Just in Case or Just in Time?

by John D. Berry

I’ve been musing over collection development this year.  Our collection development has been frozen in time since the Third World Strike in 1968/69.  It’s never gone up, but it hasn’t gone away.

 In the interim the Native Librarians, responsible for the Native American Studies Collection at U.C. Berkeley, have valiantly built our collection.  This is just our collection in the Ethnic Studies Library, not the Bancroft or the Main Library, as we are an “Affiliate Library.”  All that generally means is, we don’t get their money, but they can’t tell us what is important either.  In the 40+ years since, we have developed a world class collection.

All of the libraries I’ve worked in over the past few decades have done their collection development using the JIC (Just in Case) model.  We should add this material, JIC, one of our patrons might look for it.  JIC it’s needed for accreditation.  JIC, we should add multiple copies.  We never actually know using this model if it will be used, but we still get it, JIC.

Now comes the difficulty, we are in times of economic drawdown, budgetary cutbacks, fiscal crisis.  Woe be unto us, as in all so many places Libraries are not a priority, oddly enough.  We are busier than ever but still we suffer cutbacks.  Do more with less.  Lose people? Redistribute the duties?  Lose resources? Oh my, what now?  More money for digital and less for print or serials or AV, what to do?
I’ve never worried very much, Native Libraries and even Native Collections have never been well funded, we have that population percentage disadvantage going for us.   You know, we’re only 1% of the population – ergo – a funding disaster ever since dispossession, if you will.  So, I am a consummate scrounger, I haunt book sales and thrift stores, I pass out my card at the drop of a hat, I have actually been known to run out of my office to help a patron – lol – strolling sedately once reaching a public area.  As a result, people give me things, and I always write them a thank you note and a letter for the IRS, no values included, but an acknowledgement of the gift.  I’ve probably added a thousand volumes a year for the past decade to our collection above and beyond what we’ve been able to buy with our static funds.
But, it is still all, JIC.  I admit it, I’m an Alexandrite and I hate to weed.  Perhaps another way is needed.  Most people aren’t scroungers like me.  Pulling an old management title out of the dustbin, how about Just in Time (JIT), collection development?  Don’t own it, Inter-library loan it (ILL), such an unfortunate acronym.  But, that means speeding up ILL , which you can’t really do.
Digital copy might be available, but you can’t bet on that for every request.  But, there’s used!  Those of us in the Bay area are fortunate; we have very good used book stores.  How about paying 50-80+% off the new price for your library copy?  That’s a big yes for me already.  Even better, now there’s Amazon.com and EBay.com and others.  JIT ordering, on request of a title, can even beat out ILL for speed.  If you can minimal catalog on the run, the patron can have it in less than a few days if you are willing to pay the express postage.  You don’t buy so much JIC, and you can make people happy with JIT and take the pressure off your ILL and your budget to boot.  The trade off comes in accounting and staff time.  I’ll let you look up your own professional bibliography on buying used books.   My thanks go out to Dr. Robert Holley, for providing affirmation to my musings.  Wishing everyone luck and fortitude during our economic disparity, build your collections well!

John has previously worked at Federal Libraries, other academic libraries, he has been the assistant admissions director of a Big 10 graduate college, a field archeologist in the U.S., Israel, and the South Pacific, a machinist and a stage coach bandit.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. lgl

    Enjoyed your piece, John! It reminds me of an article I recently read by Cindy Bisset:

    Bissett, C. (2010). Developing a foreign language fiction collection on a limited budget. Australian Library Journal, 59(1/2), 12-22.

    What kind of books are you looking for?

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