Open Book: You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway!

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Anna Seiffert

Anna Seiffert reflects on the need to communicate the collection’s budget to admin and faculty

When I eagerly started as a new librarian at the Colorado School of Mines more than three years ago I was quickly struck by the lack of communication around the collection as well as general pessimism regarding the budget supporting it.

The library’s collection budget was not keeping pace with skyrocketing journals costs, and instead of collection building, it was maintaining at best. Faculty, tired of hearing 'no', had simply stopped communicating their needs with the library and university administration was not responding to annual budget requests. Sound familiar?

The library needed to re-set the dialog with faculty and with administration. The first step I took was to find out the history. Previously, the library was putting the pressure of decisions onto faculty; requesting that new subscriptions were accompanied by an equal cancellation. When communicating annual budget requests to administration, the library had been using general inflation index reports, such as the EBSCO Serials Price Projection Report, as justification with mixed success.

That changed in 2017 when administration, instead wanted the library to justify cancellations and subscriptions at the title level and provide granular cost-per-use data, in order to justify the annual materials budget request. While I appreciated the thinking behind the request, I did not believe that the data requested was appropriate or ultimately informative for administration.

Data-driven decisions

Based on the previously mentioned historical analysis, I decided that collection decisions needed to be re-framed with data.

The overall materials budget was first addressed by performing a comparison with peer institution’s in regards to historical materials budget increases and a spend breakdown per student. Subscriptions in particular were addressed as they represented the majority of the materials budget.

Instead of auto-pilot renewals, every subscription was evaluated for renewal based on its support of present academic curriculum or faculty research, the strength of the existing collection in the resources’ subject area, the existing or projected future use of library resources in the discipline and cost.

The need for multiple formats, such as print and online, was evaluated as well. A sustainable threshold was set for annual inflation increases and negotiations were initiated with vendors when that threshold was crossed. In order to meet the inflation threshold, multi-year agreements, consortia deals, and other tactics were utilised.

The materials budget request in 2018 was based on actual inflation rates as well as exact numbers for new funds requested. This satisfied the administration’s requirements for transparency and proved the request to be justifiable.

The library views the management of library resources as a faculty conversation, but, administration also needs to understand what the library is dealing with in regards to inflation, as well as the importance to faculty of certain resources to support research and instruction. Thus having national data as well having peer data was important. It was also important to remind them of what our historical budget has been, to help frame where it needs to go in the future. Part of the goal was to show that the library is not a cost centre but a strategic investment that will help the university grow and thrive.

Communicating with data

The library needed to show campus a broad overview on where the collection budget stood and its relation to the overall landscape of academic publishing.

Communication channels utilised were a LibGuide, departmental emails, brown bag sessions on the collection, campus announcements via the daily newsletter, and updates to faculty senate via a new faculty senate library committee, which also includes student representatives from undergraduate and graduate council.

How collection decisions were made was reframed as a campus conversation that would be based on data. The library initiated cancellation suggestions, instead of requesting them from faculty, which were rooted in cost-per-use. New acquisitions were offered as options based on data such as lnterlibrary loan requests, turn-aways, and academic program growth.

Conclusions

The results of implementing these new collection strategies have been encouraging, but not perfect. In the initial year, the library made modest journal cuts, which freed up funds to start many new journal subscriptions and several new databases. The feedback from faculty about the cancellation process and subsequent usage of the new resources has been good.

The second year of implementation saw an 8 per cent increase to the materials budget and many more needed resources. This, the third year saw only a 4 per cent increase, which was less than requested but it was a tougher economic year all around on campus. Even with the inadequate budget allotment, there was a marked difference from years past. It was a very collaborative process between university administration the library and faculty with a healthy dialog and greater understanding all around.

I now feel better prepared, going forward, to be able to tell a story with data in order to communicate a message and further strengthen our partnerships with faculty regarding collection management.

Anna Seiffert is head of collection management services at Arthur Lakes Library, Colorado School of Mines

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