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WESSWEB - Western European Specialists Section

Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1995)
New Haven, Connecticut
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The WESS/ARL German Political Science Project:
A Cambridge Comparison

David Lowe
German Specialist
Cambridge University Library

The WESS/ARL German political science collection development project (outlined by Jim Spohrer in the Fall 1993 WESS Newsletter) has inspired a similar investigation in the United Kingdom. David Lowe of Cambridge used both the methodology and findings of the WESS/ARL study to check the holdings of his institution and evaluate the extent and effectiveness of British national acquisition of German political science materials. In addition, his case study demonstrated some of the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology. --Editor

Overview of WESS/ARL Study Methodology*

The study sample consisted of 600 German political science titles selected from the CD-ROM version of the Deutsche Nationalbibliographie (DNB) covering 1985 to 1992. These titles represented a randomly-selected subset of 11,500 entries gathered after a keyword search of the database.

The investigators grouped the titles into the following six categories, according to their relevance for a large research library:

  1. Important works for any U.S. research library with an interest in German politics (106 titles)
  2. Important works which should be held by at least one U.S. research library (296 titles)
  3. Titles in relevant subjects which need not be held by any U.S. research library (184 titles)
  4. Non-relevant titles (28 titles)
  5. Relevant English-language titles (39 titles)
  6. Relevant titles in languages other than German or English (15 titles)
The sample was first searched against the databases of OCLC and RLIN, then the list of non-matches (approximately 300 in total) was circulated to nine U.S. research libraries so that local holdings in backlogs or minimally catalogued collections could be identified.

Summary of results

   	RLIN/OCLC	With local	Cambridge
			holdings added
A	78.3%   	85.8%		41.5%

B 61.1% 76.6% 20.9%

C 26.0% 41.3% 4.4%

D 32.0% 71.4% 7.1%

E 58.9% 82.1% 25.6%

F 26.7% 66.6% 0%

A Cambridge Gloss

The holdings of Cambridge University Library were also compared against the sample, political science being a subject area in which the Library collects quite widely. Initial results showed that there were significant gaps in Cambridge's coverage. The Library held 126 of the 600 titles in the survey, or just under 20%. Of those six were items which were not included on the OCLC or RLIN database. Further breakdown of the statistics showed that there was broad agreement with the investigators' evaluation of the importance of particular titles.

Comparison of an individual library's holdings with the sample does expose certain weaknesses in the methodology, and suggests that any conclusions have to be qualified. For example, there were a number of items in both categories A and B which Cambridge could reasonably disregard, sometimes because it held an earlier edition of the text, sometimes because it had the collected works of an author, sometimes because the title was a German translation of an English or French work which the library already possessed. Translation was one area in which I had reservations about the classification of material, although at the same time the investigators' assessment

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was valuable in prompting me to reexamine long-held views on selection criteria. I would have placed all translations from another Western European language into the category of non-essential works. I would also have hesitated before designating all general German texts on political science--the Kleines Lexikon der Politik sort of title--as essential for a library in the English-speaking world, when presumably an English language text would often cover the same ground. Whilst accepting that the German slant of such items may be significant, I would have tended towards group B rather than group A for such material.

Consideration of the gaps in Cambridge's coverage was instructive. The Library had bought very little which was under 48 pages in length, thereby missing a number of titles which appeared to be important source material. Was this a serious omission in Cambridge's collection development? Is it only the national library which should collect such pamphlet material? Is it only really of value if collected systematically and in bulk? If so, can any British library reasonably be expected to find the resources to build such a collection? Should the researcher in this field not turn as a matter of course to specialized libraries in Germany to meet his or her needs?

Dissertations were another body of material rarely held by participating libraries. Not surprisingly, neither Cambridge nor any American research library held theses from the former GDR, but neither were West German dissertations well represented. This again raises questions about coverage. Is the thesis per se a valuable research tool? Is it reasonable to assume that if a political science dissertation is important it will usually find a commercial publisher? The fact a thesis appears in a Lang or Mellen series is after all no guarantee of quality, but merely an indication that the author has decided to subsidize the publication.

Having partially justified to myself the non-acquisition of pamphlet material, grey literature and theses, I was still left with a number of titles which undoubtedly should have been in Cambridge's collection but which were not: a study of the Greens, correspondence of Rudi Dutschke, a substantial work by Oskar Lafontaine... I took some comfort from the fact that Cambridge's coverage was better for the 1989-1992 period, by which stage I was checking the weekly issues of Reihe A of the DNB. Previously my selection had only been from Harrassowitz lists, Kuchler slips, LC cards, publishers' blurbs and reviews, and it was apparent that a good deal of material had been slipping through the net. In a few cases I had attempted to purchase the work, but by the time I had picked up the reference the item had gone out of print this is probably a particularly acute problem with political science materials.

In the final analysis, however, there were some gaps in coverage which I simply couldn't explain. Perhaps my eye had jumped a column in DNB, or I had turned over two pages by accident. Perhaps the value of some material has only become apparent to me with the benefit of hindsight. Maybe in 1988 I didn't even know who Oskar Lafontaine was. If the ARL acquisition study shows nothing else, it makes clear what an extremely haphazard business the art of selection really is.

Response by Michael Olson


*See "ARL German Political Science Project" (Fall 1993 WESS Newsletter, pp. 3-4) for full details of the study's methodology, findings, and conclusions. Return


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