v24 #5 Demand-Driven Acquisitions at UC Merced

by | Nov 21, 2012 | 0 comments

by Jim Dooley  (Head of Collection Services. University of California Merced)  <[email protected]>

As the University of California, Merced enters its seventh year, the student body continues to grow rapidly (now 5,200, an increase of 15% over last year).  This growth has occurred in spite of the serious recession affecting California.  While the recession has resulted in more than one billion dollars in cuts to state support of the University of California system, the Legislature and the UC Office of the President have continued to support the growth of UC Merced.  The chief constraint on future growth is the delay in the construction of necessary academic buildings caused by the recession.

Library collections and operations budgets have remained relatively flat.  While this is good news in comparison to libraries that have experienced significant cuts, library budgets have not kept pace with the increases in students and faculty.  The collections budget has been impacted by the necessity to provide expensive electronic resources in support of the specialized research interests of newly-hired faculty.  The response to this situation will likely be a continued reduction in the purchase of print monographs.

The library collection continues to be approximately 90% electronic, and electronic resources comprise over 80% of the total information resources budget.  There are effectively no print serials; patrons have access to over 70,000 subscription and free online journals.  While the library houses just over 100,000 books and DVDs, it provides access to over 700,000 e-monographs, including government documents, reference works, and e-books.  Library patrons have access to the 37 million volumes University of California collection through the libraries internal borrowing system called Request.

The library first began to acquire e-books through a subscription to ebrary Academic Complete.  The intent is to retain this subscription because it provides access to a large number of titles at a very low cost per use.  Usage statistics continue to demonstrate that this resource is heavily used.  The library also participates in systemwide licenses for Springer and Wiley e-books.  The Springer agreement covers 2005-2011 publication dates and may be extended through 2012; the Wiley agreement includes 2011 titles only.  Springer usage continues to be significant; chapter downloads continue to equal approximately 80% of total annual print circulation.  While the library continues to employ these means of acquiring e-books, patron selection plans remain the exclusive method of title-by-title acquisition of e-books.

Why patron selection?  The answer lies in the “long tail” phenomenon — some titles are accessed large numbers of times, while others are not accessed at all.  A study published in Library Resources & Technical Services in 2010 showed that an average of 35.5% of print books purchased on approval by two large ARL libraries did not circulate within 21 to 33 months of receipt.  Both libraries spent a combined $381,723 on books that did not circulate during the study period.  For the Springer e-books purchased by the UC system, 19% were not accessed even once in 2010, 73% were accessed at least once, and 8% were accessed more than 100 times.  These are simply two examples of the unsustainability of “just-in-case” purchasing of library materials.

The UC Merced Library has patron selection e-book plans with EBL and Coutts/MyiLibrary.  The plans are structured differently.  The entire EBL catalogue is visible to UC Merced patrons; this includes titles that would not ordinarily be acquired by an academic library, e.g., travel guides, popular psychology books, etc.  A title is purchased on the fourth access after three short-term loans.   The Coutts/MyiLibrary plan is limited by publisher to research-level STEM titles; there are no short-term loans, so a title is purchased on the second access.

Over several years, the library has averaged 154 transactions per month with EBL.  A transaction is either a short-term loan or a purchase; it does not include free browsing.  During the same period the library has averaged four purchases per month and nine transactions per month involving non-academic content.  The latter is significant in that it appears to demonstrate that opening the entire EBL catalogue has not resulted in significant costs for non-academic content.  As currently configured, the EBL plan is functioning as a very cost-effective supplement to traditional ILL rather than as a mechanism to purchase significant numbers of titles.  The average short-term loan costs $15.00, and the average purchase $85.30.  Short-term loans for the non-academic content average $3.00.

An average of six titles per month is purchased through the Coutts/MyiLibrary plan with the average purchase price being $121.50.  This is understandable given the focus of the plan on relatively expensive STEM titles.

Overall, both plans have helped to produce a balanced e-book collection, have resulted in predictable expenditures in spite of the significant increase in the size of the student body, and have provided good value.  There is no evidence that patron selection has produced an e-book collection inferior in quality to what would have been selected by librarians.  There is also no evidence that any individual purchaser has had an inordinate influence on the shape of the collection.  Even exposing large amounts of non-academic content has not skewed the collection.

Expenditures for EBL have averaged $2,640 per month during the past two years with little variation.  It is to be expected that expenditures will trend higher with increases in the number of students, but there have not been wild swings that would impact the information resources budget.

Average costs were given above.  The costs for EBL short-term loans in particular represent significant savings over the costs of traditional print ILL.  Most important, all the costs were incurred in providing titles that were actually used.  During the past two years, 4% of the available EBL titles have been browsed.  If the library had purchased an additional 2% of the available titles, that would have been an expenditure of over $250,000 for un-accessed titles.  In the context of cost avoidance and “just-in-time” acquisition, PDA continues to represent good value for the UC Merced Library.

At the end of Spring semester 2011 the library ended its program to loan laptops to students.  While popular with students, this program proved to be financially unsustainable and also unnecessary as almost all UC Merced students have personal computers.  An important priority is to make as many information resources as possible available through mobile devices.  The library still does not maintain a reference desk staffed by librarians; reference services are provided through a triage model with librarians available as necessary.  Online reference is provided through participation in OCLC Question Point.  Food and drink continue to be allowed throughout the building.  This has not resulted in damage to the collection or the building.

Many important developments continue to occur at the systemwide level as the UC Libraries continue to work toward greater cooperation and efficiencies.  In 2009 the UC Collection Development Committee developed a document titled The University of California Library Collection: Content for the 21st Century and Beyond that was endorsed by the University Librarians (http://libraries.universityofcalifornia,edu/cdc/uc_concept_paper_endorsed_ULs_2009.08.13.pdf).

One of the most significant aspects of this document was the explicit statement reflected in the title that the UC Library collection was to be managed as one collection rather than as ten separate collections.  In support of this vision and as a means of reducing unnecessary duplication across the system, various shared print activities are underway.  One project is to identify lightly-used print series that one campus will agree to collect so other libraries can cancel their subscriptions.  Such materials will be owned in common rather than by an individual library and will be managed according to agreed policies.  In order for such projects to succeed, and receive faculty support, there must be a very robust resource-sharing system in place.  Currently work is underway to rationalize loan periods across the campuses.

Along with developments in collection management, the Next Generation Technical Services initiative seeks to “redesign technical services workflows across the full range of library formats in order to take advantage of new system-wide capabilities and tools, minimize redundant activities, improve efficiency, and foster innovation in collection development and management to the benefit of UC Library users” (http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/about/uls/ngts/index.html).  A series of teams made recommendations that were approved and prioritized by the University Librarians in December 2010.  In 2011, implementation teams have been created in the following areas:

  •  Build the system-wide infrastructure for digital collections
  •  Transform cataloging practices
  •  Accelerate processing of archival and manuscript collections
  •  Simplify the recharge process
  •  Maximize the effectiveness of the Shared Cataloging Program
  •  Develop system-wide collections services operations
  •  Transform collection development practices

Specific information about the activities and progress of these teams is available at (http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/sopag).

The ongoing development of HathiTrust will have significant impacts on collection management in the UC Libraries.  According to the HathiTrust Update on September Activities there are now almost 10.5 million volumes in HathiTrust with almost 3.2 million of these being in the public domain and thus available online with full text to users at partner institutions.  The University of California is the second largest contributor of digitized content to HathiTrust with almost 3.15 million volumes ingested.  Records for HathiTrust titles are being continually loaded into WorldCat and HathiTrust has developed a catalog based on OCLC WorldCat Local.  At its recent Constitutional Convention, the organization agreed to investigate becoming involved in the archiving of print monographs and U.S. Federal documents.  It is reasonable to believe that these developments in mass digitization and print archiving will allow significant print deduplication within the UC Libraries with corresponding cost savings and repurposing of space.

Libraries are also attempting to repurpose space by addressing deduplication of print journal collections.  One such initiative is the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST).  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has funded development of an operating and business model and initial implementation for a distributed retrospective print journal repository involving many research libraries and library consortia in the western United States including the University of California.  The California Digital Library is providing ongoing operational and management support to WEST.


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