Technical operations went smoothly. The telephone system was unusually cooperative but, true to form, it broke down briefly twice, during the last part of the program. Fortunately, the disruption was not disastrous. The most frustrating occurrence was a break without coffee, which arrived twenty minutes late, so that we ran over our allotted time. This was a crucial delay in our tight schedule. In order not to inconvenience the participants, material was deleted to keep within a fifteen-minute extension of the scheduled dismissal time. We hoped that NLM program participation would encourage greater enrollment. Although this did not materialize, parts of the NLM representative's lecture served as an effective summary of the course. New information aroused much interest, resulting in questions and answers following the presentation. Although the course failed to attract a large learner group, the library plans to offer it again. Only a few slight revisions in the text will be needed. The two hours of instruction could be extended to three, allowing for a more relaxed pace. Credit endorsement is nationally recognized as evidence of a professionally approved educational activity. The fact that library orientation has been accorded this consideration is of professional importance. The support of the National Library of Medicine and their representative at the course was a vital part of this experiment. In the library's continuing effort to communicate better with its users, this experiment indicated that a formal continuing medical education course with earned credit units is yet another way for libraries to effectively orient users to available library services. ACKNOWLEDGMENT Special recognition must be given to Davis B. McCarn, Acting Associate Director, Office of Computer and Communications Systems, and to the computer staff who lent their time for half a Saturday in November, when the system was in great demand for year-end file maintenance and the processing of Cumulated Index Medicus. (Mr. McCarn is now Director, Planning Office, NLM.) REFERENCE
1. BIRD, R. M.; WOOSTER, H.; AND STENGLE, J. M.
Focus of the mission of the Lister Hill National Center for Biomedical Communications of the National Library of Medicine 1975-1980. Biosci. Commun. 2:11-22, Jan. 1976.
Substitute a Suggestion Book for Your Suggestion Box BY C. LEE JONES, Health Sciences Librarian Health Sciences Library Columbia University New York, New York
LIBRARIANS have used a number of devices to gather user feedback concerning the operations and character of individual libraries. Formal programs have been established in which readers are encouraged to submit comments and suggestions to the librarian in writing. In turn, if the contribution is signed, the user will receive a formal but private response. Another more frequently used system is the suggestion box. Too often, after an initial burst of staff enthusiasm, contributions to the suggestion box receive inadequate attention from the library staff. This occurs for a variety of reasons including apathy and a callousness which can develop from receiving a preponderance of derogatory or negative remarks. Some libraries have taken a somewhat different approach in order to obtain some value from this device for obtaining reader input. They have posted all contributions along with the appropriate library responses. This tends to change the character of the suggestions that are submitted, since it is known that they will all be posted. SUGGESTION BOOK A small number of libraries have gone a step further and substituted a Suggestion Book for their suggestion box. Indeed, for those libraries without a suggestion box, the book is a far cheaper and, as shall be argued, a more effective element in a communication system between users and library. All that is required to implement such a program is a three-ring binder and a set of forms printed on front and back. The book, when opened, should have on the left a form with three columns: a narrow one headed "Date"; a column consuming most of the rest of the page headed "Comment, Suggestion and/or Compliment" (just this once we ought to fish for a few of the latter); and the last narrow column headed "Name-optional." The right-hand page should have two columns: the first, a narrow one, labeled "Date," and the rest of the page labeled "Response." After clearly labeling the binder Suggestion Book or something similar, place it at Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 65(3)July 1977
the circulation desk or at or near any other heavily was not there to hear the comment in person. So, used service desk. if anyone but the librarian responds, the user may Even without urging by the library staff, users feel that yet another bureaucratic layer has setwill begin to take advantage of the book. But in tled upon the issue to further suffocate it. In very order to assure that many of your users will know large libraries, university libraries particularly, a of the opportunity to record their pleasures or response from second-echelon management may dissatisfactions, each library staff member should reflect a sufficient reduction in bureaucratic red be encouraged to direct users to the book to tape that the user will be satisfied. But every record their feelings. If they are feelings of anger health science library that attempts to use the or frustration, the very act of defining their com- Suggestion Book technique should have all plaint can often take the edge off an emotional responses written and signed by the librarian. situation. On the other hand, it works equally well Many of the comments will not be signed by the as a vent for those users who have complimentary user, but it is most important that every library remarks to make. It is not unusual to find, response be signed. There will be much user satishowever, that a staff member will more often faction in knowing that there is a direct and easy direct users to the book to record their dissatisfac- way to communicate with the head of the library tions than to record their delights or satisfactions. operation. Too often, and altogether unintenIt may be just human nature to want to enjoy tionally, librarians tend to intimidate elements of those plaudits without the dilution that the Sug- the user population. This device can be effective in reducing the effects of this intimidation. gestion Book makes possible. CONDITIONS FOR SUCCESS As with other elements of a library's operation, this one is only as useful as the effort expended on its behalf. There are at least four conditions which should be met in order to assure a successful user suggestion program: one, each entry must be answered within a reasonable period of time; two, the librarian or chief management officer should do the responding in all but the very largest libraries; three, the Suggestion Book must be freely and continuously available to the users and staff; and four, every response should be clear and straightforward. Prompt response to entries in the Suggestion Book will encourage both the authors of entries and other library users to develop the habit of perusing the Suggestion Book on a regular basis. It is ideal if responses can be provided each day, but weekly is not too infrequent to attend to the suggestions. Though the responses may not be entered each day, it is a good idea to check the book daily. On occasion there are urgent matters to deal with, such as a leaky pipe, problems with the air-conditioning system, or any number of urgent policy questions. The daily check of the book will, in addition, allow the development of appropriate responses to the more difficult comments. It will also allow a cooling-off period, which may be needed after reading the occasional rude or nasty remarks (nearly always anonymous). The identity of the library's responder is important to the user. He has already taken advantage of the book, partly because the librarian Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 65(3)July 1977
LOCATION OF SUGGESTION BOOK In order to be an effective means of communication between users and the library, the Suggestion Book must be available as often as possible. The librarian might even find it expedient to remove only those pages requiring current response in order to assure this constant availability of the book to the user. Another aspect of availability relates to the actual location of the book and the actions of the staff. If the book is located at a service desk, the presence of library staff can inhibit its use. This is particularly so if the desk attendant is obviously anxious to see what the user has written. Under these circumstances, those who use the book are liable to be limited to the more aggressive users. If this appears to be the case, the book can be moved to a location of its own on a dictionary stand dedicated to the Suggestion Book. This may seem an extreme, even costly, concession to the shy, but it may also pay substantial dividends in suggestions that might materially improve a library's services. Finally, each library response must deal with the issue raised by the user in a rational manner. The library's position must not only be made clear, but the reasoning behind the position should be stated. This is especially true when the response must, for whatever reason, be a negative one. The background reasons should be stated whenever possible. The finest of responses is of no value if it is illegible; the librarian must assure legibility even if the responses must be typed. The character of the entries in such a Sugges-
tion Book will vary from mundane to erudite to useless. They will in the main be critical of the status quo, often not offering better alternatives. This negative tone can only be ameliorated if library staff will encourage those with positive comments and compliments to enter them in the book. In any case, a certain portion of the entries will be valuable in the fine tuning that takes place continuously in every library. Often suggestions for specific resources will be noted in the book and these can contribute to the growth of the collection. It is important that as many suggestions as possible be implemented promptly. Such responses will build the credibility of the Suggestion Book and the library and help generate strong user support and respect. The dialogue that develops in this system is an extremely valuable means of communication which flows to and from the user. It can be an educational tool for all who participate, including the library. The library staff has spent its life with this organism we call a library and often it is too close to the operation to see where slight operational alternatives can yield large service benefits. Library users, on the other hand, are not burdened with the sometimes restrictive knowledge of our profession, and their most naive comment or suggestion may open a whole new set of service options to us. This will not happen every day or even every year, but it can and will happen. Therefore, carefully consider even the most wild-eyed suggestion-it may prove valuable.
A Method for Deleting Selected Journals BY NANCY C. McKEEHAN, Serials/Acquisitions Librarian Health Affairs Library Medical University of South Carolina Charleston, South Carolina
DEPLETING budgets, rising book and subscription costs, and the ever-increasing flow of new publications in all areas of science are the financial facts of life for acquisitions librarians in the health sciences. The Medical University of South Carolina has been fortunate in the past years of rapid expansion (since the late sixties) to be able to maintain a growing book collection while increasing the number of current periodicals in the Health Affairs Library from 831 in 1968 to well over 2,300 in FY 1976. However, the realities of the 1976-77 budget necessitated a review of acqui-
sitions policies and a commitment to curtail the purchase of library materials. (See Table 1.) Stricter guidelines for the selection of monographs have been in effect for over a year, freeing a larger percentage of the 1976-77 materials budget for maintenance of journal subscriptions. But it became clear with the announcement of the final 1976-77 budget that these measures were not enough: the current subscriptions had to be reviewed and cut. The fact that the budget was not put in final form until mid-September, less than two months before 1977 renewals were due, complicated the challenge of designing and completing a thorough survey of all journals. An evaluation project using a combination of statistics and user response was drawn up by the serials librarian, and the staff of the Serials/Acquisitions Department (five FTEs and one student) began work on September 27. CRITERIA FOR EVALUATION As a resource library for the Southeastern Regional Medical Library Program (SERMLP), the Medical University of South Carolina library has the responsibility of maintaining a high level of research capability. Also, it is currently the only major medical collection in the state. The fact that the Medical University is a wholly independent institution without benefit of the research collection of a large university library is also of major importance. With these considerations in mind, the following criteria were considered in deciding to continue or cancel: 1. Is the journal indexed in the major indexes subscribed to by the library? 2. Is the journal circulating within the Medical University or being used for interlibrary loans? 3. How many other resource libraries in Region VI maintain subscriptions to each journal? 4. How valuable to research within the Medical University is each title? M ETHODOLOGY Title cards were typed for each journal and checked against the Kardex for currency. All data were then recorded on these cards to develop a profile for each journal. _Index survey. Using Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory, the indexes in which each journal is included were noted. _Circulation survey. Statistics had been compiled for each title since January 1976, recording the number of times each title circulated, including interlibrary loan. Bull. Med. Libr. Assoc. 65(3)July 1977