The University of Montana Libraries—Missoula

A publication of the faculty of the Mansfield Library at the University of Montana

Previous Issues

Collection Development


Google Initiatives

ETD Project

Open Access

Institutional Repositories


Intellectual Freedom

Blogging and RSS


Text Messaging

Bibliographic Management Software




About InfoIssues



To comment on this issue or to suggest an issue, please contact Jennie Burroughs, Chair, InfoIssues Committee.

Issue of the Month: November 2006

Approval Plans: A Valuable Selection Tool for Books

Barry Brown, Associate Professor
Head, Access & Collection Services

What is the best way to order books so that students and faculty are most likely to find them in the library collection at the moment they need them? How can the Mansfield Library build collections in a coordinated, comprehensive manner that best matches the research, teaching, and learning needs of University of Montana library users? How can the library ensure that newer, interdisciplinary topics are covered as well as traditional, established subject areas? An approval plan is the solution that many libraries use to answer these questions.

Approval plans facilitate the rapid and comprehensive acquisition of monographs/books. Approval plans are a common collection development tool used by academic libraries of all sizes across North America. An approval plan supplies a library with publications that fit an academic department's collection profile based on specified criteria such as: subjects, authors, audience levels, formats, publishers, prices, languages, etc. Books arrive pre-processed with the ordering and cataloging transferred electronically between the vendor and the library catalog.

Benefits of implementing an approval plan include (Niles, 1991; Flood, 1997, Nardini, 2003):

• Books arrive within weeks of their publication, providing rapid access to these resources.
• Paperwork is dramatically reduced; faculty no longer need to provide ordering information for each title requested.
• Interdisciplinary programs are better served by profiling the interests of multiple departments.
• Recently published books in disciplines that are not adequately covered by traditional review sources are captured.
• The acquisition of a comprehensive collection within the profile parameters occurs promptly and efficiently.
• Selectors are freed from ordering easily identified materials from mainstream publishers and can focus their efforts on select, elusive, publications.
• Staffwork is significantly reduced; the approval plan takes full advantage of the integrated library system by implementing online ordering and cataloging that occurs automatically as part of the process.
• Consolidated ordering of books from one main vendor results in better price discounts and cost savings that ultimately allow more books to be purchased.

Criticisms of approval plans include: occasional acceptance of materials into the collection that would never have been individually selected, homogenization of library collections, lack of coverage of publications from small presses, loss of selector control, and time needed to properly review coverage and revise profiles. The charges of homogenized library collections and exclusion of small press material have been refuted with data that indicate the opposite trend (Willett et al. 2006; Nardini et al. 1993). Materials not fit for a library’s collection can be returned. Lastly, loss of selector control and time requirements are outweighed by the overall benefits of approval plans.

Collection development at The Mansfield Library has long involved a collaboration between departmental faculty and library faculty. The Mansfield Library has experimented with various levels of approval plans over the years. Adoption and use of the approval plan has been voluntary and facilitated by encouragement and occasional incentives. Departmental use of the approval plan has varied across departments and ranges from receiving book information “slips” to facilitate purchase decisions to setting up profiles with automatic book selection and delivery.

Building on the success of the past several years, The Mansfield Library has established a “core approval book plan” to provide the rapid delivery and processing of newly published books across almost all disciplines with the goal of meeting undergraduate curricular and research needs. Previously established book approval plans have been integrated into the new plan. Departments continue to receive an allocation of library acquisition funds this year for traditional collaborative collection development. Each department also continues to have the option of using approval plan slips as a selection and ordering tool.

Our current approval plan vendor is YBP. Approval plans will never supply all the books needed by University of Montana students, staff and faculty. In fact, most U.S. approval plans do not provide media materials, music scores, and foreign language publications. There will always be a need for supplemental purchases and a role for individual selection on a title-by-title basis. However, the more reliance on book approval plans for collection building the more benefits (identified above) will be realized. The Mansfield Library remains committed to meeting the information needs of all departments and disciplines, from those that are very book oriented or very media oriented, to those that are very journal article oriented, to the many mixes in between.

Clearly, approval plans are efficient and cost effective. However, the effectiveness of approval plans in building high quality library collections ultimately depends upon the level of involvement by liaison librarians and departmental faculty, staff and students. The more review and discussion the better the plan. Liaison librarians are interested in your feedback to further refine subject profiles and tailor the approval plan to reflect the curricular and research needs of UM students, faculty and staff. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact your liaison librarian.

Cited Literature:

Flood, S. 1997. Evolution & status of approval plans: A SPEC Kit. Association of Research Libraries, Office of Management Services, Washington, D.C.

Nardini, R. F. 2003. “Approval Plans.” Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. 2d ed. Edited by Miriam Drake. New York: Marcel Dekker.

Nardini, R. F.; Getchell, C. M.; Cheever, T. E. 1993. "Approval plan overlap: a study of four libraries." The Acquisitions Librarian 8(16): 76-97.

Niles, A. 1991. "An approval plan combined with faculty selection." In: J.S. Hill, W.E. Hannaford and R.H. Epp Jr., Editors, Collection development in college libraries. American Library Association, Chicago (1991), pp. 163–169.

Willett, C.; Nardini, R.; Harloe, B. 2006. Vanilla Collections: Have Alternative Viewpoints Disappeared from Academic Libraries? American Library Association Conference Presentation. June 24, 2006. New Orleans, LA.

For Additional Reading see the Approval Plan Bibliography.

To discuss this entry, please use the blog "comments" feature on the library weblog.