Book Selection and Purchasing: Decision Making

Each year, the head of the Collections Development Department (Barbara Halporn) decides how to allocate the acquisitions budget to the six selection units in Widener. Parallel decisions are made by the other purchasing areas within Widener. In practice, these budget allocations change only incrementally from year to year, with small marginal adjustments between sections due to changes in the publishing industries in each area. Once this budgetary decision is made, the specific decisions about which materials to acquire are almost entirely decentralized. That is, with rare exceptions, all non-electronic purchasing decisions are made by the library's individual professional bibliographers, covering their publishing regions. The decisions to purchase very expensive microfilm collections are made by the individual bibliographers, who have a knowledge of the research needs of the faculty and students. They occasionally seek advice of the faculty for assistance.

The goal of collections development is to anticipate library research needs. Bibliographers value the advice of Harvard faculty knowledgeable in their areas of responsibility, and (although there are exceptions) book purchase requests from faculty are generally approved. Faculty requests for specific items are quite rare, especially relative to the number of books they regularly purchase (e.g., a total of 26,616 volumes were purchased last year by the American and English section, which comes to about 50 books a day, every working day, for each of the two bibliographers), although influence from the faculty in the general directions taken by collection development is substantial. Scholars in the humanities seem to have substantially closer relationships with the bibliographers than do scholars in the social sciences. As one librarian described it, the book selectors and humanities scholars understand each others needs so well that they are able to finish each other's sentences. In contrast, social scientists typically have not met any book selectors.

Although individual book purchasing decisions are easily influenced by the faculty, and the library tries to cover all current book needs, most buying by the library is independent of who is presently on the faculty, what research they are now doing, or what classes are being taught. As a research library (or, as it is often called, the ``library of record''), HCL has developed extensive collections in areas that are of no obvious interest to current faculty or students. This archival function can benefit the faculty in the long run when some of these areas suddenly become the subject of scholarly inquiry.