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Print ordering, or ordering print materials, is an important activity in academic health and hospital libraries despite the pressures of online access, consortial licensing and the rise of e-books and other online (and often free) digital information. While providing e-access to monographs and reference materials is in some sense inevitable, a high proportion of library users express strong clear preferences for print for parts of their study and research work. In medicine, for example, which is a very visual profession, the best texts and photographs of slides and other visual materials are essential. Human anatomy, dermatology, pathology and surgery are a few examples in the practice of medicine that require (and in some cases demand) print. Moves to consolidate e-access for library materials must be considered in the context of barriers that can preclude online access. In many health care environments, especially within hospital networks, there are too few computers to access materials in the local hospital library and remotely there may be firewalls that block access. The most troublesome barriers, in some senses, are old computers and browsers; using IE6, for example, which is still widely-available on hospital ward computers puts those users at a disadvantage when IE8 is often needed.
Academic health librarians do not rely on selection aids to the same extent that they did in the print era. For decades, hospital and health librarians consulted the Brandon-Hill and Doody's Lists because they have been the key selection tools, especially the former list. Although health librarians refer to BH today they do so to evaluate their monographic collections, but use it in conjunction with other tools, collections experience and knowledge. The Medical Library Association (MLA) in the United States maintains a number of excellent collection tools for health librarians. In Canada, there is the Canadian Health Libraries Association but no concomitant collections interest group.
Providing online access to library collections beyond regular opening hours is a challenge due to technical issues but also due to the costs that are associated with licensing and networking of resources. The literature increasingly mentions the importance of teaching library users how to use e-resources which is, in part, why health librarians see requests for their teaching increase considerably after the acquisition of e-content. Different resources, platforms and access methods are all potential technical areas that can confound users. LibQUAL is a standard technique for assessing the quality of libraries according to users' satisfaction. Physical spaces, information control and staffing are three critical areas. In several quality assessment studies, students mention that they are not as concerned about collections as they are about the physical surroundings of their libraries and the creation of social spaces.
In 2014, SAGE published a The State of Reference Collections white paper that analyzes the state of reference resources. The white paper presents information on how reference resources are being collected and used in today’s academic, public, and special libraries (including legal, governmental, hospital, and corporate libraries) around the world. See also Lavoie B, et al. Print management at "mega-scale": a regional perspective on print book collections in North America. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.
In Canada, a majority of health and hospital-based librarians order print through distributors such as Login Canada, YBP Library Services (Cobi) (formerly Yankee Book Peddlar) and Coutts. Most academic libraries are exploring different just-in-time acquisition models that provide cost-effective ways to purchase monographs with guaranteed usage. The Ebrary platform offers patron-driven acquisitions; YBP the so-called DDA (Demand Driven Acquisitions). Both of these projects allow academic libraries to experiment with purchasing materials at point of need. With these and other timely services now provided by vendors such as Amazon.com and other suppliers, the alternatives for ordering books are plentiful.
As far as health librarians are concerned, the evaluation and selection of print materials are critical activities and use iterative models of collection development. Local solutions are commonly used; in fact, some health libraries create detailed collection policies and subject profiles by call numbers to guide print ordering. Health librarians in smaller hospital libraries work on their collection development by using a variety of methods, including the consultation of publishers' catalogues, various selection tools and through recommendations from their user groups. Of course, the biggest challenge for health librarians is to manage their book funds effectively, and within the context of overall budgeting, while transitioning print to the online for aspects of their collections.
Studies print vs. ebooks