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Thoughts on FCIL Collection Development

May 29, 2013
Library Staff Member Blowing Dust off of Rarely Used Books

Library Staff Member Blowing Dust off of Rarely Used Books

Introduction

My first major project as the Foreign & International Law Librarian here at Vanderbilt has been to evaluate the current collection and make suggestions for additions that would support the research and instructional needs of our faculty and the needs of our students with an interest in foreign and international law.

Before I was given this project, I began collecting the data I would need to complete it. I interviewed the foreign & international law faculty extensively to find out what they were working on and what was coming down the pipeline. I examined our collection and noticed that some of the basic foreign treatises and research texts were out of date.

Collection Development Policies

Once I was given the project, I began reviewing our and several other recent foreign & international law collection development policies that I was able to find on the AALL: FCIL-SIS: Foreign Law Selectors Interest Group Website and on the free Web.

Here are some broad themes that emerged as the project went on.

Funding Cycles: Use it or Lose it

Many academic libraries get their budget at the beginning of the fiscal year and they must spend it all or risk being allotted fewer resources the following year. One difficulty with this type of budget is that from year to year, the specific needs of the faculty and students may vary. One year, s a faculty member may need an expensive database to complete their research. Another year, they may have limited needs in terms of new purchases. We cannot predict these needs with any accuracy. Libraries are punished instead of rewarded for cost-savings, since savings from one year do not roll over into extra funds needed in a future year when expensive books and databases are needed.

Collaboration

ILL in mind

Let’s say your patron requests an item that:

  • is old or in a foreign language, or maybe it is an infrequently published Gazette,
  • is a non-circulating reference text,
  • only a few libraries carry and none of them are willing to lend it through ILL,
  • is not available for purchase, or is prohibitively expensive.

This makes it difficult or impossible to procure the item for your patron. Although this situation may be unavoidable for some libraries, is there anything that we can do collectively to reduce the likelihood that this will happen?

I think if we start thinking about our collections as contiguous instead of as competitive, we can start to build a comprehensive lending library for FCIL scholars in the U.S..

Within the University Library System

At Vanderbilt Law School, we have several joint programs,  including the:

  • Ph.D./J.D. in law and economics
  • JD/PhD in Law and Neuroscience
  • LL.M./M.A. in Latin American Studies
  • J.D./ M.Div. (Masters of Divinity) and J.D. / M.T.S. (Masters of Theological Studies).

Given the vagaries of library budgets as well as the recent movement towards unified university library systems, one thing to consider if your library has the good fortune to get an unexpected financial windfall, or has had minimal just in time purchases for the year, is how your library can collaborate with other library units within the system to strengthen the overall collection so that the cross-disciplinary needs of the students and faculty are met.

Foreign Selection

Just in Time

Buying items just in time means you are certain that the resource will be used. But waiting until the last minute to acquire a resource can also mean that you pay a premium either because the resource is more expensive than it might have been when the publisher initially offered it to you or because it is no longer available from the publisher, and you need to get it from a rare book dealer.

Just-in-case

If you don’t happen to have a functional crystal ball, just-in-case purchasing is a gamble. We do it for the reasons discussed above, and the result can be a lot of wasted money on unused resources. In spite of this, I still needed to make some decisions for our foreign law collection so I selected materials with three things in mind.

  1. scholarship of the current faculty members who have an interest in foreign law
  2. countries that appear in the news with some frequency, including those which are undergoing law reform, struggling to establish the rule of law, or which dominate the global legal landscape
  3. countries most likely to be impacted by climate change (small islands and countries near the ice caps) since environmental law continues to be of the utmost importance to our world.

This brings me to the issue of selecting international law materials.

International Selection

What is important?

In a sense this was the easiest area to select for because my international law faculty have specialized fields in which they operate, and I spent some time earlier this year asking them the details of their current and future scholarship. I selected materials that I thought would support their scholarship and upcoming teaching projects based on what they told me. I supplemented that by informally checking in with them about what they thought they might be needing, and by providing them with a list (linked to blurbs about the books) of about 5 books that I had selected (particularly more expensive items) to find out if my intuition with regard to what they might need was accurate, at least with respect to the suggested items. Sometimes they agreed that we should have it. Other times they thought we did not need it. Their responses gave me some indication of how to select material for them.

Primary Sources

Yale’s foreign law collection development policy (current as of May 2013), states “the Internet has made available more primary sources from countries around the world.” Between sources like WorldLII, International Court Websites, Foreign government Websites, free subject based databases like NATLEX and our subscription databases, Justis and v|Lex, we have access to a vast ocean of primary law. If there are specific pieces of primary law that I cannot find for free online, I can often get them via email from my peers on the INT-LAW email list. As a result, I did not request any additional primary sources, but focused solely on secondary sources.

Concluding Thoughts

As we move away from the comprehensive collection model, I would hope that FCIL librarians will continue the trend towards working with our sister institutions and with other university library units to share our collections in a meaningful way. As libraries become more centralized, let me make a quick plea to the heads of these unified library systems to give each library unit head as much control as possible over their budget so that libraries that save money now may be assured that savings today will mean more allocated to them tomorrow, rather than less. Finally, I would like to express my deep appreciation and awe with regard to my colleagues on the INT-LAW list who in an age of Twitter and Facebook, continue to use this email list to share resources in the spirit of collegial collaboration.

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