Association of College & Research Libraries

RESEARCH FORUM Degree of overlap in instructional collections: A reconsideration

By Jeffry Larson Humanities Bibliographer Yale University Library

Paul Mosher, in a recent contribution to the “Research Forum” in C&RL News, July/August 1985, pp. 336-38, describing “The nature and uses of the RLG verification studies,” reported findings that “library holdings of the many smaller RLG libraries… demonstrate… lower overlap rates than these very large collections” (p. 337). This is seen as advantageous for the smaller collections: “This large increase in coverage among the combined holdings of smaller RLG libraries underscores the advantages of resource pooling to an even greater degree than among large institutions” (p. 337).

It is not self-evident, however, why it is a virtue to have less overlap among smaller, instructional collections than among larger, research collections. Presumably the missions of research libraries differ at least as much among themselves, especially in the more recondite subfields, than do the curricula that are supported by instructional collections; one would expect this to be true particularly in the conservative disciplines involving a traditional canon of texts, such as English or French literature. Under a rational allocation of resources, therefore, instructional collections should have higher, not lower, overlap rates than the very large collections.

That this is not so requires explanation rather than self-congratulation. Perhaps the large research collections are too similar, and greater efforts should be made to assign different parts of the perimeter to different libraries. This has certainly been the thrust of the assignment of “Primary Collecting Responsibilities” within RLG.

But conversely, and more obviously, it would seem that the instructional collections are not similar enough. Several explanations, not mutually exclusive, suggest themselves; none bespeak really valid collecting principles. Some of the variance may come from gaps in the ideal core collection, probably arising from fluctuations in financial support, especially in public institutions; these lacunae should be filled on a priority basis by use of some instrument such as Books for College Libraries and Choice. If works required for instructional purposes are indeed lacking, patrons can hardly be expected to rely often on resource sharing, i.e., inter- library loan, for anticipating, requesting, and then using borrowed material within the constraints of the normal curricular unit (9-15 weeks). It is for research, where the use of materials can be planned, that one library’s collection can most effectively complement another’s.

On the other hand, some of the dissimilarity between these smaller collections may be due to positive growths or appendages into areas that are not needed for instructional support. Typically, these come from particular research interests of senior faculty and tend to distort the balance of the collection as a whole (I remember in one collection I tended that the entire faculty allocation in one department was devoted regularly to dialectology, thanks to the power of one member and the apathy of his colleagues). While these eccentric and isolated research appendages to an instructional collection may be of some solace to the faculty members who generated them, it is doubtful that they contribute much value to the overall collection, even the combined one of the similarly-sized instructional libraries whose overlap is being gauged. Precisely because of their specialized nature, these “spikes” rising out of the normal instructional collection are not likely to be of interest to faculty at other similar institutions, who for their part have been devoting departmental allocations to their own individual research topics.

Accordingly, the finding of less-than-expected overlap among instructional collections should give collection developers pause about what direction is to be pursued in strengthening these libraries whose purpose is support of their institution’s curriculum.

Reflections on ACRL’s first Research Clinic

By Celia Wall Reference Librarian Murray State University

On July 8 more than 100 librarians gathered at the Americana-Congress Hotel to attend ACRL’s first national Research Clinic. Many of the librarians were in Chicago for the 104th Annual Conference of the American Library Association. Some, like myself, had made the trip to Chicago solely to attend the half-day Clinic which was sponsored and organized by ACRL’s new Committee on Research Development.

The librarians, “first time” researchers, had been nominated by their library directors to attend the Clinic. The announcement of the Clinic had appeared in the April issue of College & Research Libraries News in an article by Dorothy J. Anderson, chair of the Committee. The number of responses received had both surprised and pleased Clinic organizers. There appeared to be quite a number of academic librarians interested in research.

The Clinic was designed as one step in a plan “to stimulate superior research among academic librarians.” The plan, as detailed in Anderson’s article, was based on three beliefs:

1) Many astute library directors recognize research as an opportunity to:

• enhance the library’s status in the university and in the profession;

• lift staff morale; and

• investigate persistent problems scientifically.

2) Many bright academic librarians would enjoy doing research if they had:

• administrative support (time, money, recognition);

• confidence in their ability;

• help and training.

3) As an incentive to do quality research, potential researchers need training designed to diffuse fears, build confidence and to develop a researcher’s mind-set and ability.1

The agenda for the day was an ambitious one and seemed to have been designed to provide enough basic information about the fundamentals of research to dispell some of the fears of first time researchers.

Any one topic on the agenda could easily have served as the basis for a full workshop. Yet, thanks in large part to the speakers, the outline proved very effective. The program was divided into five logical steps: 1) developing a research mindset; 2) diagnosing the problem; 3) collecting data; 4) designing research strategy; and 5) mobilizing resources. Speakers limited their presentations to the basics. Much to their credit these experienced researchers did not try to overwhelm the audience with the size of the problem or to impress with their own “expertise” and knowledge. Rather each seemed to be making a sincere effort to explain, educate, and help alleviate fears.

Sara Fine, professor of library and information science at the University of Pittsburgh, discussed some of the fears first-time researchers face, as well as some fears that will stay with the researcher long past the first effort. On the topic of one widely-held fear, the fear of statistics, Fine pointed out that the researcher must know how to interpret the statistics, not necessarily how “to do” statistics—a very important distinction and one which gave this Clinic participant renewed hope that a previously- shelved research idea may be possible in the near future.

Brian Nielson, head of the Reference Department at Northwestern University, discussed topics of interest for researchers and suggested that librarians not overlook the research potential of everyday problems and concerns in their own libraries. The researcher should look at these problems and concerns not as his library’s alone but as universal problems and concerns of interest to many librarians. Nielson briefly reviewed Metz’s five target areas of interest for research: 1) cost studies; 2) user studies; 3) collection studies; 4) relationships between the library administration and the university administration; and 5) use studies.

Mary Jo Lynch, director of ALA’s Office for Research, detailed five ways to gather data: 1) testing; 2) observation; 3) surveys; 4) interviewing; and 5) content analysis. These five she explained in some detail, discussing the pros and cons of each briefly.

W. Boyd Rayward, dean of the Graduate Library School at the University of Chicago, pointed out that the research project begins when one’s interest is piqued by a problem or subject. With this vague problem in mind, the researcher then proceeds to search for relevant literature to help define the problem.

Robert M. Hayes, dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke all too briefly on mobilizing resources for research. A researcher should begin by defining available resources in terms of time, technical resources, and bibliographic resources.

For academic librarians the requirement and pressure to engage in research—and to report the results of that research —seems to be increasing. The very fact that over 100 librarians turned out in Chicago for the first national Research Clinic would seem to lend credence to that supposition. The organization of this Clinic was a recognition on the part of ACRL that there is a need in the field for practicing librarians to receive training in the basic skills of research. The Clinic was an excellent starting point. But it only whetted the appetite.

As noted earlier, any one of the five topics on the Clinic agenda can easily be turned into a full workshop. Let us hope that the new Committee on Research Development will look at the tremendous response to the first Clinic as an indication that there should be more clinics that will expand on topics introduced at the first Clinic. The interest is there!

AV cataloging update

The ALA Interdivisional Ad Hoc Committee on Cataloging in Publication for AV Materials is chaired by Robert Mead-Donaldson (Florida International University) and consists of representatives from ALA divisions and the Library of Congress. At the 1985 Annual Conference, Susan Vita (CIP Division, LC) reported on responses to an extensive microcomputer software study distributed earlier in the year. She received more than 200 responses, over half from academic libraries. The intent of the survey was to determine how libraries catalog and use microsoftware and to evaluate interest in CIP for these items. Responses indicate a strong desire for CIP in order to achieve standardization, better utilization of staff and money, and faster processing.

LC will conduct a pilot CIP project for microsoftware (1,000 items) in 1986. Publishers will be drawn from those currently in the CIP program plus additional publishers identified in the survey. LC is now identifying necessary CIP microsoftware data elements and designing accompanying information for participating publishers. LC expects to mount the MRDF format in early 1986.

The Ad Hoc Committee will be actively involved in evaluating the success of the pilot project and will be reporting on this in the future. For further information, contact Peggy Johnson, Head of Technical Services, University of Minnesota, St. Paul Campus Central Librarv, 1984 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108.


  1. Dorothy J. Anderson, “Stimulating Quality Research: Starting with the Basics.” C&RL News 46 (April 1985): 180-183.
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