Book Review: Acquisitions in the New Information Universe
Acquisitions in the New Information Universe: Core Competencies and Ethical Practices. By Jesse Holden, Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc, 2010, 275 pages, ISBN 978-1555706968
In Acquisitions in the new information universe, Jesse Holden provides a comprehensive introduction to fundamental acquisitions concepts, and strategies for translating these into practice in the twenty-first century.
Jesse Holden has worked in acquisitions for many years, and is currently an instructor for the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) online course 'Fundamentals of electronic resource acquisitions'. As such he is well positioned to give guidance on the day-to-day work of acquisitions departments. He imparts this knowledge effectively throughout the book – pitching it so as not to alienate those who may be new to acquisitions, whilst providing practical guidance for more experienced professionals.
In the preface to the book, Holden states that acquisitions units within libraries have 'mostly focused on incorporating new developments into existing models'. This is not meant to be critical of acquisitions units – in fact Holden draws attention to the myriad of challenges and technological developments that acquisitions staff have had to master. He uses these challenges as a prompt for acquisitions units to rethink their existing process-driven workflows and move towards a more user-oriented and outcome-led approach. This is a theme which recurs throughout the book.
The first chapter, The New Information Universe, starts by describing the current information age and information environment in which libraries, and in particular, acquisitions professionals, find themselves, and the fundamental paradigm shift ('What is information?') that has prompted changes in the way we produce, locate and utilise information. The author takes this opportunity early in the book to introduce what is to become a key theme: the need to rethink the entire function of acquisitions, rather than just adjusting parts of existing workflows, to accommodate the innovations associated with the new information universe. This is something he admits is very different to previous practice, so I was hoping that the rest of the book would provide some specific guidance on how to achieve it.
In chapter 2, Spheres of access, we are introduced to the concept of ethics within the acquisitions framework, the understanding and practice of which Holden thinks is more crucial than ever in the new information age. I was disappointed then that the ethical guide I was directed to (ALCTS's 'Statement on Principles and Standards of Acquisitions Practice') dated from 1994. Holden describes this as a 'critical guide' and refers to it throughout the book. Although I don't disagree with Holden about the usefulness of this ALCTS statement to an acquisitions practitioner, the sub-title of this book ('Core competencies and ethical practices') had lead me to expect a more up-to-date ethical framework.
The chapter subsequently describes changes to the information supply chain (both internal and external to the library) and interestingly illustrates why existing, linear approaches to collection building are no longer fit for purpose. There is also a helpful, thorough discussion of how to work with vendors as strategic partners. I feel this section would be useful to those reviewing their current vendor as well as those establishing a relationship for the first time or going through the tendering process. Holden returns to the topic of vendor relationships in the following chapter.
Also in this chapter, the author introduces his concept of a 'sphere of access', which he describes as 'all the information available to the library community, whether or not it is owned by or contained in the library'. He again highlights the problems that can arise from using linear and process-driven acquisitions workflows in the new information universe. Instead a more proactive approach is emphasised, and a reconsidering and reorientation of workflows to adapt to the new paradigm.
Chapter 3, Routes to access, begins with a neat introduction to the multiplicity of formats now available in the 'information universe'. Holden turns to look at one format in detail – e-books – briefly describing models of publication, purchasing and access. The author also touches upon the Open Access movement and other 'free' materials (e.g. donations) and the potential impact they have on the library's sphere of access.
There is also much useful information in this chapter for those working in archives, including guidance on how to develop an archival trajectory and acquisitions strategy.
Just as one might getting carried away with the thought of reinventing the acquisitions wheel, Holden reminds us that acquisitions has always been about connecting people with content and that content in tangible forms (e.g. print books) 'remains an important part of developing the library's sphere of access'. Again, the emphasis is on acquisitions staff and processes becoming versatile and proactive in the new information universe.
Chapter 4, Service and feedback, begins by explaining that the function of acquisitions
'Is not simply the purchase of materials… [it] is a service-orientated unit of the library and serves the community of library users to the same degree as other aspects of the library do'.
This opening sets the tone of this chapter, which examines the service and feedback aspects of acquisitions work in contemporary practice. Holden convincingly makes the case for acquisitions units to reposition themselves and define themselves in terms of service, rather than processes, by responding to the new demands of users.
The author then details the plethora of 'behind the scenes' functions which are now associated with acquisitions works – a list which may well be an eye opener to non-acquisitions practitioners. He gives concise and instructive introductions to potential solutions for helping to manage such a broad range of functions, including ERMS (electronic resource management solutions).
The second half of the chapter looks at the proliferation of feedback mechanisms which have evolved, and notes that 'establishing access and receiving feedback is a critical piece of the emerging acquisitions environment in the new information universe'.
The concluding chapter, Acquisitions in a new paradigm, gives a brief overview of recent technological developments and their potential impact on acquisitions work. Holden encourages acquisitions professionals not just to be aware of these developments, but to actively incorporate them – despite the challenges and unfamiliarity – into their daily work. He concludes his book as he began it – to encourage acquisitions practitioners to move towards a more flexible and proactive approach.
For such a slim volume (135 pages, including 16 pages of selected resources and indices) this book does provide a comprehensive overview of acquisitions work in the new information universe. Although the book doesn't introduce any new, groundbreaking topics it certainly prompted me to think about acquisitions processes and procedures in a new way, and identified potential strategies for responding to changes.
I did find the subtitle of the book – 'Core competencies and ethical practices' – to be quite misleading. As mentioned above, the emphasis on ethical practices was much less than the subtitle had implied, and in my opinion the author did little to add to the existing ALCTS guidelines. I also feel that more could have been made of the 'core competencies' – perhaps a checklist to signpost which competencies had been identified in each chapter. This could be particularly helpful for new professionals or those moving into acquisitions work for the first time.
Like many Facet publications, this book clearly laid out and easy to read. Figures are used aptly to illustrate various workflows and concepts. It is disappointing though given the nature of the content that this title is not available to purchase as an e-book.
Due to the author's background in university libraries, I was expecting this book to focus on academic libraries. It is to Holden's credit that while many of the examples he gives are from this sector, the fundamental lessons of the book can be applied in a range of settings, including archives and public libraries.
The intended audience of the book is both new information professionals and more experienced acquisitions practitioners, and I feel this book is suitable for both. Holden's emphasis on redefining acquisitions work away from processes and towards a more service-orientated approach will be a change of perspective for some existing practitioners and a contemporary introduction to new professionals as to what can be achieved by acquisitions units in the new information age. Furthermore, it will be a useful book for those libraries developing, evaluating or streamlining their acquisitions unit – which in the current economic climate may be many of us.