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Who decides what books a department (say, of mathematics, at a public university in the US) shall order for its library? Is there usually a formal process?

I am somewhat surprised that I have found essentially no answer to this on the internet, nor on my library's website.

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    The decisions are made by the librarians, usually with input from the faculty. The faculty know which books are likely to be useful; the librarians know the available funding. – Andreas Blass Nov 15 '17 at 3:14
  • My previous department had a library committee. I'll have to admit, though, that I have no idea what they actually did. – Wolfgang Bangerth Nov 15 '17 at 3:44
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    Isn't this going to vary entirely by location/institution? This seems eligible for closure IMO. – Daniel R. Collins Nov 15 '17 at 4:17
  • As a librarian, I have to say: There are multiple ways to identify books a library could order (publisher lists, online services, patron suggestions, ...) and to decide which ones are finally bought (field librarians, faculty staff, patron driven acquisition, ...). You have to actually ask the one specific library you are interested in to find out. – FuzzyLeapfrog Nov 15 '17 at 19:59
  • Thanks everyone for the comments and replies! I anticipated some differences, but I still suspect that at least large clusters of universities behave more-or-less similarly. Anyway, this might also be a big-list question of the type "how could a departmental library decide...". – darij grinberg Nov 15 '17 at 23:21
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I think this is different for every library/university.

So this is not a "full answer", it just covers some points that I got to know at my university in Germany:

  • The library sends an e-mail every semester to students, staff and Professors asking for literature requests for the following semester. You can send them a list of what books you want and how many. I don´t know how they prioritise this if the budget is not big enough. Maybe they do a majority vote, maybe they rank Prof>staff>student, maybe they pick randomly or first come first serve. As you don´t need to provide a project/budget, i guess these are bought with the regular library budget.

  • If a professor needs books for a lecture (meaning many copies to supply every student) he is free to request them any time. He has to use either his university budget he gets each semester or some project budget / grants he has available.

  • If the university gets books as a donation they are also registered at (and mosten often put into the) library.

  • If you buy books for yourself / your lab from whatever budget you have, you are expected to order it through the library, not directly. This way all literature available is registered at the library. You can also choose if you want to keep these books in your lab/office or at the library.

  • Even students get asked? Wow! – darij grinberg Nov 15 '17 at 23:21
  • @darijgrinberg Yes . But like I said I don´t know how they prioritise or how many student requests are acutally met. I requested two books as a student, both were bought so it can´t be too bad. – asquared Nov 16 '17 at 9:01
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My department shares a "library representative" with several other departments in my university. If you want a book purchased, you tell the library representative. Occasionally, there will be an allocation of funds to purchase new resources, and the library representative will send all faculty a note to submit requests by such-and-such date.

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I think there are two things you could mean by a department library:

  1. a library run entirely by the department with little-to-no relation with the university library system

  2. a library housed in the department (or nearby but specifically for the department) but managed under the university library system.

In my (mid-size public US) university, we used to have 2, but it got absorbed into the main university library. As far as I can tell, this mainly only had the effect of where the books were housed and not how it was run, so I think what I can tell you about how things are done now is still relevant. We also now have a small private library as in 1.

For 2, the university has a math/science librarian who is responsible for deciding what books to purchase. She would regularly go through lists of new publications and decide what she thought would be of interest/use to our faculty. There are many standard series (e.g., Springer GTMs) which we buy automatically. For books not in these series, I think purchasing history is the largest factor she uses to decide what to buy, but we can give her more input if we want. In any case, faculty input is requested to buy books we want that the librarian missed. (Occasionally emails are sent about this, but typically we just fill out an online form when we come across such a book.)

For 1, our unfunded department's "private library" started with donations from retiring faculty or just books people no longer want. Occasionally the main library will also offer us things they don't need. (If this were funded, probably our library committee would decide what to purchase.)

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