July 31, 2021

Baker & Taylor, collectionHQ Launch ESP, a Predictive Collection Development Tool


collectionHQ ESP Baker & Taylor (B&T) and its collection management subsidiary collectionHQ announced the launch of ESP (Evidence-based Selection Planning), an optional feature for collectionHQ that aims to predict system-wide and branch-level demand for books, ebooks, and other materials, including newly published items. The feature works by analyzing a library’s circulation history using collectionHQ, while leveraging data from B&T’s online collection development and ordering system Title Source 360, identifying forthcoming titles that would be best suited to a library, highlighting those titles with a relevancy ranking, and determining branch locations where copies should be placed to satisfy demand.

CollectionHQ’s suite of analytics and collection management tools already enabled libraries to evaluate and enhance existing collections with evidence-based suggestions for weeding materials or transferring titles between branches to maximize usage. And, its demand analysis tools were already advising libraries which authors or genres might perform best at specific branches. The goal of ESP is to integrate this advice into the ordering process. “The way our [collectionHQ] customers do it now, they get a great understanding about what content is moving in their collection either on a systemwide perspective or a branch perspective, or on a collection-by-collection perspective. They then take that knowledge…and make future collection development decisions,” explained Scott Crawford, collectionHQ’s vice president and general manager. “What ESP is doing is bringing a level of automation to that.”

ESP generates title-level relevancy rankings in Title Source 360, making these analytics-based suggestions a seamless part of a library’s purchasing workflow. Crawford notes that ESP also factors in aggregate data from libraries with similar profiles that order through Title Source 360. So, if a library has never bought and circulated a book by a particular author or in a particular genre, the system won’t automatically assign a low relevancy ranking to that author or genre. “We know, based on our peer database, how that author or that subject or that series is circulating in library systems around the U.S., so [a title] would still get a relevancy score that would potentially suggest that a library select that title, even if they don’t have a history of it being [circulated] in their community,” Crawford said.

Success in Phoenix

The Phoenix Public Library (PPL) has been outsourcing a portion of its collection development activities to B&T for over 10 years, and was one of the earliest adopters of collectionHQ, going live with the system in May 2011. As LJ noted in a September 2012 profile of collectionHQ, the system made it possible for PPL’s two collection development librarians to assess systemwide materials usage and select, order, and process 25,000 replacement books funded by a grant from the Maricopa County Library District (MCLD) within nine months. PPL once had 10 FTE staff conducting collection development activities in addition to their other duties, but over the years, hours spent on collection development had been refocused toward direct public service, according to Phoenix City Librarian Rita Hamilton.

B&T’s suggestions, combined with collectionHQ, have made it possible for the library’s two full-time collection development librarians to ensure that PPL’s selections continue to meet patron needs. “In a time of budget cuts, that was very, very useful for us,” Hamilton said. As an early adopter of collectionHQ, the Phoenix Public Library (PPL) was one of four libraries that chose to participate in the pilot test of the new ESP feature beginning last summer. “What [collectionHQ] provides is data that measures the success of your choices and how you’re spending money, giving you direct feedback based on use,” Hamilton said. “We have been using that data for the past three years, really honing our ability to make the best use of our resources. When they started talking about ESP—how we could further automate our selection processes, we were very interested in that.” The additional automation of ESP has met with little disagreement from staff, Hamilton said, partly because of PPL’s history with B&T and collectionHQ. “Over time, we’ve built up this trust that we’re getting a great collection,” she said. “We fine tune it based on ‘this building needs more of this and less of that,’ those kinds of things, but there’s not any angst…. I think they feel that [collection development] is something we don’t have to worry about.”

Of course, libraries will continue to be able to order books and other materials from Title Source 360 regardless of ESP relevance ranking, and the system will have inevitable blind spots due to the vagaries of publishing. However, Hamilton believes that ESP will help PPL respond to spikes in demand, even when a title is an unexpected hit. “You can’t always predict something like 50 Shades of Grey going through the roof,” she said. “So, what you then have in place is a method to respond to demand, and one thing we’re looking for ESP to help do is to help us stay ahead of demand…. Data can [predict demand] better than someone saying ‘well, we got four more holds on this book today, we need another copy.’ If they’re looking at broader-picture data and seeing what is happening in other libraries, they’ll be able to predict better.” The optional ESP feature will be priced separately from collectionHQ, although at press time the company had not yet finalized a pricing structure, according to Crawford.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.