On April 9, Doody Enterprises published the 2019 edition of Doody’s Core Titles, the sixteenth annual edition of this collection development tool for health sciences libraries. So, I thought it might be timely to go back 17 years and re-examine the events that led to publication of the first edition in 2004.

For more than 30 years, one of the most popular collection development resources was the Brandon-Hill Select Titles list. This list was compiled by two U.S.-based librarians, Al Brandon and Dorothy Hill, as a service for medical librarians responsible for collection development around the world. They provided this service as a labor of love. In alternate years the Brandon-Hill list covered medical books, then nursing and allied health books. It was the intellectual property of the Medical Library Association, which would publish the new list every year in the center of an issue of its major journal, the Journal of the Medical Library Association.

MLA would sell reprints of the list every year to the major medical book distributors — Rittenhouse, Matthews, Majors and Login Brothers — and the sales reps of the distributors would, in turn, make sure all of their customers had a copy of the most up-to-date list. The distributors would tie the titles on the list into approval plans they developed for the libraries, so the list served as a convenient source for libraries to prepare their orders for the distributor(s) with which they worked.

After Al Brandon died, Dorothy Hill, who was on the staff of the Levy Library at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, continued preparing the list every year. But in January 2004, she informed the Director of the Levy Library that the January 2004 list would be her last. Further, she and Al had previously determined that the iconic “Brandon-Hill” brand would be retired when they decided to stop producing the lists. Shortly thereafter, the Levy Library Director issued an email on the medlibl list serve (the most popular list serve for medical librarians) that, due to health issues, Dorothy Hill would no longer be producing an annual select list and that, further, the Levy Library staff had decided that they would no longer devote staff time to compiling this list. In essence, the 2004 Brandon-Hill list would be its last.

This announcement triggered a small-scale panic in the medical library market. Shortly after this announcement on medlibl, which I did not initially see, I began getting phone calls from distributors (Majors was the first to call, followed shortly thereafter by Rittenhouse and Matthews), publishers and librarians, asking

a.) Had I heard that the Brandon Hill list was going away, and

b.) Would Doody Publishing be interested in carrying the service on?

My initial answer was that we had never given any thought to it. But after I got more and more inquiries, it was obvious that the demise of the Brandon-Hill list was creating a significant void in the market. And libraries, not to mention the distributors, could not imagine collection development and book ordering activity proceeding smoothly without a handy tool like the Brandon and Hill list.

This kind of real and untapped demand had never presented itself to Doody Publishing before. Up until this point, we had developed new products on the hunch (and with some supporting evidence) that the market needed the new product and would pay for it, and then we’d work really hard to create demand. After following this “if-you-build-it-they-will-come” path of new product development for more than 10 years, I concluded this was pretty much like pushing a rope uphill – a lot of effort to demonstrate that there was more slack than strength out there. This kind of real demand caught my attention.

I wanted to proceed quickly but cautiously. Quickly, because I was sure someone would step into this breach, yet cautiously, because I was convinced that modern publishing technology had to be used to make this annual effort an efficient collaborative venture and that we had to rely on the judgment of many more librarians than just two. Further, after talking with the distributors, it was clear the business model had to change. The distributors were not willing to subsidize the production of a Doody’s “select list” as they had Brandon-Hill by buying reprints of the list from MLA. That meant we would have to rely on other sources of revenue, namely, licenses from libraries, advertising from publishers and licensing fees from intermediaries.

We then undertook a lot of market research. First, we immediately convened our Library Board of Advisors, who were unanimously in favor of Doody Enterprises considering this possibility. At the same time, many of them were in conversations with others who were also considering developing a select title list (such as the Collection Development Section of the MLA) and disclosed this in our LBA conversations to alert me that others were considering the same thing and to make sure they were not operating with a conflict of interest.

Simultaneously, we spoke with Carla Funk, the Executive Director of MLA at that time, to let her know that distributors, publishers and librarians had independently come to Doody to ask whether we could consider creating a successor product to the Brandon and Hill lists. This led to an open and transparent dialogue with MLA during the entire discovery process.

We also conducted scripted interviews with about 20 libraries, asking them for their input on whether the list should be continued, what was important to them, if they thought there was enough that was new to justify a yearly update, if they could support a list that was only available electronically through a secure website, and, most importantly, if they thought their library would be willing to pay for access to the list if we kept the fee low (in the range of $50).

All of this research had been done prior to the MLA meeting in May 2004. We went to MLA with a strong, positive feeling that Doody Enterprises was well suited to take on the formidable task of introducing a successor select list. We also planned to attend various meetings that were scheduled during MLA where open forums were scheduled for librarians and others to express their ideas about how Brandon and Hill should be replaced, as well as their concerns. Of course, we focused our LBA meeting that year exclusively on this subject. We participated in conversations in the Collection Development section meeting and the Dentistry section meeting, since both sections were entertaining motions to develop a select list for the medical library community. We were even asked to describe our plans at the Collection Development section meeting by the audience during the discussion portion of the meeting.

The result of the intense conversations that we participated in at MLA was that we resolved that we would develop a successor list. And we made several firm decisions that proved crucial to the ultimate success of Doody’s Core Titles:

  • We were determined to come out with our first annual edition in 2004, which meant within just seven months.
  • Each annual list would cover all of the health sciences specialties, numbering more than 120.
  • The list would be available only at a website we would build, and not at all in print.
  • Libraries would have to pay a nominal annual license fee ($50) to get access to the list.
  • The initial list of books would be selected by content experts involved in Doody’s Review Service, and the titles would be reviewed and approved or discarded by volunteer Librarian Selectors. We hoped to assign up to three Librarian Selectors to each specialty.

With these ambitious plans, and led by Rik Tamm-Daniels, our CTO then, we set off in late May 2004 to build the online publishing system to select the books, the public-facing website (with a pay wall) to allow licensees full access to the list and all of the functions at the website (including simple and compelling search, filtering, and retrieval of the titles), and the secure online system that would allow the distributors to act as value-added resellers of Doody’s Core Titles, delivering the content and full functionality of DCT inside their own website to customers they sold DCT to directly.

True to our plans, we introduced the first edition of Doody’s Core Titles in December 2004. Shortly after it was introduced, Linda Walton, a member of the LBA, asked if we could also make the expert reviews of any of the selected titles available at the website, speculating this would be an attractive feature to many of the licensees and prospective licensees. I answered that the only way this was possible was to charge an extra fee for a version with the reviews. So from Linda’s great idea, by 2005 we were offering the Basic version for $49.50 and the Premium version (with the expert reviews) for $149.50. Interestingly, about half of the libraries license the Basic version and half the Premium version.

The overarching moral? Product development based on actual needs expressed by the customer has proved to be instrumental in the growth of our consulting practice and other product development activities.