Simplifying Needs & Offers for the FDLP

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a common homily that warns against wasted effort. This folksy sentiment is, unfortunately, not at all applicable to the dialogue about how depositories manage their Needs & Offers. Indeed, the current Needs & Offers systems are quite broken. Evidence of this brokenness can be found by perusing a few examples below of some of the problems with the typed discard lists as currently created by selective depositories. These typed lists are disseminated within selectives’ states and might eventually be posted on Govdoc-L, DocTech-L, or on the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) Needs and Offers List:

  • The proposed discards are not entered into a database. There is no easy way to search by title, date, or other fields because most lists are arranged by SuDocs number. While that arrangement is most useful for checking the shelves or shelflists of libraries that classify by SuDoc, it is not useful for libraries that classify by other systems nor any library that might want to re-order the list by title, etc.
  • The titles of the lists of items (list 1, list 2, etc.) normally give little information about the content of the lists (for example, what agencies are covered in a list) so that a depository with particular needs must look through all lists. Most depositories don’t have enough staff to look at all lists.
  • There can be long delays in how quickly a regional depository or other depositories must act before the non-requested documents can be offered to other depositories or discarded.
  • The lists are not automatically made available to depositories in other states.

Although these problems have been around for a long time, recent changes in Government publishing and in library funding have exacerbated their impact. In the same way that libraries today are weeding their collections and relying more and more on access to digital content, many depository libraries no longer want to keep large collections of print depository materials. Large-scale weeding projects of all types of tangible materials, including Government documents, are taking place in many libraries as a way to reallocate scarce shelf space. The resulting weeding of print Government documents is causing an unprecedented influx of discard lists from selectives into already overburdened regional staff members’ inboxes. This overburdening primarily comes from the fact that original staffing numbers may have been sufficient to handle the number of disposition lists generated prior to the era of mass weedings from selectives. A secondary, and more troubling, reason for overburdening is the trend for libraries to shrink their staffs due to budget concerns—leaving even fewer staff members to handle even larger numbers of disposition lists.

GPO and the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) community have been working towards a solution at least as far back as July 2010, when GPO published a ten-page paper entitled: “Automated Tool for Disposition of Materials in FDLs Requirements Document.” This paper, still in draft status as of the writing of this article, is a table consisting of a column of requirements with a corresponding column of designations as to how strong each individual requirement is, i.e. “Must, Should, Could” designators.

Many depository libraries that are located in the states represented by the Association of Southeast Research Libraries (ASERL) are already using a Disposition Database tool that was created as a part of the ASERL Centers of Excellence Project. Currently a majority of depositories from Kentucky (95%), Florida (73%), Alabama (64%), Tennessee (64%), South Carolina (60%), and Virginia (59%) use this ASERL Disposition Database for their needs and offers. Louisiana has plans to implement the database for use by its 28 Federal depositories beginning the first of 2013.

This database, developed by Winston Harris from the University of Florida Smathers Libraries, has features that fulfill many of the requirements as listed on GPO’s draft document from July 2010. Here is a listing of some of those features.

What the ASERL Disposition Database Tool Does:

  • Provides a central location for depositories to enter needs and offers
  • Provides a template so that all depositories use the same fields and formatting for their lists
  • Verifies SuDoc numbers for format
  • Has a format of material field – paper, microfiche, compact disc, etc.
  • Provides multiple access points to these items to identify needs or offers
  • Matches new needs to existing offers immediately (New offers get matched to existing needs during the nightly batch job.)
  • Has a comment field to capture additional information (local call number, disaster needs, etc.)
  • Has a “condition” field– good, fair, poor
  • Allows a serial range
  • Contains a specified schedule of time in which regional and selective depositories must act on offers (This will expedite the offers process, which currently can take many months. Unclaimed offers may be discarded after 45 days.)
  • Automatically matches offers with needs and sends email to depository needing an offering
  • Allows depositories in other states (currently in the Southeast only) to view needs and offers
  • Does not rely on proprietary interfaces

While the list above is quite substantial and represents great improvement over many of the listing systems currently in use by depositories, it does not reflect certain other features, including those below.

What the ASERL Disposition Database Tool Does NOT Do:

Note: The following fall within GPO’s “Must Have” category from the Automated Tool for Disposition of Materials in FDLs Requirements Document.
  • Does not support MARC records or CGP records for matching
  • Does not have specific fields for local call numbers, disaster needs, or digitization projects
  • Does not allow adjustable offer periods (Does not allow regional depository to change length of time for each stage in the disposition process. The specified time in which regional and selective depositories must act on offers may not be long enough. Unclaimed offers may be discarded after 45 days.)
  • Does not allow access by mobile devices
  • Is not Z39.50 compliant
  • Allows only “regional” or “selective” in the library type field (It does not support other user classes like “partner” or “GPO LSCM Staff” or specific types of GPO users. However, there is a separate tool for User Administration with only a single permission level.)
  • Does not allow monitoring of system, network, storage, processing components in real time

Taking into account all of these issues with the current needs and offers process and what the ASERL distribution tool in particular can and cannot do, the Depository Library Council (DLC) is recommending that GPO investigate the ASERL Disposition Database. In its recommendation, DLC asks GPO to “identify any challenges or barriers that might preclude adoption of the tool as a possible solution for the FDLP and provide updates to Council on its findings.” Use of any automated disposition tool is entirely voluntary. Regional libraries may choose to use such a tool or other disposition processes to deal with weeded publications by their selective libraries. Regardless of whatever decisions are made about the ASERL tool in particular, or about other suggested solutions in general, we hope that a more efficient and up-to-date automated system is implemented in the near future.