I was thinking about permanence and the digital collection and how we shouldn't think of buying into this format (whatever format we might be using) as an endpoint. Who knows what might happen in the future, right? But this isn't an idea that is unique to downloadable audio/ebooks! How many cassettes (audio AND video) did we have to replace with the next format? Before cassettes, many libraries had records. There was probably some crazy library out there that circulated 8-tracks (oh please, fess up, I'm dying to know who you are!). Publishing companies would love for libraries to believe we're buying this digital format and it will last forever, but we all know that isn't likely to be the case. Technology changes. Even if we owned every digital book and the service that makes them work, who is to say it would still work ten years from now? You're not buying into forever with a digital collection, you're buying into right now, same as with any other form of book you have purchased. Print books wear out. VHS becomes obsolete. DVDs become grimy and scratched. Digital formats change. One day, probably sooner than you think, you will have to (or want to) replace it with something else.
"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."
Librarians have an opportunity to be involved in the conversation surrounding digital materials. It doesn't have to be the way it has always been, where a company tells us the price and we pay it, even though we think it is grossly unfair or unrealistic or impossible with shrinking budgets. Even though some companies try to minimize our buying power, saying that library dollars make up a tiny percentage and blah blah blah, we know better. You don't stock a system as large as LA or Boston or Chicago with a few stray bucks. Large public libraries spend large amounts of money buying materials, and more of that money is being shifted towards electronic materials. Librarians have a chance to be at the table during this discussion to make sure we're getting the best deal possible. And, thankfully, more librarians are taking that opportunity.
Don't get overwhelmed with the idea of starting a new collection. Coming to a print collection is easier, because you're building on the work of everyone who came before you, right? Each day I work with our Overdrive collection, I discover an author we should have but don't. Raymond Chandler? Elizabeth Berg? Not authors you think of right off the bat, but authors any well stocked, self respecting public library has on the shelves. I started off thinking about the most popular authors and seeing what was available. Then I looked at the bestseller lists and stocked up on those, and then ordered backlist from those authors as well. Moving to genre fiction, you can work your way through front and backlist of those authors, but it takes time to build a collection.
Once you have a circulating collection, take advantage of any and all reporting tools available to gauge collection popularity. Check the hold lists. Check the turnover rate. Check the circs on titles. Check everything you can see what your patrons are checking out, what they're willing to wait for, and what they have no interest in. The beautiful thing about a digital collection is that you can change it on the fly. If you find that your patrons LOVE downloadable language learning materials, you can buy more today and they're available today. If certain things aren't circulating, you can try and draw attention to them with library blog posts, tweeting suggestions to library followers, or any number of new and interesting ways. The possibilities, truly, are limited only by your imagination (and the time it might take to carry them out.)
Most importantly, like with any new and shiny toy, have FUN with this collection.
These are all the things I didn't talk about in my LJ presentation. So what else do I have to say? You'll find out on October 12th! Hope to see you there.