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Harvard College Library

Collection Development

Collection Development


In the collections realm, reduced budgets and staffing reinforced the growing of faculty concern over acquisitions. Severely strained collection budgets can no longer satisfy user needs for a growing universe of ever-more-expensive information resources, thus exacerbating concerns about Harvard's primacy among academic and research libraries. The Provost's Task Force on University Libraries and the Library Implementation Work Group have both highlighted collections as a central focus.

The discussion paper and action plan "Rethinking Collections in the Harvard College Library: A Policy Framework for Straitened Times, and Beyond" was developed in June 2009 to be both a representation of the Library to its various constituencies and the first road map that provisionally defines collecting priorities and practices for FY 2010 and beyond. The paper outlines the following:

  • HCL's strategic vision and goals;
  • an environmental scan of the information landscape;
  • a model for information types and their uses;
  • the changing context within which library collections are now being built;
  • principles to inform a redirected collections and content strategy; and
  • actions for implementation.

General collections principles that apply across all of the College Library are now being framed, and these will undergird more specific local statements that are broadly harmonized among them. These efforts align fully with the recommendations that are taking shape within the Library Implementation Work Group.

Over the course of FY 2010, collection development and research librarians met with the academic departments, centers, committees, and institutes to apprise them of the Library's budget reductions and their effects on collections, as well as to elicit faculty input on collecting priorities going forward. The goal of the meetings was to discern what the faculty need the Library to be collecting for their research, for their teaching, and in order to support academic disciplines in the future. Discussions varied, but topics included the balance between concentrating collecting efforts on more unique materials versus mainstream trade books; tradeoffs between collections and services; interlibrary loan/document delivery; and the faculty's participation in depositing their articles in DASH, Harvard's open-access institutional repository. These conversations have played an important role as the Library reviews its collections possibilities and delineates priorities.

Due to reductions in staffing, most selectors have taken on new collection development responsibilities, and many are expanding their roles as liaisons to the academic departments and in user support. Today's information marketplace runs the gamut from well-organized regions of the world with high-capacity services to less structured areas—some quite large—that require labor-intensive approaches to identify, select, and acquire materials. Large-scale acquisitions operations are useful in some developed markets. Vendor-generated capabilities that combine selection with ordering can likewise support different staffing arrangements. Our "bibliographic specialists" comprise a new category of positions through which we will address these kinds of possibilities.

A tool that promises to dramatically increase HCL's capacities for collaborative collecting and enhanced efficiency in some technical services routines is OCLC's WorldCat Selection (WCS). The WCS tool allows selectors to review and respond to vendor offerings in a coordinated way, communicating with one another in real time, and also streamlines the ordering process. Implementation of the tool began in January 2010 as a pilot project with the French/Italian Division in HCL Technical Services and Widener's Western Europe Section. WCS centralizes a large number of bibliographic notifications from major vendors in Western Europe into one single system and streamlines the acquisition procedures for the vast majority of firm orders. The appeal of this tool is its ability to increase acquisition efficiencies across units while at the same time facilitating increased cooperation and coordination among bibliographers.

The decision to implement WCS was based upon two fundamental principles put forth by the Provost's Task Force on University Libraries:

  • to increase cooperation and coordination across the Harvard libraries to establish an integrated library system; and
  • to employ new procedures and technology to increase efficiencies across the system, in order to free up staff to focus on redefined priorities and to create new opportunities.

Although the Library is not yet able to implement WCS across all library units, the benefits of the tool are already manifesting themselves. Through WCS, Western European bibliographers were able to place thousands of orders directly with their vendors, effectively eliminating the French/Italian Division's order backlog. WCS has enabled broader use of the selectors' expertise by expanding responsibilities beyond strict geographic coverage. For example, the librarian for Sub-Saharan Africa now reviews publications about Sub-Saharan Africa published in Western Europe; the librarian responsible for Greek and Cypriot publications now uses her expertise in Hellenic studies to review materials in classics and Byzantine studies published in Western Europe. As a result, acquisitions staff are able to focus on more pressing issues, users and selectors across Harvard's libraries see orders in HOLLIS within 24 to 48 hours of selection, budgets are being spent in a timely manner, and the ability to steward funds has increased. Expansion of its use by additional bibliographers and technical services units are planned for FY 2011.

Fluctuations in currency continued to impact collections budgets this fiscal year. The Chinese yuan (renminbi) value against the dollar gradually increased during the course of the year and is expected to climb further in the future, albeit slowly. During the year, the dollar also lost its value against the Japanese yen, the Korean won, and the Taiwanese dollar. Hong Kong remains the only location in East Asia where the American dollar has maintained its value. These developments present the long-term concerns for the Harvard-Yenching Library's (HYL) collection development programs since the library's major vendors are in East Asia. HYL made a conscientious decision at the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 to safeguard its book budget. However, the Library's collection development programs will be adversely affected if the value of the dollar continues its slide in East Asian markets. Conversely, Widener's Western European Section greatly benefited from the positive evolution of the exchange rate and the gradual drop by 13% of the euro against the dollar over the course of the fiscal year. The decline resulted in considerable savings and stretched our budget that much further.

Electronic resources continue to present both opportunities and challenges. New tools like Verde and the ERIN (E-Resources Initialization) tracking tool, and other workflow innovations as well, continue to streamline our operations and strengthen control. Much time in FY 2010 was spent focused on the renewal of large e-resource package with Springer, through which Harvard paid for access to approximately 570 titles and received access to about 1,700 titles total. The package deal limited Harvard to a small number of cancellations per year. Prior to negotiating with Springer, internal negotiations took place between the 23 libraries across Harvard that participate in the Springer package. Given budget reductions, some libraries were unable to meet their share of the cost. Since the total proposed cuts across Harvard exceeded our cancellation allowance, the existing contract could not be extended, and Harvard would actually have to pay more to receive fewer titles. Ultimately, disproportionately large shares were paid by FAS, including HCL, and HMS in order to renew the package for one year, as users, particularly in the sciences, rely on this content.