Acquisition of Library Materials, a Review of Some Related Literature

Universal availability of publications

Kemp (1990) lamentably noted that insufficient attention has been given by private organizations, governments or bilateral and international development agencies to the proposal of making document provision a priority in poor countries. Raising the awareness of the importance of reading in particular is very important if they are to assign adequate resources to this vital area of activity.

Line (1990) observed that the battle for availability of publications which has just begun in some countries will hardly be over in this age of information explosion. The concepts of universal availability of publications and universal bibliographic control are attributed to the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions which were part of the core programme. By comparison with the less developed parts of the world, the developed countries like Britain have a near perfect situation.

In Sierra Leone, the picture is a gloomy one. This could be attributed to the absence of union catalogues and the lack of enforcement of the legal deposit legislation. In its literal sense, the aim of the universal availability of publications is very difficult to achieve as students and researchers fail to obtain books, journals or research reports within the time necessary.

Read (1990) re-echoed the fact that many developing countries are under-supplied with textbooks and other reading materials. In order to buttress this assertion, he cited the situation in Zaire, Madagascar and China. He believed the advent of aid-funded text book projects has ameliorated the situation in developing countries. He took a very positive stand based on studies which showed significant increase in availability.

Universal bibliographic control

Ochola (1984) noted that universal bibliographic control is an aspect of development. A major problem identified was the mission of bibliographic compilation from the priorities drawn up by the colonial administration in Kenya. The Kenya National Bibliography could therefore be seen as a creation and it is in an embryonic stage.

Kwei (1988) gave a more specific treatment when he cited the situation in a developing country like Ghana where a lot of constraints are encountered in the attempt to provide excellent bibliographic services. Among problems identified are the lack of money, shortage of professional librarians, and union catalogues, government and public apathy to bibliographical work, lack of transportation facilities and the developing stage of publishing, printing and the book trade. All is not lost. In order to improve the situation, the bibliographic agency could form part of the national bibliography. Ghanaians must be current and should not be left behind in the forward march to take information to those who need it.

Otike (1989) clearly supported the value of currency of information if bibliographic data is to be fully effective. Any national bibliography which is in arrears cannot hope to meet this challenge. Among problems identified in Kenya are the current state of publishing, enforcement of the legal deposit legislation and the production of the Kenya National Bibliography. These problems can only be solved by the co-operative efforts of information workers, publishers, printers and above all, decision-makers.

Intner (1990) argued that a sound information environment must be created. It is clear that good bibliographic instruction will be advantageous to library users who will be encouraged to see libraries firstly as related to their needs and secondly turn to librarians for advice which will ultimately enrich the library profession. It is against such a background that the librarian in an academic institution should acquire materials for the ultimate development of his collection.

Mahoney (1990), recognizing the importance of availability of information as an essential basis for development stressed the importance of providing national bibliographies especially in developing countries. She argues that up-to-date issues of a national bibliography provide among other things, model records, a selection tool and cultural state of the nation to the country concerned and the world at large. In reality however, coverage of a nation’s print is an impossibility in almost all developing countries.

Wilson (1993) warned that people need current information. In other words, maintaining currency is an occupational requirement of librarians and, by extension, all other information professionals. The national bibliography of a developing country should therefore be current in order to be an essential bibliographic tool.

The importance of users

Brindley (1988) identified the needs of users as the primary basis on which to provide or acquire documents and render services. The selection of document, she stresses , must be related to the current needs of users. In other words, the libraries need as a starting point to relate acquisition policies to the importance of meeting current user needs.

Cabutey-Adodoadji’s (1988) current perception of collection development is towards user needs. The key environmental factor for collection development is the very high level of the expectation of the public. This reinforces the importance of the needs of potential users. It must be noted that university libraries must make a conscious attempt to meet the research interests of their clientele which include students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and members of the academic staff. Paradoxically, budgets fall, even in some western universities, far short of what would be necessary to cater for the totality of such needs. Research students and their supervisors must be realistic about what they really need to know.

Ifidon (1994), in discussing the role of acquisition in the African University Library, clearly outlined the importance of the different categories of users. Materials must therefore be provided to meet the academic needs of undergraduate and post-graduate students and lecturers if the university library is to fulfill its dynamic mission.

Spiller (1991) observed that the principle of books and, by extension, document provision is invariably concerned with service to a particular set of people or users. The needs of the various users must provide the basis for acquisition. The librarian is thus faced with the daunting task of identifying the needs of the different sets of users.

Debate between librarian and faculty on the selection of library materials

Avafia (1985) noted that in practice responsibility for selection of library materials varies from one university to the other. The librarians at the University of Alexandria have no say in what is acquired for the different faculty libraries and it seems as if the academic staff on the other hand are not very enthusiastic about the selection of books for the central library. Selection of periodicals is done after discussions in faculty meetings. He asserted, after interviewing many university librarians that it is the joint responsibility of librarians and faculty to select materials for the library.

Martula-Millson (1985) commenting on this acrimonious debate studied circulation patterns in the college setting. It is concluded that for history books, faculty and librarians are equally effective as selectors. This conclusion should however not be generalized because it was based on a specific topic.

Sellen (1985) was a bit diplomatic in her presentation of the debate. She clearly examined the works, first of writers who found that librarians selected a greater number of titles that were used and secondly, those who noted that faculty selected more titles that were eventually used. Others noted that there was really no significant difference in the books selected either by faculty or librarians that were eventually used. She ended up not taking sides in the debate.

Schreiner-Robles’ (1988) research on the selection and acquisition of library materials in medium-sized academic libraries in the United States should not be generalized. In her estimation, the academic libraries little more than rely on faculty requests for materials in foreign languages. Faculty members thus play a very important role in recommending titles to be purchased.

Vidor (1988) and Futas (1988) extended the investigation when they based their studies on the effectiveness of circulation of library materials. They ended up taking a neutral stand. In their conclusion, they noted that they could not state with any reasonable degree of precision that librarians are appreciably more effective or efficient than their counterparts in the building of a sound library collection in the university.

Ali (1989) presented the background to the development of science and technology in six countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council, namely, Buhrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qutar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The problems faced are two-fold, vendors and geographical distance. It is noted that the distance between the vendors and librarians is a major problem and the author suggest that western publishers should publish Middle East editions of their publications as is sometimes done in India, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Haider’s (1989) presentation of the situation of book selection in the university libraries in Pakistan was a radical departure from the view of others who either sat on the fence or presented a double case. The responsibility for selection, he maintained, rested squarely with the chairmen of the teaching departments. They are the final authorities in relation to selection and recommends titles for their respective subjects.

Hannaford (1990) opined that a good deal of research needs to be done on the debate between the librarian and faculty with regards to book selection. It is fashionable, the author maintains, to malign faculty selection of library materials. Even though he initially presented librarians to be better selectors, he ended up being suspicious of his preconceived notion. He argues that to claim that the former are better selectors will be based more on emotion rather than on evidence.

Strauch (1990) argued that only one side is right in the debate as to why librarians or faculty are better selectors. Librarian selection versus faculty selection, the writer believes, is an old debate which must come to an end. Librarians must be responsible for selection simply because it is they who are responsible, or better still, accountable for what is acquired. In her estimation, the right side is that of the librarian.

Library co-operation with vendors

Lee (1991) argued that acquisition and ultimately collection development efforts can be enriched by co-operation with vendors as libraries often lack either the time or automated systems to effectively and efficiently carry out collection development activities. The wide range of selection services can be of tremendous advantage to the academic librarians but they must be informed customers who not only investigate options but actively participate in designing and using the service.

Racz (1991) and Root (1991) studied the trends affecting vendor selection and attacked the traditional practice of academic libraries of putting more emphasis on monograph acquisition than serial purchases. Librarians are now faced with the daunting task of closely examining factors in relation to the acquisition of serials. Consolidation is introduced to save money, receive better management report and also because librarians are not justified to maintain either a separate overseas vendor or two domestic vendors.

Shirk (1991) queried the nature of librarian-vendor relationships although such relationships are beneficial to both sides. An acquisitions librarian turned vendor, the author suggests that the bid system has not achieved any of its primary purposes and advocates as an alternative the development of a strategic alliance in which each side will eventually share responsibility for good communication. The librarian will ultimately have a stable source for books and the vendor a stable albeit customer base.

Cost of library materials

Obiagwu (1990) asserted that West African libraries are facing unending currency problems and the attendant gross inadequacy of learning materials. He noted that the unavailability of foreign exchange for the acquisition of library materials in Nigeria is not a recent phenomenon. The situation is more critical now than ever as a result of the inadequacy of book votes for the purchase of locally available materials.

Ola-Roberts (1989) reviewed the effects of the devaluation of currency in West Africa and noted that the considerable drop in the value of the Sierra Leonean currency (Leone) during the period reviewed. This economic problem which underlies library acquisitions in Sierra Leone prevails in other countries in West Africa though at varying degrees of intensity. Massive depreciation of local currency, coupled with the increasing cost of periodicals and the dwindling revenues in the book fund, leave the university library in a helpless and hopeless state as far as purchases are concerned.

Nwafor (1990) used the Nigerian experience to illustrate the devastating effects of the economies of third world Countries on their educational systems and university libraries. University education is being rendered meaningless as a result of irrelevant text books and the astronomically high cost of the few available ones. Universities still get the same vote they used to get. People rely on books in the library which are not replenished simply because the university has no money. This is unrealistic when one considers the cost of books and the value of the local currency (naira).

Obiagwu (1990) highlighted the repercussions of the structural adjustment programme on library acquisitions in West Africa. Although most of the illustrations were made from the Nigerian experience, it is far from surprising that the pinch is felt all over West Africa. Inflationary pressures, the reduced book vote and the astronomically devalued local currency all conspire to frustrate the aims of the academic library. This is because the parent institution is under-funded by the appropriate authority. Secondly, the stipulated percentage of the recurrent annual budget an academic library is entitled to is not adhered to. In summary, academic libraries have always suffered cut-backs in book votes.

Schrift (1991) discussed the dynamic relations between librarians, publishers and vendors in a hot climate of expanding needs and contracting resources. Eyebrows are raised under the discussion of publishers, whose unique position should be treated cautiously. They should not be regarded as allies of librarians because benefits from increased efficiencies will not be passed on, nor will journal price hikes stimulated by a weak currency be reversed when the currency gains. Cost of information will hardly be reduced by technological innovation since access will be controlled by the same extortive publishing segment.


It is evident from the review that there is a book and information famine in developing countries and that the battle for better availability of library materials will continue for a considerable period. University libraries do not have sufficient funds to purchase library materials. In theory, a national bibliography provides coverages of a nation’s publications but in practice the bibliography is a poor reflection of its definition.

The role of acquisition and collection development is not only to plan a stock acquisition programme but to make it relevant to immediate and future needs of the users. Born (1993) rightly observed that “a closer co-operation has developed between departments as librarians assess and evaluate library collections to ensure the current and future needs of students and scholars are met” (p.125). The old debate between librarian and faculty on selection of materials must end. The former should be responsible for selection of materials to satisfy the users since s/he will be held accountable for what is required. Devaluation of local currency significantly affects the cost of library materials. Generally, it is taken for granted that University libraries do not have sufficient funds.


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