At a time when academic libraries are investing more time and resources experimenting with models that place user demands at the center of library acquisitions (via such models as DDA), there seems to be confusion and misunderstanding about which methods compete and why. Publishers and libraries spent a significant amount of time pitting the print book against the ebook in the early years of digital reading—at the time very few were pointing out that there was no real competition between the two formats to begin with, at least not to the extent that one should cancel out the other. Similarly, librarians have been tempted to decipher the maze of book and ebook buying models as a zero-sum game, i.e., that some models must clearly stand in opposition to others.
While it could be argued that some ebook models do, indeed, encourage ownership while others encourage access (making it easy to distinguish between purchasing and subscribing to provide access), or that some models encourage purchase of a whole book while others ask for micro-transaction payments based on use, such arguments become problematic when applied to methods of discovering and acquiring content that were intentionally designed to adapt to the changing needs of libraries over time rather than to compete with new models. Nowhere is this confusion more evident than in the case of the Approval Plan—the many decades-old method that thousands of academic libraries around the world use to discover and acquire scholarly books.
Has the Approval Plan stood the test of time, many now ask, as some libraries move away from buying to own to embrace the access-based services. Does the complex process of profiling (books and libraries), which stands at the core of Approval Plans, still make sense in the age of advanced technologies that track user activities in order to provide proof of what is needed without guess-work or prediction? Does the emphasis on thoughtful curation rather than on the immediate—and perhaps momentary—demand of the user put libraries at risk of developing collections that won’t be used? Not only has the Approval Plan stood the test of time as a highly effective book buying tool—especially with the integration of ebooks—it has evolved with libraries consistently and to the point where it may not even be appropriate anymore to consider it a ‘traditional’ method. In fact, there are more Approval Plans running in academic libraries today than ever before. How is it possible, one wonders, that a method used to support buying scholarly books for over half a century continues to adapt so well to new technologies and not appear outdated? Continue reading The Approval Plan: A Sorting Hat That Discovers the Right Books for the Right Libraries