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Three librarians from Boston University speak candidly about solving the challenges that come with selection and acquisition.

Welcome to the Rialto development series! Over the next few years, 10 leading universities are helping shape the development of ProQuest Rialto, a groundbreaking solution to the challenges of selection and acquisition for academic libraries. We’ve interviewed our development partners for the ProQuest blog so you can learn more about the reasons behind their decision to help build a solution like Rialto.

The first in this series is Boston University (BU), whose libraries are home to more than 2.4 million physical volumes, over 45,000 current unique serials and 77,000 media titles. ProQuest’s Rhonda Foxworth recently spoke with three librarians from Boston University Libraries about how they’re hoping to improve the processes around collection development.

Selection and Acquisition Challenges

Two BU librarians – Amy Limpitlaw, who leads the School of Theology Library, and Steve Smith, Head of Collection Development from Mugar Memorial Library – said that avoiding duplication is one of the key issues they’re hoping to solve. It’s more complicated than it seems, said Limpitlaw, who does the selection and ordering herself for her library.

“Our other libraries often buy ebooks in large packages, but we tend to buy individually by title – so I'm not certain what ebooks are in those packages, and the content of the packages changes,” she said. “I always check to see if the book is already purchased by one of the other libraries. Every so often, we'll still see duplication, especially with ebooks.”  Limpitlaw said she sometimes waits several months before buying a book to ensure her purchase doesn’t exist elsewhere within the system.

Smith agreed. “It gets labor-intensive when we have 15 people doing selection,” he said.  “Everyone is selecting at that point of book availability and that causes problems with duplication. Maybe this title is going to appear on one of the publisher packages, but we don’t know.”

This affects not only the libraries, but also scholarly publishers and university presses, Smith said. “They don’t have a handle on how we're collecting, and publishers don't know how it relates to individual title usage.”

Anna Lawless Collins, Associate Director for Systems and Collection Services at the Fineman and Pappas Law Libraries, said her goal is to reduce the workload for the law library’s selectors. “They’re extremely busy. They’re also reference librarians with subject specialties. They teach our legal research and writing classes. They teach for-credit classes. They teach in the legal research certification program. They advise journals, liaise with faculty and law school departments and support law school programs,” she said.

“I'm really looking for a tool that's going to be more efficient and make the job of selecting content easier. For example, they don't interact with Alma on a regular basis but that's where their fund information is stored. If there was a way to get that information to them in a friendly user interface, that would be a huge help.”

Why Processes Can Be Slow to Change

Smith said that up until now, there hasn’t been much change “because no one has seen a good model of how we can do it better,” he said. In addition, “Individual selectors or bibliographers are entrenched with their funds to buy for their subjects, and many libraries have a lot of endowed funds with subject restrictions which keeps hands off budgets.”

Limpitlaw and Smith both said that many librarians are also anxious about change – “they’re very entrenched in how they've always done selection and acquisition, and it works for them so it's a little bit scary to move away from the old model,” Limpitlaw said.

But even with many libraries seeing reduced monograph budgets, this hasn’t been forcing a change in the process, Smith said. And that’s a big reason he said he was interested in becoming involved in the development ProQuest Rialto.

“The Conversation Around Rialto Can Help Shift the Way We Think”

When launched, Rialto will be a comprehensive marketplace for libraries – a single destination for all content types from a variety of publishers, built on the Alma platform. Rialto’s end-to-end workflow will help libraries like Boston University meet their goals – to avoid duplication, serve patrons quickly, buy what they need and use what they buy.

Smith said he’s hoping to get librarians rethinking how they can find better and more effective ways to do selection and acquisition. “I want our selectors to feel confident that we're getting what our users need and at the same time, being good stewards of our resources,” he said. “I'm really hoping that the conversation around Rialto can help shift the whole way we think about the work and how we and the publishers understand what we're buying.”

20 May 2019

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