In previous chapters we have made frequent references to the detailed allocation of resources and to the profile of services provided. It is clear that the pattern of services offered can vary greatly. In this chapter, we take a closer look at the profile of services offered. What would be the right blend of services for a given situation? What internal budget allocation would be most effective in avoiding internal inconsistencies?
The lack of a single, unifying measure of effectiveness for the evaluation of library services makes it difficult to relate the parts to the whole. The challenge for the librarian is to make decisions that are consistent and coherent in relation to each other and to the goals sought, even though the individual decisions are concerned with disparate matters.
This problem can be seen in the logistics of library provision: One can buy books, but have they been cataloged and processed in a timely manner? Is it sensible to acquire so few copies of a title that users are unable to find a copy when they want one? Loan periods may be unnecessarily and, therefore, inconveniently short if there are ample copiesor, if only few copies are bought, then it is inconsistent to permit very long loan periods if convenient availability is desired. Sending books to be bound may strengthen them for future use, but that is of limited benefit if the binding process is lengthy and coincides with peak demand. Money saved in acquisition procedures permits more books to be bought, yet this economy is likely to result in delays in getting books to the shelves. To what extent would it be worthwhile spending extra money for prompter acquisition, or for speedier binding? How can one make duplication and lending policies mutually consistent? 1
There is, however, a wider problem since these logistical aspects are only part of library service. In this chapter, we consider the wide problem of coherence and internal consistency in library service.
Searches as determinants of library services
Our starting point was the need to relate library services to demand in a coherent, consistent manner. In this section we speculate on the implications for the planning of library services of the four dimensions of searches considered in chapter 6. 2
- document specificity: the extent to which one or a limited number of documents is wanted;
- information specificity: the extent to which the data sought are precisely defined;
- importance: the importance of resolving the search; and
- urgency of the search.
Searches of high document specificity
Since the emphasis is on obtaining specific, known documents, a premium should be placed on author and title catalogs. Tools of subject access serve a minor, auxiliary role. Reliable document delivery is at a premium because the requests are specific and, by implication, the substitution of alternative titles is likely to be inappropriate. A high level of immediate availability on open-access shelves would seem desirable for convenience but, in fact, open access does not seem essential. Lengthy loan periods are tolerable if a particular item can be recalled from loan on request. Good service would be possible from closed stacks (even with shelving by size and accession number in compact storage) if documents are to be kept secure and in good order. Urgency permitting, interlibrary loan could serve this type of demand better than any other kind of demand. High document specificity calls for investment in union catalogs and finding lists. The need for expert reference staff would appear to be at a minimum. ("I know what I want, please get it!")
Searches of high information specificity
For searches of high information specificity there would be a premium on subject access, including both a subject arrangement of documents and subject indexes that provide additional points of access to them. The indexes might be purchased bibliographic tools or locally produced. In such circumstances, one might expect special emphasis on computerbased reference services and on local indexes on account of the additional power each can bring. In-depth indexing of parts of documents would seem, in general, to be desirable, though not necessarily affordable. Experienced subject specialist reference staff or information officers can play a substantial role. To the extent that one document may be substitutable for another, low levels of immediate availability and lengthy loan periods become tolerable. Large but not necessarily exhaustive local collections within the subject area concerned are desirable to provide a large array for browsing. Access to large holdings is also likely to be needed because the result of a search of high information specificity might become a search for one or more highly specific documents. ("I want something on the history of Glasson Dock in the Lune estuary.") However, interlibrary loan would suffice unless urgency is a major concern. The collection, even if large, ought to be on open access and arranged by subject in order to facilitate browsing even though one can also browse in subject indexes.
Searches of low document specificity
In general, the requirements for searches of low document specificity tend to be the reverse of those for high document specificity. Since not one but several documents are likely to meet the searcher's needs, lower immediate availability, smaller collections, and higher discarding and loss rates can be tolerated with less difficulty. Widely read library staff, thoroughly familiar with the collections, are likely to be helpful. Since the searches are of low document specificity, open access is indicated. Stored material in closed access is probably of very limited value unless the unlikely assumptions can be made that users will ask for the help of the staff and that the staff are very familiar with it. Interlibrary loan is likely to be little used.
Searches of low information specificity
In the case of low information specificity, the requirements appear to be a less specialized version of the case of high information specificity. A general interest, open access collection with helpful, stimulating intermediaries is likely to be most suitable. Good readers' advisors and interesting displays are likely to be beneficial. Although we do not wish to imply that this is the only type of search they handle, the image evoked is that of a small public library, large bookshop, or (disregarding the reserve collection) an undergraduate library.
Internal interactions within libraries need to be considered in terms of the probable effects of different resource allocation decisions on various library "outcomes." (see figure 14. 1) The combination of resource allocation decisions and the interactions inherent in library provision determine the characteristics of the service provided. How, then, do we decide which profile of outcomes would be most appropriate for any given service situation? 3
Note: Some of the stronger interactions are indicated by lines. The impact of emphasizing any given feature can be traced by following the lines. For example, if Collection completeness is to be stressed, then more New titles are required. This drains the Budget so, assuming no supplementary funding, it will require less investment in other areas, such as Duplication; Reference staff; and/or Catalogs, Guides, and indexes. Less Duplication will affect Availability and Browsability, unless compensating adjustments are made to Loan policies. Any impact on Availability is likely to affect Circulation and, in turn, the amount of Reading depending on what has happened to Loan policies. The lack of a line between two items indicates that the interaction is weak or indirect. The outcomes are also influenced by the characteristics of the users.
Fig. 14.1 Some interactions in library provision
Source: M. K. Buckland and A. Hindle, "Acquisitions, Growth, and Performance Control Through Systems Analysis," in Farewell to Alexandria: Solutions to Space, Growth and Performance Problems of Libraries, edited by D. Gore (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976).
Even though the outcomes are interrelated and depend in large measure on the characteristics of the user population, management decisions will still determine which are given greater emphasis than others. In the preceding paragraphs we have speculated concerning which outcomes are more important for different types of searches. 4 These are summarized in figure 14.2. In theory, this begins to formalize the connections which would indicate cost-effective relationships between patterns of need and management decisi ons. Practical implementation of this knowledge may not be easy, not least because any given library is likely to be serving differing levels of document specific and information specific searches at the same time. However, the relative frequency of different types of search and their perceived relative importance could reasonably influence the style of library services provided.
Outcome High Document Specificity High Information Specificity Collection completeness Importance depends on urgency. Selection should be influenced by expected level of future usage. Subject coverage as needed in areas of interest. Immediate availability Depends on urgency Moderate importance depends on substitutability Collection bias Not important High importance Circulation Not relevant Not relevant Reading Not relevant Not relevant Awareness
Fig. 14.2. Importance of outcomes according to type of search
Reflecting on the conclusions reached above concerning the appropriateness of differing emphases in relation to different types of search, it does not seem entirely fanciful to see in this analysis at least a partial explanation of the distinctive features of service in different types of libraries. Academic libraries, special libraries, and public libraries do appear to reflect the attributes ascribed to libraries serving users whose searches tend to be characterized by tendencies to emphasize high document specificity, high information specificity and low levels of both, respectively.
Consider, for example, the differing attitudes toward discarding between academic libraries and public or special libraries. Note also the higher investment by academic libraries (even when financial crises ma ndate the cancellation of serials subscriptions) in circulation systems that enable specific documents to be promptly recalled from loanan option often forgone in public libraries.
This is not to suggest that the patterns of information specificity are, or should be, the sole determinants of priorities in the planning of library services. What is suggested is that there appears to be a practical need for a deeper and more rigorous analysis of information- gathering behavior. Furthermore, this analysis needs to be explicitly linked to the decisions that librarians have to make concerning the allocation of resources. Information specificity, document specificity, importance, and urgency are suggested as elements to be included in such an analysis.
Just as one can hardly design equipment unless the design requirements are well known, so likewise libraries and information services are unlikely to be cost-effectively provided unless the characteristics of the people to be served arc known in terms that can be related to the decisions that the designer or planner can make.
There have been innumerable "user studies," some including potential as well as actual users. However, while such studies unquestionably give some insight, it seems unlikely that substantial improvement will follow unless the information-gathering behavior can be categorized according to more or less standardized taxonomy and related to budgetary and planning decisions in some practical manner.
Go to Chapter 15
1 These logistical issues are examined in M. K. Buckland, Book Availability and the Library User (New York: Pergamon Press, 1975). See also P. Kantor, "Availability Analysis," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 27, no. 6 (October 1976): 311-19.
2 For a fuller discussion see chapter 6, and M. K. Buckland, "Types of Search and the Allocation of Library Resources," Journal of the American Society for Information Science 30, no. 3 (May 1979): 143-7.
3 This section is based on M. K. Buckland and A. Hindle, "Acquisitions, Growth and Performance Control Through Systems Analysis," in Farewell to Alexandria: Solutions to Space, Growth, and Performance Problems of Libraries, edited by D. Gore (Westport, Corm.: Greenwood Press, 1976), pp. 44-61. "Browsability" is defined as the extent to which the array of books available to the browser tends to be systematically biased in favor of the less popular and the less recommended.
4 See also F. W. Lancaster, The Measurement and Evaluation of Library Services (Washington, D.C.: Information Resources Press, 1977).
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Copyright © 1988, 1999 Michael K. Buckland.
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