v23 #4 Biz of Acq — Am I Still Selecting?

by | Oct 5, 2011 | 0 comments

by Keith Cochran  (Music Collection Development Librarian & Associate Director, William & Gayle Cook Music Library, Indiana University, 1201 E. 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN  47405-7006;  Phone: 812-855-2974;  Fax: 812-855-3843)
<[email protected]>

Column Editor:  Michelle Flinchbaugh  (Acquisitions Librarian, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250;  Phone: 410-455-6754;  Fax: 410-455-1598)  <[email protected]>

Eleven years ago, shortly after I had started my first job as a music librarian at Ball State University, a colleague, whose work also included collection development, sent me an article with the provocative title, “Are We Still Selecting?”  The article, by Thomas Nisonger,1 was a report on a session that had been part of the program of a recent ALA meeting.  The panel consisted of two bibliographers and one administrator, who reflected on the changes in duties and priorities of librarians working on collection development.  In particular, one of the bibliographers noted that many decisions about selecting materials were taken out of her hands because of factors beyond her control, such as consortial agreements and licensing.

In the years since I read the article, I forgot many of its details, but I always remembered the title, “Are We Still Selecting?”  I have always found collection development to be one of the most time-consuming but also rewarding aspects of my work as a librarian.  I enjoy shaping a collection to fit the needs of faculty, students, and the music curriculum.  For me, maintaining control over selection has been crucial, and in order to do so, I was willing to spend the time needed to sift through catalogs, reviews in journals, and lists from vendors.  Moreover, the longer I worked at it, the more familiar I became with the collection I was building, more aware of the interests of particular faculty and students who especially relied on the library for their work, and through bibliographic instruction and reference, more knowledgeable about the types of resources needed to support the curriculum.  Given all these factors, why would I want to start an approval plan and turn over some of the decisions about what to add to the collection to someone else?

In my work at Ball State University, this question seldom came up because the only approval plan I had was one for English-language monographs on music, which was part of a library-wide program.  My budget was not large enough for an approval plan for scores to be feasible.

When I took over my current position as Music Collection Development Librarian at Indiana University in 2007, I was confronted with a new situation.  I now had a collections budget that was more than four times larger than my previous one, a much more diverse and numerous constituency to serve, and the responsibility of continuing to build one of the best collections in the country.  Within a few months, I was convinced of the need for developing approval plans to allow myself time for these tasks, but I still wanted to maintain as much control as possible over selecting materials.  I eventually decided to start two approval plans, one with Theodore Front, the other with Harrassowitz.2  Both began in the fall of 2008, so I am now nearing the end of my third year of overseeing these plans.  While I have found that they do save a significant amount of time, they also require careful attention for a number of reasons.  I would like to discuss briefly four of those reasons here: avoiding duplications between the plans and firm orders; coordinating the plans with standing orders already in place; modifying them as needed to bring them more closely in line with the interests of students and faculty; and finally monitoring the plans’ budgets in relationship to other expenditures.  I think all of these factors are related to the question raised above of who is doing the selecting.

Preventing duplications was one of my biggest concerns when designing the plans.  The numbers of duplicates we have received because an approval shipment overlapped with a firm or standing order have been gratifyingly few, but I have found it necessary to monitor all our orders.  One feature of Harrassowitz’s Website facilitates this process: authorized users can see the items selected for the approval plan prior to shipment.  I have found this feature very helpful in planning purchases and try to use it at least a couple of times a week.  Similarly, Theodore Front sends a list of items scheduled for shipment on approval each month, which allows me to search for duplicates and delete them from the plan.

My second point, the necessity of coordinating approval plans with standing orders already in place, proved to be especially crucial in my situation.  At Indiana, we have over 560 standing orders for a variety of series publications.  Many of them are for composers’ collected works and historical monuments (a staple of academic music libraries), and for these, it was relatively easy to avoid duplication with the approval plans.  I simply requested on both approval plans that volumes in such publications be excluded.  But other standing orders were for smaller publications of a lower profile that could easily be overlooked.  Fortunately, my predecessor, R. Michael Fling, had set up an Excel spreadsheet listing the composer, series title, and vendor for all of our standing orders.  This is an incredibly valuable resource which I have continued to maintain, and it has saved me on numerous occasions from making an expensive duplication.  I decided it would be unwise to cancel a number of standing orders, so I wrote a number of “exception clauses” into my approval plan, thereby requesting that a particular series by excluded.

So far, I have discussed ways of maintaining control over selecting materials on the approval plan by avoiding unwanted duplication that usually involved attention to individual series or even a single publication.  I would now like to turn to larger issues, ones that I suspect will be the subject of ongoing evaluations of our plans in the years to come.  The first concerns modifying the approval plans to more closely match the interests of faculty and students.  In some instances, it is easy to meet the needs of faculty or students because they frequently approach me with a specific request in mind.  In others cases, I have found that adjusting the approval plan to match the interests of faculty and students may require a more thoughtful analysis of the collection.  For instance, in many of our libraries, music tends to have a long shelf life.  Items published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often reside in our collections because there is still demand for them.  Performers may be searching for a repertoire that is off the beaten path to program for recitals.  The musical canon for this period, in particular the early 20th century, has been revised and expanded in recent years with the result that composers once considered marginal are now enjoying renewed interest from scholars and performers.  I recently performed a search in our online catalog of music published between 1890 and 1910 and found 6,102 titles.  Of course, the physical condition of many of these scores may be in a perilous state, and in recent years a number of publishers have begun reprinting a great deal of music long out-of-print.  After assessing all these factors, I decided to give some priority to reprints in my approval plans.  Two such publications on my approval plans are the Repertoire Explorer series (primarily orchestral music, published by Musikproduktion Höflich in Munich) and Silvertrust editions (published in Riverwoods, IL), which concentrates on chamber music.

My last point concerns the necessity of closely monitoring the budgets and expenditures for approval plans.  When I began these plans in 2008, I set a budget of $25,000 for each one.  This amount worked well initially, but several factors caused me to review this amount in 2009.  At the start of this fiscal year I set up ten new standing orders for composers’ collected editions and historical sets.  Also, I found that our holdings in some scholarly editions were not completely up-to-date, so I worked on filling in these gaps.  The result was that in the fall of 2009, we received a significantly greater number of standing orders than we had at the same point in the previous year.  We were spending our money faster than I had anticipated, so I feared we might run out of funds before the fiscal year was over.  I obviously needed to keep some money in reserve for firm orders, so in November I contacted both vendors and explained the situation to them.  I felt that I had no choice but to cut the budget for each approval plan by $5,000.  Naturally, this was not news they wished to hear, but they understood my reasoning and accepted it.  I am pleased to say that the budget cut was only temporary.  I continued to monitor our expenditures, and I noticed that the number of standing orders declined markedly in the new year.  By February I felt confident that our budget could absorb the $10,000 amount that had been cut from the approval plans.  I notified both vendors and asked them to restore the budgets to their original amount, which they were happy to do.

With the approval plans now well into their second year and the experiences outlined above, I would like to return to the question that I raised at the beginning: am I still selecting?  I think the answer is yes, but the following observations should be kept in mind.  First, it is essential to stay in regular communication with vendors.  Particularly in the early stages there were many emails and telephone calls about the scope of the plans.  Fortunately, I have found both Front and Harrassowitz to be receptive to my questions, concerns, and requests for changes.  They both gave the option of returning items that did not fit the plan, although it has not been necessary to do so.  Second, an approval plan is not likely to be set in stone.  The plan is almost certain to be modified over time due to a number of factors.  Changes in the curriculum; the hiring of new faculty; a decline in the materials budget; new publications that are deemed worthy of being added to the plan; and the arrival on the scene of important composers, whose work we desire to collect comprehensively — all of these scenarios are likely to affect approval plans in some way.  In my own situation, I know that after the spring semester draws to a close and the last flurry of ordering has taken place, it will be time once again to review the parameters of the plans and to consider changes for the coming year.


1.  Library Collections, Acquisitions and Technical Services 24, no. 4 (Winter 2000): 479-482.

2.  Information about the vendors’ approval plans may be found at their Websites: http://www.harrassowitz.de/music_services/music_scores.html and http://www.tfront.com/t-ApprovalPlansMU.aspx.  See also R. Michael Fling, Library Acquisition of Music, Music Library Association Basic Manual Series, No. 4 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 124-128.


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