Margaret Maes Axtmann
University of St. Thomas
Picking up on my topic from the last issue, I am happy to report on some upcoming changes to the ABA Annual Questionnaire. The ABA Law Libraries Committee made several recom-mendations that were approved by the Questionnaire Committee for the 2003-2004 Annual Questionnaire. Among the changes are two that are particularly important to all of us who have followed the debate on reporting electronic resources.
The first set of changes is in the Annual Questionnaire, Part III – Library, Section 1 – Information Resources.
a. Question 3 formerly asked for the "Number of Web-based products to which the library subscribes." That question and its related definition will be deleted from the next questionnaire.
b. Question 4 asked for "Other non-book titles (including CD-ROM titles)." The parenthetical phrase will be deleted from that question, and the definition of non-book titles now reads: "Include in this category manuscripts, photographs, audio-tapes, videotapes, CD-ROM, and DVD titles. Do not include electronic or web-based titles or products."
The second set of changes is in the Annual Questionnaire, Part IV – Fiscal, Section G – Library Operations. Because the change in Part III means we won't be counting electronic resources, Questions 1, 2, and 3 in Part IV will be revised to give libraries an opportunity to report their expenditures for electronic resources. The following questions ask for annual expenditures:
a. Question 1 – Serial subscriptions (print & microform)
b. Question 2 – Electronic resources (include expenditures for all digital resources, DVDs, CD-ROMS, web based resources, such as LegalTrac, BNA or CCH Web versions, Lexis/Nexis, Westlaw, CALI, LSN, NetLibrary, etc. and contributions or payments to consortiums or the University Library) (do not include payments for bibliographic services)
c. Question 3 – Other non serial library information resources (include all resources not reported in G.1 or G.2)
These revisions to the Questionnaire shift the emphasis on electronic resources from counting titles to reporting expenditures. While that may not be a perfect way to evaluate the strength of a library collection, at least the new questions are clearer and easier to answer. The Law Libraries Committee will continue to explore methods of counting and reporting electronic resources, and it is likely that we will see more changes to the Questionnaire in the future.
When I set out to explore the topic of electronic resources, my main purpose was to find tools to measure the quality of a law library's collection and services. The ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools provide general guidelines and some benchmarks, but they are not particularly helpful for evaluating an established library. The summary reports produced from the ABA Annual Questionnaire help a library to see how it compares to other institutions, but that is more of a quantitative measure than a qualitative one.
Now, after talking with dozens of law librarians, I find myself wondering whether new evaluation tools are really needed. There is some value in having minimum collection standards and basic bibliographies for topical, jurisdictional or interdisciplinary collections. Such tools make it possible to establish and maintain core and specialized collections. But ultimately every library must evaluate how well it is meeting the needs of its particular clientele and supporting the programs of its parent institution.
Collection assessment is not just about owning x number of volumes or the specific titles on a list. It is also about having the staff and services in place to make those resources accessible and usable. It is about regular consultation with library users to keep up with trends in research. And it is about balancing user needs and expectations with declining budgets.
If a statistical tool existed that could measure all those elements, I would be first in line to buy it and use it. In the absence of such a tool, the ABA Annual Questionnaire provides academic law libraries with an adequate framework for statistical reporting and comparative evaluation. It has been challenging to find the right questions to ask about electronic resources, but the latest revisions are a step in the right direction.
Kudos to the committee members who worked on these revisions, and thanks to Judith Wright for providing the detailed information for this column. Having a little advance warning about the changes should make it easier for all of us to be prepared for the 2003 Annual Questionnaire. Happy counting!