Collection development in biomedicine

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See also Assessment for academic librarians, Collection development policies in health libraries & EBooks and eReaders

Collection development is a major part of what many health librarians do in their libraries but these duties may also be centralized in departments of bibliography or within the purview of e-resources librarians. In any case, even in the absence of these duties, health librarians continue to collaborate with clinicians, faculty and researchers in order to build collections and support curricula, programs and health services.

The process of building a balanced collection of books and journals in a health library is a long-range, iterative process. Health librarians base collection development on rigorous assessment of the information needs of users, analyses of print usage and available budgetary funding. Collection development includes a well-developed set of selection criteria, planning for replacement of worn items and ongoing book weeding and transitioning resources to online. Many libraries use approval plans and blanket orders to build their collections. In medium-sized libraries, collection responsibilities are usually shared among a group of liaison librarians.

Selecting print and electronic book and journal collections is among the most important activities for health librarians. Some important issues to consider: what is my annual budget? what is the overall scope of the library collection? how do I balance print and digital resources? free versus fee-based resources; differing content in print versus online versions; duplication of sources, multiple vendors, online access and authentication, adaptability of database interfaces and, of course, budgets. As physical libraries change from housing print collections to being completely digital, health librarians must find ways to perform outreach and liaison activities with users in their organizations. One of the primary challenges for health librarians in the digital age is the proliferation of scientific knowledge and evidence due to advances in biomedical research. Changes in information cycles are linked to how physicians are trained, how they practice and do research; ultimately, this has an impact on the knowledge-base of medical disciplines and consequently how health librarians build library collections.

Key resources

Selection aids and tools

See also Impact factor and Open Access

For decades, collection development relied on the "Brandon/Hill Selected List of Books and Journals for the Small Medical Library" and "A Library for Internists: Recommendations from the American College of Physicians". As those lists are no longer updated, health librarians use a range of tools to build timely, relevant collections for their users. For example, Doody's is a popular selection tool used by academic health librarians. The sources of information that aid health librarians in their collection duties include:

  • approval books and slips
  • catalogues of government documents and publications
  • course reserve lists to support degree-based health and medical programs
  • interlibrary loan requests
  • previously-answered reference questions, trends in medicine, in-house systematic reviews
  • publishers' and university press announcements
  • reviews in scholarly journals or newspapers
  • scholarly publishing and communication
  • unsolicited sample journal issues
  • recommendations from physicians, nurses, pharmacists
  • standard lists, e.g., Brandon-Hill and Doody's Lists, catalogs of professional associations
  • stock lists from major vendors
  • Login Brothers newsletters

e-Book evaluation Criteria

  1. Access and network capacity: access preferably across networks
  2. Added-value and advantages over other formats (not less "functionality")
  3. Archival issues - availability, cost, limitations, storage, etc.
  4. Availability and quality of documentation; vendor support
  5. Canadian content
  6. Copyright issues
  7. Cost-effective -- cost of edition; digitized backfiles, future upgrades
  8. Currency and validity of information and updates
  9. Ease-of-use, navigability, discoverability of information
  10. Format/appearance, content, medium, "usability" and "user experience"
  11. Hardware needed to read or print
  12. Legal issues including licensing requirement and restrictions
  13. Mobile-device accessible
  14. Needs of primary clientele; academic, clinical or research
  15. Publisher commitment to maintenance
  16. Subject match to users and institution
  17. Research, scholarly or intellectual level
  18. Reputation and authority of authors, producer; publishers, edition
  19. Technical ease and accessibility
  20. Uniqueness and completeness of information
  21. Usage and/or limits to access can be monitored

Evidence-based collection management

  • learn how your patrons are using e-books; defined e-versions including exact duplicate of print (also, UpToDate-like items that function similarly)
  • who uses ebooks ..faculty, students, clinicians?
  • What are they used for ...learning, teaching, research?
  • what factors influence use: are they at a distance? how do patrons find them? are short/longforms available
  • what are ebooks used for in clinical medicine?
  • support of clinical care, research; medical faculty do not assign ebooks, more students chose them
  • 67% find print, 43% ebooks; most agree they have time to get ebooks more than print
  • federated search tools and Google were most popular ways to find ebooks, followed by library catalogues
  • use of e books and onsite physical libraries are related to print use
  • a minor preferences for ebooks in reference; those who prefer print are willing to use ebooks but not other way around
  • most important features: people want to print chapters and save; find full-text; annotating not so much
  • patrons are more interested in authoritative information than format

EBCM issues

  • new editions may lag behind in updating online
  • tech-savvy staff are needed to troubleshoot
  • do you buy print too? Cataloging records may be a problem with large packages
  • balance between subscription and one-time purchases; subscriptions tie up your budget for items you may not need or want
  • one-time funds are great to spend leftover funds, but you do have to keep buying new editions a la carte
  • future trends include enriched ebooks, multimedia; reference/reserve collections are going electronic
  • finding e-versions of ref/reserve texts is a huge challenge; usage stats and reporting models continue to evolve
  • chapter-by-chapter usage is a great way to count; buy single chapters for ILL
  • usability testing and focus groups to see why people are using ebooks and how successful they are; keep access consistent and reliable via mobile devices


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