Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Modeling Library Materials Expenditure: Initial Experiments at Arizona State University

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Modeling Library Materials Expenditure: Initial Experiments at Arizona State University

Article excerpt

Modeling Library Materials Expenditure: Initial Experiments at Arizona State University

The basis (psychological, practical, legal) for the management control of selection is the need for accountability. [1] As presently understood, the need for accountability is a recent phenomenon, the product of large budgets centrally administered and (not coincidentally) the rise of collection management as a professional specialty. The parallel rise of collection management and quantified accountability has, however, been at some cost to the earlier ideal of expert selection as enunciated by Danton, who in 1963 assumed the direct application of policy to selection by persons with appropriate academic training. [2] Under this system, the account required of the library was a bookkeeping one, of the sort still rendered by the acquisitions department but now to the library's chief executive officer rather than to the faculty (as it was before the changes Danton recommended took hold and expert judgment came to be vested in a corps of subject specialists in the library). The faculty (individually, rarely collectively) or their subject specialist agents determined collection policy and were responsible to themselves concerning it. In this environment, allocation formulas arose as a means of adjudicating power struggles but hardly as a tool for the management of selection, there being little or no such management. [3] Selection policy was considered to follow from the application of expertise to available resources. This originally and predominantly political rationale for allocation by formula is still frequently the only rationale, whether overtly acknowledged or not. [4] In our time the manifest inadequacies of formulas (which I shall presently discuss) have led to a retreat from earlier hopes for quantified management and the role of expert judgment has thus been withdrawn to the administrator, whose judgment is managing and political rather than scholarly, and who is to use such quantified methods as are available as a tool by which to direct the subject specialists, who are now the manager's agents rather than the faculty's. [5]

This history should not be allowed to obscure the distinction between accountability quantified and unquantified, or between allocation formulas and other forms of budgeting. Accountability need not be by allocation; allocation need not be by subject; subject allocation need not be by formula. Where the focus is on subject allocation formulas it is because this fits the local management environment and the division of selection responsibility along disciplinary lines, not because formulas give inherently superior accountability. The advantage of a quantified basis for allocation is thought to be that, as data are updated the library responds consistently and promptly to changed conditions, [6] but these benefits can be realized without the use of a formula, by any administrative procedure. [7] Formulas may actually be inferior as devices to ensure accountability. In 1970 Schad was saying hopefully that the absence of a theoretical framework was a thing of the past; by 1978 he agreed that there was no present prospect for a fundamental theory; by 1987 he had abandoned this approach entirely. [8] The experience of many thoughtful people, I am sure, has been similar.

In practice, most formulas do not aspire to the fundamental, but are only procedures. [9] That is, justification (in the religious sense of what it means to be held accountable) being unattainable, bookkeeping (accounting) has been substituted. After two decades of research on subject allocation of library budgets we know almost nothing. [10] Yet despite the criticism, the typical response of libraries is to (sometimes reluctantly) accept allocation as the only option, as does (for example) Donna Packer, hard upon her own analysis of inadequacy. The force behind such hopeful clinging to dull tools is the matter of control, the fear of selectors run amok, and the consequent need for (as Packer writes) "an up-front consideration of . …

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