AIB. Commissione nazionale biblioteche delle università e della ricerca

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Convegno internazionale sullo sviluppo delle raccolte
International conference on collection development

Current issues in collection development: Italian and global perspectives

Bologna, 18 febbraio 2005

Klaus Kempf
Outsourcing projects and approval plans.
Ten years of experience in a large research library: a case study of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

I. Introduction

In recent years libraries in Germany have not only had to deal with increasingly reduced funds for the acquisition of book materials but, under political pressure to reduce personnel, they have also been denied the human resources that would be better qualified to handle new duties (digitization, for example). This reduction in personnel has already posed limits in what libraries can offer; what will the long term impacts be? How have libraries responded to these challenges on an organizational level?

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (=BSB), one of the larges research libraries in Europe with its collections reaching nearly 8,5 million volumes, its vast specialized collections and annual accessions of approximately160,000 new titles (monographs and periodicals), plus thousands of other materials (maps, microfilm, photographs, non-book materials, etc.), has responded to this serious problem by developing, among other solutions, outsourcing programs related to the accessions of book and multimedia materials. With regard to the acquisition of books, the outsourcing solution most frequently implemented is called the "approval plan" (=AP).

II. Outsourcing – Definition of the concept and fundamental reflections on its application in collection development.

Professional business literature defines outsourcing as the assigning of duties and/or functions traditionally handled internally to external suppliers (third parties) on a temporary or permanent basis. The concept of outsourcing - in Italian "esternalizzazione" - stands for "using outside resources", i.e. the implementation of external human resources.

The motivation which brings on the decision to "make or buy" (do it yourself or buy it) through the implementation of one or more outsourcing solutions, for libraries and businesses alike, lies in the possibility to:

Libraries who decide to adopt these re-organizational measures must:

The decision process of the company, or library, during the preparatory stage leading to outsourcing foresees various overlapping phases:

  1. To begin, an in-depth analysis of the current organization (organizational structure and workflows) and, in particular, of personnel costs.
  2. Definition of the nucleus of its competencies/activities and, in parallel, of the activities that are subject to outsourcing.
  3. Development of profiles of the potentially outsource-able services, i.e. defining the characteristics of the services to be "bought" from external suppliers, including their extent and quality.
  4. Finally, the actualization of the project, from initial experimentation on a pilot basis through to the implementation of outsourcing measures in the routine management of the library.

In principle, outsourcing does not constitute an extraordinary variation of library organization. Indeed, libraries of "developed" countries have almost always left certain duties to external suppliers. The best example of this is the collaboration between libraries and commercial binderies. There are very few libraries whose books are bound by an internal department. The norm is that this work is outsourced to commercial binderies. For other activities, the traditions of a country and, more aptly, the existence of a market of external suppliers play a decisive role in defining the status of outsourcing. To my knowledge in Italy, at least in certain regions, there are "co-ops" available to libraries to handle certain classic "library" duties. Italian libraries may, for example, employ co-ops to do all or a part of their cataloguing as well as handle user services (lender services, surveillance or user reference, etc.). In German libraries this phenomenon does not occur as yet and these services are governed by a very conservative in-house policy.

In this respect, the world of North American and Scandinavian libraries is more advanced. In the 1980's the organizational model adopted in this sector underwent a great transformation, which lead to a high level of implementation of outsourcing solutions. With regard to the acquisition of book materials (monographs), the outsourcing solution which dominated, and which continues to grow, is the Approval Plan (AP).

III. Approval Plan (AP)

  1. Definition
  2. AP derives from the expression "to send an approval". This is a workflow based on an agreement between a bookseller and a librarian for the supply of new titles by which the selection of titles is not made by the relative figure within the library, but by the bookseller, on the basis of acquisitions criteria established by the library. The agreement also dictates that the library may return a certain number of books which it does not intend to acquire. This is, more or less, what happens in the case of an AP. Differing from the so-called blanket orders or standing orders relative to the book production of a certain publisher or volumes of a certain series, an AP provides a broader and more complete service. Furthermore, there are many variations of APs. An AP may be established for the supply of books in a certain subject area, relative to certain countries or linguistic regions. It is now quite possible that a library acquires virtually all of its book materials, independent of language or subject, through an AP.

  3. Approval Plans as a variation of outsourcing
  4. In most academic or research libraries in Germany, the choice of book materials has always been considered a "nucleus" activity of the library, i.e. a duty exclusive to the subject bibliographers (in German, "Laenderreferent oder Fachreferent") which no external supplier could handle. This has always been the vision of the BSB. Toward the middle of the 1990's, however, our institution was obliged to rethink this philosophy. Outsourcing this type of activity was taken into consideration in order to reach the following objectives:

  5. Preparation for the implementation of an Approval Plan
  6. The BSB, as I have already mentioned, is a large research library in which particular importance is given to the humanities. Acquisitions dealing with the culture and history of Italy and France are particularly voluminous. Each year approximately Euro 100,000 of the library's budget is employed in the acquisition of 3,500 monographs and some Euro 100,000 from the budget of the DFG [1] covers the acquisition of 3000 more titles of Italian books and journals. The library aims at complete coverage of new titles. Because of the great delays in its publication, the Bibliografia Nazionale Italiana has never been used by the BSB as a source for bibliographical data relative to new titles. Not even the "Catalogo dei libri in commercio" (Books in Print) is of use, because we also seek to acquire "grey literature," i.e. the occasional pamphlet published, for example, by an association of ex-partisans in the region of Abruzzo or the periodical published by an association of aficionadoes of traditional Sardinian bagpipe music.

    We spend more or less the same figures for Italian titles as for titles on French culture and history. Through the 1990's the situation of the national French bibliography gradually worsened until the print edition was suspended, without a complete online edition to replace it. For both countries, the BSB was therefore ever more obliged to rely on the bibliographical data of booksellers. The BSB has always worked exclusively with booksellers within each single country, acquiring materials at the internal sale price of the given country. Consequently, the decision was made to acquire all monographs, beginning in Italy, via an Approval Plan. If the experience in Italy showed positive results, the same criteria would be applied to France.

    Before introducing an AP, a detailed analysis of the acquisitions process was necessary in order to identify the aspects which had the most effect on costs. To this end, we used an instrument called "process cost analysis". Every detail was therefore carefully examined to identify which single work processes resulting in the product "Italian Monograph Acquisitions" were of greatest weight in terms of cost and time. To put it simply, we tried to understand how expensive the process of "making" was for the library. Thanks to the results of this careful analysis we were able to reach a rationalization of the workflows even before the introduction of the AP, augmenting their efficiency. Furthermore, the results of the cost analysis process offered an excellent basis for comparing costs between the existing variation "making" and the desired variation "buying"(i.e. Approval Plan).

    In view of introducing an AP, the existing parameters for the acquisition of Italian monographs—content, subject areas, minimum number of pages, publisher, etc.—required detailed review in order to render them perfectly tuned to the technical requirements of the partner bookseller.

    For example, we found it necessary to define and set down in writing a maximum price per volume for monographs, to avoid having to request special authorization for each single case. It is also important that these elaborate criteria be considered dynamic, so that they are constantly updated according to the situation of the Approval Plan as time passes. In order to develop these parameters and document them—in the case of the BSB these constitute a small 12-page manual—intense and constant dialogue between library and bookseller partner is required in the preceding and initial phases of an AP. In this way all aspects relative to acquisitions can be clarified, for example, the minimum number of pages required, in case of minutia, or whether or not to acquire volumes in which illustrations comprise more than half the volume's total number of pages.

    Traditionally, the BSB has always worked with various Italian booksellers. The introduction of an AP for the whole of its monograph acquisitions however imposed the choice of a single bookseller, so as to avoid duplicate supply of volumes. It was certainly not an easy decision. The criteria employed in the decision were:

    At the end of this analysis, the BSB chose to work with Casalini Libri of Fiesole.

    All the way through to the actual implementation of the AP, other specific details were discussed and defined, among which the agreed percentage of returns: 8% of the total supply.

  7. Experience after 10 years of an Italian Approval Plan
  8. The bookseller's qualified personnel selects each single title "de visu" or "book in hand", verifying that it corresponds with the acquisitions parameters indicated in the AP, and the results are visible. We have, in fact, noted a decrease in the difficulties of supply, fewer reports that titles are out of print, fewer duplicates. There is the risk that the AP system causes a certain "uniformity" in acquisitions or in the make-up of the collections, especially in cases where the bookseller provides the same service to many large libraries or in the case that the bookseller does not succeed in obtaining all the desired titles of a market (for example, volumes from southern Italy). We try to avoid such cases by conducting research on the market and informing the bookseller now and then of possible gaps in the collections.

    Since the introduction of the AP, the turnaround time for acquiring a book and placing it at the disposal of the library's users has been reduced by 2-3 months (!).

  9. Further developments

Given the obvious success of the implementation of the Italian Approval Plan, in recent years the BSB has introduced the same reorganization method for the acquisitions of other countries and certain subject areas.

IV. Conclusions

  1. For the acquisition of monographs, an Approval Plan constitutes an integral part of the "reorganization system" of the BSB.
  2. The introduction of an AP is no small effort for a library. To begin, a detailed analysis of the current organizational structure, duties and workflows is necessary. This analysis allows the library to identify and introduce significant means to augment efficiency even before the introduction of the AP.
  3. The AP is a cost-effective variation of book acquisitions for both the library and the bookseller if they succeed in reaching a common definition of subject matter and/or country or linguistic areas for which the acquisitions programs are substantial, i.e. if the library acquires everything that is available on the market in a certain subject area or certain country.
  4. To date, the AP service has not caused my library added costs nor price increases. This certainly depends on the fact that the bookseller maintains a higher volume of business through the AP agreement and can therefore establish a closer and lasting business relationship with the customer/library.
  5. In any case, the AP was the first step in the vast field of outsourcing. In the case of Italy, Casalini has always provided cataloguing data of the highest level that is readily-used with minimal intervention. In France the situation is analogous. For both countries, we may now consider whether the current AP could be transformed into a complete outsourcing solution, i.e. whether the BSB, like many large North American libraries such as Stanford, Harvard or the Library of Congress and like younger, smaller, but modern libraries such as the university library of Bolzano, might now acquire shelf-ready books, complete with cataloguing and even classification and subject headings.


[1] DFG = Deutche Forschungsgemeinschaft. La DFG is the most important organ of the federal government of Germany with regard to the promotion and financing of research. Since 1949 the largest German research libraries receive extra funding thanks to a program for the development of special collections (Sondersammelgebietsprogramm). The objective of the program is to guarantee that specialized literature in all subject areas can be found in at least one library in Germany. Therefore the commissioned libraries each seek completeness of collections in their relative subject areas. Within the above-mentioned program, the BSB has responsibility for various subject areas, including collections on the culture and history of Italy and France.

N.B.: è disponibile anche la versione italiana.

Copyright AIB 2005-06-15, ultimo aggiornamento 2005-11-04 a cura di Serafina Spinelli
URL: http://www.aib.it/aib/commiss/cnur/boekempf.htm3

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