In my collection development class last week we had a very interesting discussion of the ways that libraries buy books. The macro-level purchasing that so many libraries do has generally been working well for many years, but the professor pointed out that as library budgets are shrinking it may be necessary to take a more micro-level approach. Of course so many of the digital resources that libraries buy these days are only available in the bundled, all-or-nothing packages that individual item purchasing is a virtual impossibility for these items. This ties back into the conversations we had earlier in the semester about the journal pricing issues that libraries are facing. So much of the control over what a library acquires has been taken out of the hands of the librarians who actually work with patrons and either centralized to a small number of acquisitions people or handed over to publishers who determine how they're willing to sell to libraries.
The thing that I thought was most interesting about the whole discussion was the fact that so few people, even among librarians, really understand acquisitions and the advantages and drawbacks of working this way. I've worked in two libraries now and while I wasn't exactly at a level where I needed to know about this, it's interesting that I had very little idea about this whole process. If librarians don't understand this process it must be hard for them to use the system to really get the best materials for patrons.