complete the cataloging. “To date, we have re-searched 2,772 titles and have been able to find cataloging copy for 1,143 (43.23%) and send them on their way to the shelf,” Rashid says.
They have also worked with the e-resources management group to order e-books, pay approval e-book invoices, and even load records with metadata information, which they had not done before. They are looking at taking on marking — putting labels on books. “[These changes] give us new opportunities for professional development and growth and the ability to use our skills in different places in the library, which really feels good,” Rashid says.
“We try to be flexible and meet the user where they’d like to be.”
The Libraries faces space constraints, so it cannot continue acquiring a lot of physical materials. Yet print survives for several reasons. Foreign language materials, Rashid notes, may simply not be available yet in electronic formats.
In addition, “there are materials like maps and fine art materials where you want the glossy, beautiful big picture and not some little graphic on a screen,” she says. And many small press offerings, including association publications like the Hosta Journal, are not being published electronically. Other physical materials include CDs and DVDs.
And the team can move from digital to print, Rashid points out. “We do purchase digital scores [of musical compositions] and, with the permission of the publisher, print them out on preservation printing paper and bind them. We try to be flexible and meet the user where they’d like to be.”
Although they don’t typically work directly with Libraries patrons, they did help a professor who wanted a correct copy of a 19-year-old book with misprinted pages for his doctoral student. Usually replacing such an old book would cost $750 or more but he was not going to be satisfied with tipping in photocopies of the correct pages. With the professor’s help, Monograph Acquisitions Specialist Lichun Shen was able to negotiate with the original publisher and obtain a clean replacement copy — at no charge.
The professor, his PhD student, and the subject liaison all sent thank you notes. Says Eighmy Brown, “I think that shows how important the collection really is, especially to our faculty, but also to our students and all of our users.”