Do Libraries Collect Software Now?

Last week, ISIS  hosted an online seminar about bake-offs, processes through which individuals and institutions decide what new tools or technologies to purchase. Generally an activity in the purview of Information Technology departments, we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation from Sarah Oelker, a librarian from Mount Holyoke College, who talked about how a group of Mount Holyoke librarians applied bake-off principles to the process of sourcing technology solutions for the College.

It’s a great visual to help us think about how libraries and technology departments can contexutalize making decisions about our resources, and how we should try to meet our community’s academic needs through our purchases and services. As we embrace a ‘just in time’ collecting model – one that allows us to purchase that book a faculty member needs on a moment’s notice or to have a cache of power cords for students to borrow to charge their laptops in the library – how do we think about software as not just a tool, but also as something to collect?

Which brings me to a larger question: should libraries collect software now? As digital humanities centers proliferate  and as heated debates come up about whether 3d printers should be in libraries, the nature of our collections is also shifting. How does/will/should that impact our collecting strategies? As libraries and information technology departments scale up to meet new demands for ‘digital’ scholarship, how do we balance the needs for ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ acquisitions with tools that have utilitarian value now and historical value later?

From where I’m sitting, the answer is that yes, we need to collect software, but the what and the how are other questions for which I don’t think profession yet has a cogent answer. For collection development librarians, the ground is shifting away from bibliography and toward patron-driven acquisitions for monographs and journals. I believe this shift provides an opportunity to work closely with our colleagues in IT to map out strategies for successful collection and stewardship of software, especially as librarians increasingly support classroom technologies. In any case, it represents another step towards utilizing the library as incubator of new ideas and practices, instead of just as a repository for the old.