The appropriation of evidence based terminology by vendors

by Denise Koufogiannakis
University of Alberta Libraries

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an increasing number of products being marketed to librarians as “evidence based” tools for improving our decision making. Vendors seem to be hooking onto the growth and acceptance of evidence based practice within librarianship and are marketing their products as such. They are wanting to appeal to those who see value in data as a driver for decision making.

I recently looked into this more formally (see my EBLIP8 presentation from July of this year) and found two different types of products being promoted as “evidence based”:

1. Data gathering tools for collections analysis – these products are aimed at both academic and public librarians, but there are different products for each. For public libraries, the products focus on information such as circulation and demographic data to aid with management of the collection and new acquisitions. Similar products being targeted to academic libraries focus on collections usage statistics for the purposes of making cancellation decisions, weeding, and showing return on investment. Examples include CollectionHQ for public libraries and Intota Assessment for academic libraries.

2. Evidence Based Acquisition approaches – aimed at academic librarians, “evidence based acquisition” (sometimes called usage-based acquisition) is a relatively new option being presented by publishers, similar to patron-driven or demand-driven approaches. In this model, a group of titles from a publisher (such as all the titles in a particular subject area) are enabled upon commitment from the library to spend an agreed upon amount of money. Following the agreed upon time period, the library chooses the titles they wish to keep, based upon usage of those titles (for more detail see the overview included in the NISO Recommended Practice for Demand Driven Acquisition of Monographs). Examples of this approach can be found with many of the major academic publishers including Elsevier, Cambridge, and SAGE.

The question I ask myself is whether these products are really evidence based? Can they deliver what they promise when they say that they will improve collection management, make librarians’ jobs easier, help with decision making, save time, and provide dependable, high quality service? I guess it is the evidence based, critical side of me that is doubtful.

EBLIP is a process that asks us to consider the whole of the evidence when making a decision. To try and determine what the best evidence is. To try and see a complete picture by bringing together different evidence sources when making a decision. EBLIP is an approach to practice that is considered and reflective. Conversely, these products are meant to convince us that because they are called evidence based they will magically take care of all this hard work for us!

None of this is to say that the products are bad. In fact, they seem to offer potentially useful ways of drawing together data for collections and acquisitions librarians to use, or a model for acquisition that may actually prove to be a good one for many libraries. In short, what I see in these products are individual pieces of evidence that may be useful to aid with decisions, but certainly will not be a complete answer.

What we should all consider is the appropriation of evidence based terminology. This appropriation probably means that the EBLIP movement has become sufficiently recognized as integral to librarianship, to the point that its terminology is now selling vendors’ products to librarians, using the discourse of the movement. Referring to a product as evidence based lends credibility to it. If accepted as evidence based, the product’s profile is raised in comparison to other products, which may then be regarded as not being evidence based, even though they may certainly be just as evidence based as the products being marketed as such. This use of the term has been too easily allowed to be applied without question.

EBLIP as a way of approaching practice is far more complex than what these products can offer. If they hold some piece of information that helps you with the process, great! But don’t think your job ends there. Just like all products, the types of products I’ve described above need to be assessed and tested. To state the obvious, do not rely on the evidence based terminology used by the vendor. If it does something that makes your work easier, then by all means use it. But no product will be a magic solution. Above all, let’s test these these products and determine how evidence based they actually are. How much will they help us advance the goals and mission of our Library? Let’s make sure they live up to what they say they offer, and place whatever they do offer in the larger context of overall evidence based decision making within collections.

Let’s not rely on vendors to tell us what is evidence based – let’s figure it out ourselves. We need to do more testing and critically examine all these products, document and share what we learn with one another. Here are a couple of examples that may help you with your own examination:
Buying by the bucket: A comparative study of e-book acquisitions strategies.
Evidence based acquisitions: Does the evidence support this hybrid model?

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.