Collection Development and Opportunities During a Pandemic
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Editor’s note: The health sciences librarians and healthcare professionals we work with are on the front lines responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are honored to be able to bring you some of their accounts about what those efforts look like.

Jean Gudenas, MLIS, AHIP
Director of Information Resources and Collection Services
MUSC Libraries

The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is a comprehensive academic health science center made up of three entities: MUSC, Medical University Hospital Authority (MUHA), and MUSC Physicians (MUSCP). As a university, MUSC consists of six professional colleges with nearly 3,000 students, 750 residents, and more than 1,700 faculty. The clinical enterprise, MUSC Health, includes eight hospitals: four based on our campus in Charleston, four regional hospitals, more than 100 outreach locations, and a robust telehealth network. In addition, MUSC is one of only 62 institutions to be designated as a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CSTA) hub. 

For such a diverse community, our collection development policy focuses largely on the academic teaching and learning needs. However, through a Shared Service Agreement (SSA) with MUHA, the library receives funding to provide access to several clinical and point-of-care resources, partial salary for a clinical librarian, and services such as Interlibrary Loan (ILL). After the acquisition of four regional hospitals was finalized in March 2019, all of our resources dramatically increased in cost – both in terms of one-time costs to add the hospitals to current licenses, but also for all subscription renewals. Our budget planning for FY2021 SSA was scheduled to begin in mid-March 2020, but that’s when our governor mandated all non-essential employees had to work from home. So, all discussions related to the SSA were put on hold while the units across the enterprise prepared their own COVID-19 responses. 

My department focuses on resource acquisition, management, and collections services. We already work in a virtual realm, so it wasn’t a hard transition to work at home. If anything, we had more problems with technology, like getting our ILL software to work off campus. I had suspected that it was a matter of time before we were mandated to work remotely, so we had been preparing; for instance, my electronic resources specialist and I were testing all of our resources to ensure they were accessible from off campus and that the mobile versions worked. Other library departments were also preparing: for example, the Instructional Librarians were coordinating with faculty on their educational needs, which ranged from e-textbook requests to resources that supplement instruction (videos, exam preparations, case studies, etc.).

Toward the end of March, many publishers and providers began temporarily offering free trials to non-subscribed resources. While this is beneficial for those adapting to teaching and learning in a virtual environment, it counteracted our policy on trials (typically, trials were only conducted with resources that we could secure the funds to acquire). So, this was a dilemma: do I provide access to resources to which I can’t guarantee we could subscribe and risk upsetting patrons that become accustomed to using? Or, do I withhold providing access to resources that might be of great use to our population?

Our budget was mostly allocated for the remainder of the fiscal year and, to make matters more difficult, MUHA had announced temporary layoffs and pay cuts. With MUHA’s financial uncertainty, we could only speculate as to the status of future funding support through the SSA. I started situation planning to gauge what collection retainment and development could be like given different scenarios. For instance, if we only received a portion of the SSA allotment and some publishers agreed to freeze prices, would we have enough to maintain all current subscriptions? Or, if we did not receive any funds through the SSA and publishers had a flat percentage increase, what resources should be canceled?

Though I was trying to plan for all situations ranging from best to worst case scenarios, I also saw this as a good opportunity to compare some of our current subscriptions to things that were available to trial. I felt that I could take advantage of assessing related resources and learn if our subscriptions were meeting user needs. This was especially true with our costly ebook packages; my rationale was that perhaps the package we subscribe to is not as robust as the one to which we don’t subscribe. If I were to make a swap, this was the perfect time to analyze usage, obtain feedback, and perhaps save some money.  

Ultimately, I created a LibGuide highlighting selected resources that I suspected would be beneficial or be an alternative to a current subscription. Overall, I received a lot of support from our users. Faculty were pleased at being able to compare titles to use for their classes while students were thrilled accessing resources that replaced on-site learning. By the start of June, I was able to justify subscribing to a resource on human anatomy and dissection videos, swap out a specialty ebook package, and negotiate a short-term agreement with another ebook package.

Obviously, the past few months have introduced a number of unexpected obstacles for collection development. But, by reframing those challenges, I took a chance with assessing our resources and saw an opportune time to verify that our subscriptions were meeting the needs of our users. Comparing several of our resources to the trials, I was able to make some changes and save enough money to acquire a new resource. Also, based on usage statistics since the pandemic started, it’s clear that our users are aware of the resources that we provide. So, while it is still uncertain how our SSA will resolve, I feel more confident that I am planning as well as I can for the next fiscal year and am prepared to justify the retention or cancellation of any resource.

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