Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ask a Librarian: What Does an Acquisitions Librarian Do?

I'm planning on doing an overview of the various types of librarians we have at our library for the next few Ask a Librarian columns. Why would I do this? Because I think it's interesting to see the variety of positions even a small academic library has available. Of course, I'm a librarian, so admittedly my interests might be skewed . . . :-)

So. Acquisitions librarian. The main responsibility of this position is to acquire new materials for the library. Seems straightforward, right? I mean, all you need to do is have someone know who to buy what from to make sure that everything's bought from the best source, that accounts are paid in full, that materials we receive are in good condition and that budgets balance. Oh yeah--and someone has to act as the shepherd for the purchases, ensuring faculty input has been received and considered, other librarians stay on budget, standing orders (orders for materials that stay the same year after year) stay on track and gift accounts are properly used. Plus quite a few other things I'm probably forgetting.

That means that a good acquisitions librarian will be very organized, able to keep track of a stack of separate orders that's measured in feet, not inches. Even at a small library, we'll have orders out at the same time to everyone from Amazon to Baker & Taylor to small independent publishing houses. Professors or students will request books and films no one's ever heard of, sometimes with very little information to go on. When orders don't go right, guess who has to fix them? Have you ever tried ordering something online, only to have to change the order, or return it, or exchange it, or . . . you get the picture. The acquisitions librarian has to deal with this all the time.

And once the materials arrive, they need to be properly cataloged. The actual cataloging isn't the responsibility of the acquisitions librarian, but making sure the items are ordered and in the library system in the first place is. That way, when the cataloger comes to a new book or DVD, the record's there waiting for her or him.

So there you have it: the basics of an acquisitions librarian. In a larger library, there will be an entire department devoted to this. In a smaller library, these duties will be assumed by another librarian. More than you thought it would be? I'd love to hear your comments.

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