Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Ten - Ordering

This morning I spent some time with the Subject Librarian (Science & Technology) talking about the various factors involved when ordering stock items for the library. I asked for this session to be included in my shadowing programme as I had often wondered how the librarians decide which titles to purchase, how many copies to buy and which format to buy them in (e.g. physical book or e-book).

The SL (S&T) started the session by explaining how the budget for each subject area is determined. The overall budget for library stock is divided between the Faculty Liaison Librarians (previously Academic Liaison Librarians) based partly on student numbers and partly on subject knowledge and previous experience. The FLL then deducts an amount for set expenditure such as journal subscriptions, electronic resources and standing orders. The remainder is then split between the various subject areas, again based on both student numbers and previous experience.

To ensure that the whole budget is spent by the end of the financial year, monthly spending targets are set by the Acquisitions Team. Although these provide a useful guide, it is not always practical to order books evenly throughout the year. For instance, the Subject Librarians have to ensure enough money is left towards the end of the academic year when bulk requests are placed for key texts in readiness for the start of the following year.

Sources of orders
The library's Collection Management Policy states that the library's main aim is "to provide a wide range of resources, but with current needs and access to core materials and texts taking priority". The majority of orders are therefore placed for copies of key and essential texts as listed in the individual Module Definition Forms/Module Guides. Gaining access to these reading lists is not, however, always straightforward. In the past these have been requested from the appropriate academic staff but other pressures on their time mean that this is not always their top priority. The SL (S&T) has therefore found that it is often more effective to request reading lists from the relevant administrative staff in each department instead.

Once the reading lists are received they have to be checked as sometimes they include out of print titles or older editions. Sometimes they also include weekly reading lists which do not specify which texts are key, essential or for background reading. This not only makes it difficult for the librarians to know how many copies to order, but it also makes it difficult for the students to determine which are the most important materials to read. In these situations, the librarians have to liaise with the departments to try and source alternatives. This obviously calls for some diplomacy and underlines the importance of building effective working relationships with the appropriate academic and administrative staff.

Although the Collection Development Policy gives clear guidance on the number of key, essential and background reading texts that should be purchased, additional copies can be ordered where demand is especially high. A report is regularly generated by our library management system, Aleph, to highlight such items, i.e. where reservations have been placed but not fulfilled. Orders are also generated by a lost item report which lists items that have been overdue or missing for a specific length of time. These are not, however, necessarily replaced like for like. For instance, where an item is out of print the preference is to replace it with a more recent title which covers similar material. Out of print items are however purchased where important information is not included in alternative titles. Similarly, new editions are ordered to replace the old unless they contain valuable material which is omitted from the latest edition.

Requests and suggestions for new items are welcomed from students and staff. These can be written in the suggestions book held at the Enquiry Desk or submitted using the online recommendations form available via the library website. Academic staff will usually send their requests direct to the appropriate Subject Librarian. These items are normally purchased unless the cost is prohibitive. Student's suggestions are considered on an individual basis within the context of the Collection Development Policy. As the Vice Chancellor has recently placed an emphasis on increasing research activity within our university I was curious to know whether this would attract more requests from academic staff and consequently more funding for the library. The SL (S&T) felt that it was, however, too soon to predict what the impact will be.

Subject Librarians are also given the discretion to order items to fill gaps in the collection that are not highlighted by any of the above means. As each Subject Librarian is responsible for more than one subject area they can not realistically be expected to have an expert knowledge of all the subjects for which they are responsible. I therefore asked the Subject Librarian (S&T) whether she was required to have a degree in a science or technology subject and how she has developed her knowledge of the other areas. She explained that although her background is in a different subject area she has built up her knowledge of the collection and the different subject areas through dealing with student enquiries and communications with academic staff. This has given her a feel for which subject areas are covered well by the collection and where the demand for additional information lies.

Additional considerations
Because the library has a limited budget for purchasing stock items it will always, inevitably, be outstripped by demand. Considering which items to buy and how many copies to purchase is therefore only part of the story. The Subject Librarians also have to deliberate which format to select and how to manage the stock once it arrives to maximise availability. For instance, where resources are available electronically, e.g. e-books, these are likely to be favoured over print versions as they provide wider access, including off-site, to a greater number of readers. However, in some cases digital versions may not be suitable either because they are too expensive, can not be supported by the Digital Library or in the case of some subjects like art, the quality of the 'print' is insufficient.

Where the demand for specific paper items is particularly high instead of buying additional copies the Subject Librarians can employ a range of different loan statuses to increase circulation. For instance, they may decide to have a number of 7-day or 24-hour copies supplemented by a reference copy. Similarly, if items are prone to theft or vandalism or are particularly expensive or difficult to replace (e.g. out of print copies) they can also be safeguarded by making them available via the counter only and again using short loan statuses to increase circulation.

Ordering Items
We did not spend much time actually placing orders as I have previously witnessed parts of the process through shadowing the Acquisitions Team and through the earlier Cataloguing and Classification session. After going through the process of placing one or two orders I did, however, begin to appreciate just how time-consuming and administratively intensive the various checks and procedures are. Despite this, because of the manifold considerations outlined above, ordering is not something that can be easily delegated to non-professional staff. I am, however, hoping that my previous experience of ordering goods and services, processing invoices and monitoring budgets will prove to be useful preparation.

Although I have always suspected that ordering stock is not a straightforward business I had not previously appreciated the true complexity of the underlying decision-making processes involved. It soon became apparent during this session that our Subject Librarians, along with most other librarians in most sectors, face an increasingly difficult balancing act of weighing a limited budget against the demands of readers.

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