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Two Association of Research Libraries member libraries, the University of Illinois at Urbana--Champaign (UIUC) and Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), evaluated their monograph acquisition approval plan profiles to answer basic questions concerning use, cost effectiveness, and coverage. Data were collected in tandem from vendors and local online systems to track book receipt, item circulation, and overlap between plans. The study period was fiscal year 2005 (July 1, 2004-June 30, 2005)for the approval plan purchasing data, and circulation use data were collected from July 1, 2004, through March 31, 2007, for both UIUC and Pen n State. Multiple data points were collected for each title, including author, title, ISBN, publisher, Library of Congress classification number, purchase price, and circulation data. Results of the study measured the cost-effectiveness of each plan by subject and publisher, analyzed similarities and differences in use, and examined the overlap between the two approval plans. The goals were to establish a benchmark for consistently evaluating approval plan profile effectiveness and to provide a reproducible method with baseline data that will allow other libraries to collect comparable data and conduct their own studies.
Approval plans have been considered an efficient and cost-effective way for libraries to acquire books in large quantities across many disciplines. Through approval plans, vendors supply current imprints as well as notification slips or forms to libraries on the basis of selected publisher output, subject profiles, and nonsubject categories such as readership level, country of origin, and format. When combined, these factors determine the parameters for selecting titles within the approval plan. Approval plan profiles can be limited by any number of factors, including price, scope, format, audience, language, and publisher. Each approval plan's profile is carefully established by library subject specialists to meet the research, curricular, and learning needs of the library's users.
If a library commits to purchase large quantities of books on approval, vendors may offer substantial discounts off the list price. Libraries also may have the option to return titles that they consider outside of the approval profile. Additional vendor services include shelf ready services, such as cataloging, bar coding, and labeling, at an added cost. However, shelf-ready titles cannot be returned unless they are received damaged or clearly outside of the approval profile (e.g., item exceeds price limit).
Approval plan profiles can take considerable time to formulate and, once implemented, may not always be subject to regular review and revision. However, libraries should regularly consider a number of questions concerning their approval plan profiles, including the following:
* How frequently should profiles be evaluated and revised?
* What criteria should be used when assessing the effectiveness of approval plan profiles?
* Can cost-effectiveness be measured, and if so, do the results point to reevaluation of local profiles?
To answer these and other questions surrounding the use of approval plans in large libraries, especially within the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the authors conducted an assessment of domestic approval plans at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). The study examined receipts from two book vendors: Blackwell Book Services at UIUC and YBP (formerly known as Yankee Book Peddler) at Penn State. These two institutions, both of which are members of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, planned to undertake major reviews of their approval plans and decided that developing a study comparing results from similar institutions would be advantageous.
Although these university libraries vary in size and use different vendors, they share the mission of all libraries: to acquire the materials needed by their clientele. In large academic libraries, such as UIUC and Penn State, this usually entails the use of approval plan profiles. Differences and similarities between the two libraries and their approval plans became apparent during the research process. The authors conducted the study at each library using the same method in order to compare results, and they logged the discrepancies through the data collection and analysis process.
The most critical area examined relates to the use and cost of material acquired by libraries through approval plan profiles. The primary research question focused on examining the current method of providing large quantities of books to support the research, teaching, and learning needs of the students and faculty of each university studied and asked the following: Can a cost/use ratio be derived that indicates the point at which an approval plan profile is effective or ineffective? Beyond the basic analyses of cost and use, other questions were framed to guide the data analysis:
* How does circulation and cost/use compare between UIUC and Penn State?
* How does cost/use vary by subject discipline at UIUC and Penn State?
* Do the two approval vendors (Blackwell and YBP), in combination with the different profiles, overlap? Are the two libraries buying a high percentage of the same titles?
* What publishers represent the highest use at each library? Is there a correlation between the highest volume publishers and the highest average use?
* Is Trueswell's 80/20 rule applicable to approval book purchases; that is, do 20 percent of the approval books account for 80 percent of their circulation? (1) Is Kent's hypothesis in Use of Library Materials: The University of Pittsburgh Study, "A very small portion (perhaps 10 percent) of the library collection of book titles accounts for major portion (80 percent or more) of circulation and in-house use," a more likely outcome? (2)
Numerous publications have broadly examined the use of library materials, and several important studies have examined the use of books over a period of time. Research also has been conducted on the use and cost of books acquired through approval plan profiles.
Studies that have addressed the effectiveness of approval plans include those by Kingsley and Brush. (3) In 1996, Kingsley found that 50 percent of approval plan books circulated within the first five months after receipt, and 67 percent circulated within the first sixteen months after receipt at Western Michigan University. In her subsequent (2000) study, Kingsley advocated the use of management reports to closely monitor circulation patterns of approval materials, asserting that "the likelihood that an approval plan will continue on automatic pilot, adding books in some very low-use areas and perpetually short-changing some heavy-use topics offers the risk of particularly ineffective spending if management information about approval plan book use is not monitored." (4) Brush compared the circulation of engineering titles received on approval with the circulation of all materials in the Library of Congress "T" call number classification at Rowan University in the 2005 fiscal year (FY05), with both acquisition and circulation taking place in FY05. The results showed that books received from the approval plan profile did circulate at a rate much higher than the collection as a whole. The overall circulation rate for approval plan books was 23 percent, versus 6 percent of the engineering collection as a whole. Brush concluded, "Our approval plan books (the most recent ones) circulated at a much higher rate than the engineering collection as a whole, indicating that they are filling a real need." (5)
A few studies have taken the next step and examined the cost/use ratio of monographs. Crotts looked at cost and circulation of monographs by subject to develop a funding formula. Over a five-year period (1990-95), "values expended per book range from less than one dollar (recreation) to almost twenty-five dollars (accounting)." (6) Rodriquez studied the cost and use of monographs at an academic health sciences library over a three-year period: July 1, 2004, to June 30, 2007. He found, using a ratio of expenditure (cost of book) to circulation, that health science subjects varied in Actual Cost of Use (ACU) from $8.04 to $191.31 with a mean of $39.03. (7) A University of Texas study calculated the cost per use of printed books at between $3.24 and $28.57; no time frame was given for these data, but they include the ongoing costs of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, shelving, and maintenance. (8)
These studies show that both cost/use ratios and circulation rates for books can vary widely. These variances can be attributed to the subject matter and the size, scope, and type of library, as well as the size of the approval plan and the nature of the profile. The different results confirm the need to compare similar libraries with similar plans or to conduct multiple year studies at a single library with an approval plan profile that is consistent over time. Previous studies helped establish a baseline for comparison with this research study. Most circulation studies look at longitudinal data over a series of years to demonstrate use; in this study, titles had between twenty-one and thirty-three months to circulate.
Juran initially proposed the law of the vital few (20 percent) and trivial many (80 percent) in the context of business operations. (9) Trueswell later applied the 80/20 rule to library collection …