I have, on occasion, been known to buy books. Just a few. (Hey! Quit laughing, would you?) Given my proclivities in this area, it should come as no surprise that I've been the department's library coordinator since 2002. The basic procedure is simple: either a) I get catalogs, choose the books, prioritize the orders, and ask one of our work-study assistants to write up "yellow cards" for the acquisitions librarian, or b) the acquisitions librarian sends me a stack of Choice review slips and I prioritize (or discard) them. In addition, my colleagues put in special requests, especially if they're in areas serviced largely by overseas publishers. If the procedure is simple, however, the decision-making process is a little more complicated.
In the beginning, my purchasing philosophy was based on a remarkably simple principle--namely, of Coolness. After about two months, however, reality intruded itself. Reality, in case you're wondering, translates into money. Brockport doesn't support a full-fledged research library; while I'm told that we have the largest holdings of all the four-year SUNY colleges, it's still the case that there's one floor for the main collection, one for reference books and offices, and one for periodicals and multimedia. Needless to say, our department's acquisitions budget bears no resemblance to, say, that of the English department at Yale. In fact, we can only afford to purchase a small fraction of what's published each year. What to do?
I begin by asking myself two questions:
- If we have a person in field X, what are his or her scholarly interests?
- Are we teaching certain courses in field X on a regular basis?
Because we have a fairly small department, it's easy enough to remember that colleague A is interested in the Transcendentalists, colleague B in literature of the Cold War era, and so on. Similarly, it's also easy to keep tabs on our course offerings; thus, given that we frequently teach the history of the novel but rarely offer entire courses on eighteenth-century poetry, the book orders have to be adjusted accordingly. The unfortunate downside of this approach, as you might expect, is that when field X goes missing, so do its books. (When I arrived in '99, Victorian literature had been AWOL for a bit, and so the holdings needed a bit of work.) Moreover, even while trying to keep my colleagues in books--if not clover--I have to balance their special interests against a given book's more general utility for our students. If Choice tells me that a book is "optional," in other words, or "accessible only to advanced graduate students," then it will probably go the way of all texts.
So, let's say a book has survived questions #1 and #2 with flying colors. Then what? The library asks us to categorize books as either first or second choices. A first-choice book will immediately be put into the ordering queue (bear in mind that we have a backlog, as we're asked to encumber our budget as early in the year as possible). Second-choice book orders sit around in a drawer until one of three things happens: 1) we get extra money, 2) I go back and upgrade it, 3) I discard it. I generally divide orders as follows, bearing in mind that we primarily serve an undergraduate population:
- Primary texts (including literature in translation and letters); reference works; major theoretical texts; literary history or wide-ranging studies of multiple authors; large-scale studies of significant authors (including biography)
- Narrower monographs; studies of minor authors (unless they have a wider literary-historical application); essay collections; more specialized theoretical texts
Unfortunately, some scholarly editions--I'm looking at you, Pickering & Chatto--are consistently priced out of our reach. Nevertheless, it's always my (logical!) policy to get as much literature as possible on the shelves. As we're near the University of Rochester and have a very efficient ILL program, I don't feel uncomfortable about downgrading extremely specialized secondary texts; if one of my colleagues really needs such a book in the collection, we can always go back and move it into the first-choice queue.