Thinking Toward “Faculty Select” (Faculty-initiated purchases)

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One of the wiser trends in academic librarianship is faculty engagement in acquiring materials. This spring the library will launch a pilot program called “Faculty Select” (one of several names crowdsourced on Twitter). This program is designed to make it easier for faculty to recommend and purchase materials.

In fact, 95% of the remainder of the 2009-2010 book budget–as small an amount as that is–is dedicated to faculty-initiated purchases.

This sounds like an easy thing to do. We will soon have a web form up, and I’ll discuss Faculty Select at the February faculty senate meeting. You propose and we purchase. All done, right?

Well, not exactly. There are some issues to address as we go along–issues that someone less experimental than I would address before we launch such a project.  What (or whose) purchases take priority–curriculum-based purchases, areas of interest, etc.? How do we slice the money pie? If materials are available electronically, should we purchase in that format, to save precious shelf space and follow the path of usage of our library materials?

Furthermore, how do we communicate to ensure that needs are met (given that the library is at this point still a little small to conduct true faculty liaison activities, as is routine practice at our aspirational peer libraries)? Is there an assessment model for this project?

Note that I am proposing we launch this project in the absence of a sound, faculty-approved collection plan… before we have established a library subcommittee… and in the middle of the library changing book vendors and reorganizing how we ensure the materials we purchase (print or electronic) end up in our catalog.

I also admit that I struggle with the concept of “radical trust” when the library still needs to do the basic groundwork to have conversations with faculty, and then with their buy-in develop policy, about what a good working collection for the library should look like.

But I don’t want to spend a year developing policies and procedures and department budgets before we try this out. We have the advantage of being a small campus with good campus-wide communication tools, and it’s not a lot of money to spend, anyway. We have “small” on our side.

And besides, at least with legacy print materials (fondly referred to by some as “books” and “print journals”), what we’ve done so far has not been working. I don’t know if it ever worked, but I can tell you that traditional print materials, new or old, are barely moving off the shelves.

eBooks, ejournals, and databases–those are doing well, and will do better when we market them better and improve our “first year experience” delivery. These materials are congruent with the workflows of students in this day and age–not to mention the workflows of the working lives they will assume after graduation.

But books–the stuff that had been our bread & butter for a very long time–leave this library in people’s hands about 100 times a month, and half of those checkouts are reserves. It’s not right to take money from students and spend it in a manner that doesn’t directly help them become the lifelong critical thinkers we want  them to become. And we’re responsible for felling many, many trees–a serious issue of environmental justice. If we’re going to cut down trees and fill rivers with the byproducts of paper production, let it at least be for books that will be used.

So, with everyone aware this is cart-before-the-horse, I’d like us to engage in this pilot project with the spirit of adventure, and learn as we go.

What do you think?

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