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.

Thoughts on Conferencing

by Vicki Williamson
Dean, University Library, University of Saskatchewan

As summer fades, a new academic year is set to begin, and conference season has come to an end for another year, I have been reflecting upon the value of professional meetings and conferences in the electronic age.

As a side note, all reports from the IFLA World Library and Information Congress 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa indicate a very active contingent of 50 Canadians in attendance with the conference highpoint being the announcement of IFLA’s highest honour of an Honorary Fellow Award to Ingrid Parent, University Librarian at the University of British Columbia.

But back to the topic of the conferencing… According to the Oxford English Dictionary Online, as a noun, ‘conference’ is defined as a formal meeting for discussion; and as a verb, to take part in a conference or conference call. Librarians have been conferencing as a major form of ongoing professional development for as long as I can remember. In the electronic age, however, are expectations around conferences changing? Sometimes these days I think some folks believe that if they come back from a conference with copies of PowerPoint slides and presentations then they must have learned something.

The business model for face-to-face conferencing has been with the Academy and the profession of librarianship for a long time. The rise of the internet, and new and emerging technologies and applications are challenging that business model, especially in terms of the cost to run a conference and the cost of ‘attendance’. Many professional associations, including the American Library Association (ALA), which runs not one, but two major conferences per year, are questioning the longer-term sustainability of the face-to-face conference model. Half way across the Pacific and well into my 27 hours of flying time to get to the 8th International Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Conference (EBLIP8) in Brisbane, Australia in July, I too began to question the value of the face-to-face conference.

I’m delighted to say that by the end of the EBLIP8 conference my faith in the value of the face-to-face conference model had been restored. There does seem to be a time and place for technology to enrich the conference experience, but nothing quite matches the networking and learning experiences of a ‘live’ conference. So what was it that made EBLIP8 such a great experience and one well worth the cost, time, and effort to attend in person? Was it the amazing conference venue on the grounds of the Gardens Point Campus of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT)? Was it the Queensland’s sub-tropical winter weather with daily maximum temperatures ranging between 22˚ C and 24˚ C? Maybe it was the amazing catering, or, perhaps it was the cultural experience of things Australian that I had forgotten about after almost a decade of working overseas. Maybe it was the program content, or the outstanding quality of the speakers and/or the diversity of the participants who came from countries all over the world. Was it the conference size – that is, small enough that you could move around and speak with most people over the course of the three days? Or, was it simply that the topic of evidence based library and information practice is so applicable in every type of library setting (school, public, academic, etc.) and for every type of library function or specialization (technical, public, and/or corporate services). I’m sure all these factors played a part. I do know for me, it wasn’t the dancing at the conference dinner! Looking back on the whole EBLIP8 experience, it was for me simply having the time and space to listen, engage, and reflect; experience my Ah Ha! Moment during Dr. Neil Carrington’s keynote address on Creating and Sustaining a High Performance Team Culture, and return to my workplace professionally “reset and refocussed” on what’s important to me.

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.