Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Challenges and Possibilities for Collection Management in a Digital Age

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Challenges and Possibilities for Collection Management in a Digital Age

Article excerpt

This paper considers some of the major issues concerning collection management in academic libraries in a rapidly changing environment. Specifically, this paper reflects on core values, scholarly communication issues, acquisition activities, access and delivery issues, and innovation. The paper concludes with ideas for incorporating shifts in these areas into a sustainable, forward-looking approach to collection management.

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What is collection management in the digital age? Our environment is fast-paced, driven by rapid changes in information technology, emerging areas of interdisciplinary research, a profusion of new digital resources, budget constraints, changes in teaching practices and learner expectations, and shifting institutional policies and priorities. What happens to collection management in this sea of information resources and formats, access methods, and budgetary choices? This paper seeks to answer this question by exploring collection management in terms of core values, scholarly communication issues, acquisitions activities, access and delivery issues, and innovation. It concludes with reflections for charting the future of collection management.

We can begin by asking what can be a valid and tenable concept of collection management. The problem is far more complicated than it was in the predigital age. Collection size and scope, as determined by holdings counts, particular strengths, and unique materials, were formerly understood in relation to institutional mission and programs. The "tonnage" model of collection building traditionally has been focused on breadth and scope of owned resources, although this is starting to change as the importance of access to leased resources is recognized. Mapping resources to an institution's collective needs was challenging but not impossible. The universe of available publications and formats was finite; with professional experience, one could connect the clots to recognize its size and scale in relation to a specific collection's desired parameters. Johnson notes that collection management was proposed as a concept in the 1980s: "It includes collection development and an expanded suite of decisions about weeding, cancelling serials, storage, and preservation." (1)

While these core activities remain integral to our work, their scope has altered significantly. Selection of new material, weeding of less important items, storage off-site, and preservation in various formats are best understood in the context of our dramatically changing information landscape. This includes the transformation in scholarly communications practices, the broad impact of information technologies and communication devices on the use of the collection, new forms of information-seeking behavior and learning styles, and the explosion of online resources for obtaining, using, and sharing knowledge and research. Taken together, these changes present a challenge to our time-honored practices and strategies. Can we reinvent our roles to incorporate the new realities of our cultural and technological environment? What are the implications for our understanding of collection management only decades after its recognition as an important field within the library world?

Traditionally, pride and prestige were imbued in the hundreds of individual daily actions of building a permanent collection that would serve our community's present and future needs with reasonable effectiveness. In many respects, size did matter. Quality and quantity were interwoven values. The warehouse was the typical metaphor for describing this approach, but for many large libraries it was more akin to building a cathedral. The zeal had a transcendental, pseudo-religious quality to it. The collection had a sacred element for those who contributed in diverse but cumulative ways to support learning and scholarship. The book collection, not surprisingly, played a central role in how the overall collection was understood and perceived. …

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