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Dean’s Update: Transforming Collections

As we finally move into spring, how many among us are anxious to shed our winter jackets in favor of warmer weather? Spring is an exciting time of sunshine and new growth, but with that comes housekeeping – weeding, planting and spring-cleaning. For the Libraries, this spring marks a time to review our collections as we plan to make room for more up to date references and feature an resources that will stimulate discovery and reading enjoyment.

Weeding – known as deselecting in the library community - is a necessary process, in reference to both gardens and library collections as in order to raise the visibility, access and health of the materials you choose to keep, you must remove the items that clutter the landscape. Just like in a garden when thorny weeds overtake plants, a lack of weeding in a library collection can be dangerous and outdated materials can provide inaccurate information. The process of weeding takes into account numerous factors including the accuracy and timeliness of materials, editions replaced by newer versions, items in poor physical condition, changing research trends, usage, curriculum and teaching changes, format and availability through other means, such as electronic access.

Earlier this week, members of the Library Advisory Group – a group composed largely of faculty who represent a cross section of Drexel’s disciplines – were consulted on the Libraries plan to remove outdated materials from the collection. The Libraries has housed 18,000 volumes in shelving rooms in Drexel One Plaza, and in the span of 14 years less than 50 items were requested. The Libraries plan to remove the unrequested items from the collection to make space for new growth. The unused materials include for example outdated medical textbooks, replaced business reference books, and journals available electronically. The Advisory Group asked good questions and thoughtfully imagined alternative procedures or reasons to engage faculty. They endorsed our careful management of these items and urged us to clarify the importance of providing access in favor of holding physical items, of ensuring availability of current data while curating historically valuable evidence, and for being responsive to balance changing modes of scholarly communications with cost efficient channels to making them available.

At Drexel, forward thinking library directors made decisions years ago that transformed the role of the library from amassing collections to ensuring access to information regardless of the physical location of items. With this, allocation of funds shifted from collecting physical materials to licensing electronic access. This is not an all or nothing process, as publications in print format are still key to acquire for the presentation of ideas in some disciplines or to help faculty teach students organization of knowledge. However, for the researcher working away from the physical library, or at times when its doors are closed, the library in cyberspace provides added efficiency and convenience while ensuring access to the most up to date information.

Drexel’s librarians continue to collect – selecting and bringing together the physical and the electronic resources that are most relevant to the University’s research agendas. The Libraries also has responsibility to be stewards of intellectual artifacts through collections of Drexel records and research output. The University Archives houses the physical evidence of Drexel’s history through historic records, images and souvenirs of the past. Through adding contextual organization and identification to materials acquired, we offer collections for present and future investigators to discover ideas triggered by relevant publications as well as the unique sources of evidence related to Drexel.

The size of a physical collection has served as the longstanding definition of a good research library – featuring a large collection of books books, arranged systematically on miles of shelving. There has been a “bigger is better” approach to supporting accreditations, impressing parents and prospective students, and helping to recruit scholars. Not so well recognized, however, is the lack of availability of materials in such collections, with only a privileged few groups of people allowed to physically browse or borrow from the great research collections.

The shift to conceive of library collecting for intentional, convenient and efficient access to content rather than for assembly and preservation of materials has guided the success of Drexel’s collection development. Factors that affect our collecting decisions include faculty pursuit of information to undertake research and teaching across diverse disciplines, the output and distribution of scholarly communications, and the cost effective selection of venues to ensure access to authoritative information. The collection at Drexel includes acquisition of a physical items, licensing electronic access for multiple remote users, and negotiating shared use of resources among research libraries through delivery services [including EZBorrow and ILL] or on site privileges at other libraries, such as the University of Pennsylvania. In this context, our weeding of unused physical materials helps maintain a set of collections that is easier to navigate for convenient access by faculty and students, while contributing to the staff-mediated availability of items for researchers needing materials in less demand.

As we are more confident that spring will stay, I invite you to visualize an up and coming university that is expanding to become a more comprehensive research enterprise, increasing its impact on designing solutions for society’s problems and contributing to scholarly communications. What is important to balance traditions of building and maintaining research collections with challenges to select from among licensed e-resources and delivery services in this new environment? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Libraries changing role in ensuring access to authoritative information. And, if anyone would like to dig into the soil and help weed, let us know.

Danuta A. Nitecki
Dean of Libraries

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