Using Choice Reviews with DDA

Leverage the dual benefits of patron discovery and preferences.

As demand-driven acquisition (DDA) increasingly comes into its own, some of the more calamitous predictions regarding its effect on library collections have failed to materialize. Working to adapt to the fact that in a world of limited resources even the largest libraries cannot hope to purchase a comprehensive collection, and spurred by thoughtful debates as to the role of the academic library in that environment, publishers and librarians alike are exploring ways to use DDA to their advantage.

On a practical level, the benefits to a library are obvious. Paying for access, rather than ownership, makes sense both financially and in terms of service to its patrons. While libraries may not actually reduce costs using DDA, it is a plausible assumption that they can spend acquisition monies more efficiently by acquiring those titles with the greatest demand, provided (always) that the set of materials from which to choose is a curated one. Academic library collections have not devolved into pulp fiction reading rooms, as some feared, as vendors have worked hard to provide libraries with choices tuned to their specific needs and preferences, often as reflected in profiles originally created for approval plans. Equally important, libraries have not abandoned traditional collection development wholesale. Rather, adoption of DDA appears very much to correlate with the particular use-cases of individual libraries and to vary widely by library type, size, function, and budget. Core collections, certainly, continue to be maintained, and at the end of the day, it is still the librarian who is responsible for critical decisions about the shape of a library’s holdings.

Although in principle, DDA is a “platform neutral” methodology, there is no doubt but that it is particularly well suited to the dissemination of digital information. It would be one thing to select a print title from a DDA catalog and then wait for it to be delivered; it is quite another to click on a book or article title and be reading it the next moment. In that environment, the distinction between ownership and access becomes perfectly irrelevant, at least to the end user. Indeed, the intangibility of digital information subverts the very concept of a collection from the outset, overturning our understanding of things such as source text, copy, and, of course, physical location. In this sense, it is not DDA that is the fundamental factor in changing either the definition of a collection or the rationale for creating one.

DDA presents us with both an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to use the data collected by actual usage as a guide to focusing the other, more “intentional” types of collection development. The challenge is to provide end users with the information they need to make better choices in the DDA environment.

So how can Choice Reviews, a database nominally devoted to the traditional art of collection development, be applicable in a DDA environment? I believe there are two such ways. Both of them depend on making Choice Reviews widely available to the extended library community, both students and teaching faculty alike.

Choice Reviews as a Guide to Patron Discovery

Scanning records in an online catalog offers the researcher little clue as to the content, scholarly quality, methodology, or reading level of a work. With its 196,000 reviews dating back to 1988, Choice Reviews provides an alternative to the standard information provided in a DDA record and gives the user the information that is needed to make informed selections in a given subject area. Encouraging the use of Choice Reviews as a source of bibliographic metadata and critical reviews is a way to help students focus their searches and make better acquisition choices, with obvious efficiencies for your budget.

Choice Reviews as a Source of Information about User Preferences

But giving patrons information about sources addresses only half the issue. With Choice Reviews you now have an efficient way to get information from your patrons, using CR’s Cardstack function. Some of our readers may remember—or perhaps still subscribe to—Choice on printed cards. If so, you know that librarians would divide the physical cards by subject and distribute them in batches to the respective academic departments in order to poll faculty there regarding their preferences. Cardstack is a virtual replication of that process, but without the constraining factors of physical delivery. Using Cardstack, librarians batch reviews of new titles in any way that they wish—by subject or LC class, by date, etc.—and distribute them electronically. Recipients of the Cardstack can read the reviews, vote, and comment on the individual titles, with their comments and preferences appearing instantaneously on the screen of the Cardstack owner. If one way of looking at DDA is as a means of expanding the pool of selectors, the Cardstack function can be regarded as an alternate methodology, one that returns critical decision-making to the librarian while ensuring that she is responding to actual demand from a knowledgeable group of selectors.

The effective use of Choice Reviews thus hinges on the extent to which you encourage the entire community of users to create individual accounts on the system. Individual accounts can be created in less than a minute by anyone inside your institutional network, after which the service can be accessed by the account holder on any device (yes, its design is responsive) connected to the Internet, anywhere in the world. As individual account holders, students can create and save lists of titles for their research, while you can communicate directly with teaching faculty either by sharing your own lists with them or by using Cardstack. In both design and function the new Choice Reviews is a far cry from its predecessors, and I hope you will not hesitate to exploit its expanded functionality to the fullest.

Author photo

About the author:

Mark Cummings is the editor and publisher at Choice