Public Display of Affection… for READING (hey oh!)

The Digital Campus podcast is one of my favourite podcasts — and considering it’s going up against Ira Glass and Michael Enright, that’s saying a lot. The latest edition of the podcast includes a really interesting discussion of a new phenomenon sweeping Library Land — PDAs. I know, I know — you’ve been busting PDAs at the lie-berry since the dawn of time! This is a new PDA, and one being piloted within OCUL: Patron Driven Acquisitions. This system allows users to (in a very structured manner) directly buy ebooks for their library. There is a nice overview of PDAs on the eBook Library Blog, as well as from YBP, which is the acquisitions vendor that is helping to provide the service to libraries.

The podcast quotes a statistic about how 50% of books in academic libraries never ever get checked out, and having recently created a usage statistics report for books purchased for my subject area, I can attest to the fact that 50% is bang on, if not generous. I was pretty embarrassed when I saw all those zeroes in my Millenium report, but the fact that this is actually common knowledge among librarians is a real head-scratcher — Didn’t someone look at that and think, “Hey, books that don’t get used EVER are not a good use of our already-dwindling funds. We should not do this anymore.” I guess they did, and began laying the groundwork for this sort of initiative… But DANG.

It’s great to imagine a system where all those books that languish on the shelves are no more, and that students’ and faculty demands for research materials can be met at their point of need. I hate selecting books and then wondering if anyone will ever crack these puppies open and actually read them. I have made my eyes bleed trying to make sense of usage statistics and trying to find patterns of usage where there often seem to be none. PDAs will help me sleep better at night.

Of course PDAs can’t be the only method of selection and probably never will be. Libraries maintain a large core collection and a robust database collection. As the march towards special collections, data curation, and open access materials continues and intensifies, I don’t think I’ll be handing over my entire collections budget to my students any time soon.

But these are other issues for other days, fair reader. For now, help yourself to that fine podcast and ponder the notion of letting our users make their own decisions about which books to buy.

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2 responses to “Public Display of Affection… for READING (hey oh!)

  1. Graham Lavender

    Seriously, it is *so* frustrating to order books when you know there’s a 50/50 chance that they will never ever be used. Lately I’ve been weeding a lot of books from the early 90s that look really interesting (albeit a bit dated) but are in mint condition because they’ve never been looked at.

    I think PDAs are a great idea. When students suggest that we purchase certain items, sometimes I don’t think the books are a perfect fit for the collection, but I usually purchase them anyway, because at least *somebody* will use them. PDAs would make this process even easier.

  2. Thanks for the comment Graham!
    Yeah, sometimes I worry that the quality of the research collection might diminish… Let’s face it, there’s a lot of crap published in this world (and for you and me — collecting in business and management — this statement is especially true).
    There were a lot of books purchased during our PDA pilot with titles like, “Top Ten *blah blah blah* for Success!”, which is a bit disconcerting. But this has always been a challenge for me when collecting, so I suppose it’s just a new version of an old problem.