While it may be the amazing stained-glass window that grab most visitors’ attentions, the décor isn’t the only impressive aspect of our Thompson Memorial library. When looking around at the shelves, the books are what really should catch a person’s eye.
Having cataloged their one millionth book last semester, the library stacks are filled with books and the library is always adding more.
But as much as students like to indulge our fantasies that the campus truly is magical, the books don’t get there by themselves. The library continues to look for their next great addition through their collection management program, which strives to keep the library current in this world where technology is changing every day.
The librarians at Vassar take book acquisition seriously and point out in their Collection Development Policy that “The importance of collection-building as a foundation for education was recognized by Matthew Vassar in his acquisition and gift of books to the College at its founding” (5.14.10).
In order to meet their foundational principles, the library shelves accrue new books in three main ways: automatic purchasing, requests and personal selection.
Throughout the year, the library continually makes purchases through Yankee Book Peddler, a service that ensures that the library is up to date on major university press publications.
A team of librarians and faculty also keep an eye out, using this service to search for works that might fit particularly well with students’ and professors’ current interests.
Collection Development Librarian Debra Bucher is the woman who oversees this daunting task.
“If we know that it matches a research interest of, say, a student doing a thesis or a faculty member doing research, we also add it to the collection. We try to think ‘is this title going to be used immediately,’ ‘might it be used in the future,’ sort of ‘what’s the lasting value of this title?’” she explained.
On their third main method of purchasing, through requests, Bucher described a different process. Bucher said, “We also have a book request form on our website and anybody, faculty, student, staff member can request a book. Almost always those requests are honored.”
While print materials are the clearest evidence of the acquisition process, one of the newer issues that the library has had to face is the ever-growing presence of and demand for digital material. For the library this is an issue that is still being worked out.
On the question of whether or not the library should be transitioning their collection to digital forms, Bucher said she believed more time for debate is needed.
She said, “That’s a bit trickier, because I think a lot of people in libraries aren’t totally convinced that eBooks are a good format to sort of keep, to build a collection with.”
While eMaterials are easier for students to access books right from their dorm rooms, not owning a physical copy can pose certain complications for the libraries because of digital rights issues.
The library must determine questions like: how often can a title be borrowed, whether it can be printed, how long the patron has access to it, how long the library has access to it, and whether or not it can be lent to other institutions. These are just a few of the thorny legal questions the library would have to figure out.
Bucher said, however, that the library is experimenting with these materials and cites a new eBook aspect to the ConnectNY, an online site where Vassar students can borrow books from the collections of other colleges and universities in New York State.
According to Bucher, now students will be able to find and access ebooks here at Vassar as well.
Bucher also described one of the library’s newest resources: five new Kindle Paperwhites available for lending . An experiment of sorts, the titles stored on the Kindles are new releases to appeal for leisure reading.
Said Bucher, “The kindle project is really just a way that we can sort of get people’s ideas about how they like to read books: do they prefer the kindle, do they prefer the hard copy book?”
The heart of the library’s services is connecting students and faculty with the information they need to continue exploring their field of interest.
Bucher estimated that Vassar amassed about 10,000 new titles last year. According to a five-year planning model from 2009, the library’s total projected annual budget was $2.65 million. These materials come in throughout the year.
Yasi Hassanzadeh ’16, a student worker at the library, said that since starting work, she has already shelved new volumes.
She believes that this process helps keep the library current and useful. “I do feel that the library is well stocked for my needs. I’ve found useful books every time I’ve needed them for research,” said Hassanzadeh.
But as the stacks get filled and more emphasis is placed on the digital medium, there is always the question of whether print books die out.
Bucher believed not. She said, “I think most people are staying with the print and I think rightly so, because I just don’t think the eBook format is ready for primetime yet. We really haven’t cut back on our print acquisitions of books at all so far.”