A Serials Acquisitions Cost Study: Presenting a Case for Standard Serials Acquisitions Data Elements

By Fowler, David C.; Arcand, Janet | Library Resources & Technical Services, April 2005 | Go to article overview

A Serials Acquisitions Cost Study: Presenting a Case for Standard Serials Acquisitions Data Elements


Fowler, David C., Arcand, Janet, Library Resources & Technical Services


This paper is based on time and cost studies conducted at Iowa State University (ISU) between 1986/87 and 2000/2001. Serials acquisitions functions were evaluated and examined with a view toward using the results as a management tool. Previous cost center papers by the authors and others focused only on monograph acquisition functions. Analysis of the data collected at ISU suggests that libraries that have developed standards for serials acquisitions processing could reap significant benefits through the use of consistent sets of information for management decisions, including, but not limited to, reassigning staff time to new and evolving tasks.

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Organizations of all types all around the world and through history have sought to measure their effectiveness in relation to their particular stated mission. One way that these organizations accomplished this was by examining the variables generated by the actions within or outputs of their operations. Two of the most important variables that can be measured are staff time (the amount of chronological units expended by employees in accomplishing their tasks in service of the organization's goals) and cost (the amount of financial units expended in accomplishing these particular operations).

The broad goal of this endeavor is to increase the organization's effectiveness by examining and measuring which expendable resources (such as personnel time and money) are being allocated and how they are being used. By doing this, managers and administrators are better able to comprehend how their organization functions, the extent to which it meets its stated (and unstated) goals, and how that performance can be improved.

Research in the arena of time and cost studies continues to be a relevant tool for administrators and is useful for defining existing trends and predicting future directions for which the organization needs to prepare. This type of research can be especially valuable for libraries in the current environment, where administrators have an expectation that libraries will be able to prove the value and efficiency of the services that they provide. In 2003, Calhoun ambitiously stated that, "To achieve the results they need, technical services departments need breakthrough, double-digit improvements in cost, time, and effectiveness." (1)

Between 1986/87 and 2000/2001, the Iowa State University (ISU) library created and implemented an exhaustive time and cost study that examined these factors within that library's technical services division. The study was begun in April 1987 and was suspended at ISU after 2001. Previous papers based upon time and cost study data gathered at ISU have proved of interest to the general library community in providing insight into operational structure and planning. This paper largely follows the pattern established by previously published papers that were based on the ISU time and cost study data. (2)

At ISU the originators of the cost study assumed that automation would enable the library to reduce staff costs and time, and improve services. This, however, turned out to be only partially true in the case of serials acquisitions. Because of automation, the library found it was able to do more work with the same amount of staffing--it was able to take on new assignments (such as government document processing) and enhance the value of its products (improving the accuracy of reports and providing order and receipt information to the public). However, the amount of time expended overall was not reduced, and costs consistently rose throughout the period of the cost study. The need to maintain long-term commitments to serials subscriptions appeared to limit the library's ability to reduce staffing and costs. Based on analysis at ISU, the most significant cause for the inability to make reductions appeared to be a lack of uniform or standard acquisitions processing data elements. The authors believe that time and costs could be improved if such standard elements were created and used. …

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