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Acquisitions Librarians

The Job

Acquisitions librarians are responsible for building and maintaining a library's collection of books and periodicals (including e-publications), CD-ROMs, music, videos, and other resources available for use. They must be able to balance the wants and needs of library patrons with the limitations of their budget. They work with library directors to assess the needs of the library and determine how to best allocate financial resources. Acquisitions librarians rely on reviews in trade publications, information gathered at trade shows, suggestions from patrons, vendor approval plans, and the Internet to help them make purchasing decisions.

Changing technology has created new challenges for acquisitions librarians; not only has information become more readily accessible with the advent and popularity of the Internet, but it also comes in new formats. Acquisitions librarians must determine what format is best for each resource. For example, they may choose to purchase a magazine subscription in an online format to save storage space or to allow more people to access the resource. Or they may prefer hard copies of a particularly popular reference material if there is a shortage of computer terminals in the library. Although space concerns can often force the issue of moving from a print to an online journal subscription, an acquisitions librarian must weigh the demands of faculty and students against the decision to end a print subscription. For example, researchers in some disciplines, such as the humanities, have been slow to make the change to online research, favoring the more measured pace of print publication and scholarship, while researchers in the sciences often demand the immediacy and currency of online publication. Acquisitions librarians must have a firm understanding of their patrons' needs and preferences, while at the same time efficiently managing an annual budget.

Acquisitions librarians may acquire resources in one subject area or a broad range of subjects, depending on the type of library in which they work. For example, in large academic or research libraries, an acquisitions librarian, sometimes known as a subject specialist or bibliographer, may acquire resources in a specific field (such as French language and literature) in addition to performing other traditional library work in reference, instruction, or public services. In smaller academic or public libraries, all librarians on staff may have some acquisition responsibilities, without necessarily having a deep affinity for the subjects in which they are acquiring.

The development and widespread use of the Internet has not only made material more easily available, but it has also given rise to new formats, which presents new issues for acquisitions librarians. Librarians in charge of acquisitions must choose the appropriate format for each resource. The acquisitions librarians should decide to buy an online subscription to a magazine in order to free up storage space or to make the content available to more users.

In order to know what items are needed within the library, acquisitions librarians must first be familiar with the resources that are currently held within the library. They work with cataloging and circulation librarians to find out what items are most popular and which ones might need to be replaced due to wear and tear or oversights in prior purchasing. They may even help these librarians catalog and maintain existing resources, conduct repair work on used items, and assess which books, magazines, and other items need to be replaced.

Acquisitions librarians may also rely heavily on vendor approval plans, whereby book vendors and distributors deliver batches of titles to the library on an ongoing basis, based on some parameters (such as subject, publishers, genres, and so forth) that the acquisitions librarian establishes at the outset. The acquisitions librarian then decides on a case-by-case basis whether or not to purchase a title. When budget limitations restrict purchasing, some acquisitions librarians seek out other sources of funding. They may write grants for public or private funding or lead donation drives to add to their collection.