The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Acquisitions lists, or as they were once known, accessions lists, have been around for as long as libraries have been keeping track of their new books. The purpose of this article is not a history of acquisitions lists, so I will not quote any scholarly article on the earliest known law library acquisitions lists. Historically speaking though, i.e. pre-Internet, acquisitions lists were distributed in paper to alert people to new additions to the library collection. But acquisitions lists have recently been in our news. As you may have noted in a recent past issue of the Technical Services Law Librarian, Catalog of Current Legal Titles has ceased publication. This was an amalgam of acquisitions lists from sixty libraries, primarily academic law libraries, as well as a smattering of others. In addition, in recognition of the trend by libraries to post acquisitions lists on their web site, AcqWeb now has a section devoted to links to these lists. The purpose of this article then is to take a closer look at what these lists are, how they are organized and used, and some recommendations for the future.
Despite the tendency of some librarians to save everything, these little critters are meant to be tossed ... at least eventually. That is because they show what is new in the library. When you have an old list of new titles, you are really stretching the purpose of archiving information. Recent acquisitions lists can give you a sense of the kind of books the library is adding to its collection. In an academic law library, a new faculty member may request lists for the past year. Acquisitions lists are also provided to ABA or AALS inspectors for this same reason.
The real audience for an acquisitions list is the libraryís patrons. The list advertises the newest additions to the collection. As such they should be as user-friendly as possible. My favorite list was one prepared at a nearby law school which was alphabetical by title, and individually typed (not computer-generated). It was visually attractive and it was as brief as such a list could be. I read it cover-to-cover monthly.
Collection development librarians tend to use acquisitions lists for several purposes. First, it can be used as a safety net to catch titles that might be missed otherwise; secondly, it can be used as a tool to browse additions to other comparable libraries; and thirdly, it can be used as a first-line tool for selection. The late, great Catalog of Current Legal Titles which was a mega-acquisitions list had a section called "Hot Sheets" which was a wonderful acquisitions tool. Titles acquired by at least twenty-five percent of the contributing libraries appeared there.
As you might expect, acquisitions lists are now posted to the Web. This is the most recent development in the long history of this standard tool. The quality of acquisitions lists on the Web varies enormously. Nowadays the lists are frequently computer-generated and just as frequently include everything added during the dates of coverage. Ugh. If this isnít the kiss of death in readership, then arranging the list by subject, especially when titles are listed multiple times, will be. Why? The subjects used are either terms devised in-house and applied with little consistency and foresight, thus making them one more place for your eyes to dwell rather than a shortcut to the bibliographic information provided. Or, they are LC subject headings, terms of art which are not likely to be known by the average catalog user. Finally, while some printed lists were arranged by subjects, it was easier to scan a printed page than a computer screen.
Another feature of some internet lists that make them difficult to navigate is the need to hyperlink to a full entry to see sufficient bibliographic information to truly understand what you are looking at, then jump back to the list to continue, rather than be able to scroll through either the short list or the full entries. This limitation can be the result of using a canned list function that comes with library catalog software. Will future releases improve the situation? I certainly hope so. To my mind, the perfect Web acquisitions list would be alphabetical by title; it would be edited for its readership to eliminate material that should be cataloged but should not be included on an acquisitions list; it would also be browsable both at the short title and full title versions.
Despite their drawbacks, acquisitions lists should be a familiar tool to all collection development librarians. While I have yet to find a comprehensive directory of law library acquisitions lists on the Web, I would be glad to see one. Several law library Web sites have short lists of links to other acquisitions lists. One potential mega-list is available on AcqWeb at www.library.vanderbilt.edu/law/acqs/law.html. I would hope that librarians reading this article would send Anna Belle Leiserson, the Webmaster of AcqWeb, an e-mail giving the URL for acquisitions lists posted at their library Web site. Her e-mail address listed on the contact page of AcqWeb is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since a compulsive nature is one of the personality traits that seems to be highly desirable for collection development, I am sure many of us will continue reading these acquisitions lists whether or not they reach perfection.