v24 #5 Letting the Patrons Drive… Research Library Acquisitions?

by | Nov 21, 2012 | 0 comments

by Martha Hruska  (Associate University Librarian for Collection Services, UC San Diego)

With a collection of over three-and-a-half million volumes, the UC San Diego Library supports undergraduate and graduate instructional programs, as well as advanced research for a campus community of approximately 30,000.  The Library is currently in the process of restructuring to best meet the academic objectives of their primary clientele in an increasingly digital and mobile information environment with constrained resources.

Developing and sustaining the collections and information resources needed to support a large public university has always been a fairly collaborative endeavor.  Very few large public university libraries have ever been in a position to acquire and collect everything published in all the fields relevant to their university’s many academic disciplines.  Rather, the fairly common practice has been to assign subject specialists to liaise with the academic faculty departments and, thus, better focus and select the library’s collections to match the campus’ research interests and curricula.  This approach continues to be the practice at the University of California, San Diego.

However, it has become ever more challenging to meet our users’ expectations for immediate access to an ever broader array of information resources, most especially while our budget has continued to decline.  This has meant a loss of staffing and a reduction in the funds available to support collections and operations.  Especially at a time when we are re-defining our research library collection more broadly to include materials we have selectively digitized from our special collections, born-digital Websites, data files and sets, and licensed electronic resources, we have needed to rethink the priority activities that our specialized staff can focus on.

For years we have made it a priority to acquire the current scholarly publications our campus community needs as efficiently and as economically as possible.  As part of the UC Library system, we collaborate on the purchase and cataloging access to ejournals and database packages. Subject specialists/selectors have continually refined our approval plans and profiles to tailor these to reflect UC San Diego’s strengths.  They also collaborate with their colleagues at other UC campuses to coordinate shared prospective monograph purchasing.  Since e-books emerged a few years ago, we have been actively experimenting with how best to make these available to the campus.

Our early e-book experiences included NetLibrary and publisher packages, largely in the sciences, such as Safari O’Reilly Tech Books and Knovel.  Then in 2010, the California Digital Library negotiated a UC system-wide license for the Springer e-book package. Around this time, UC San Diego licensed the aggregated e-book package offered in ebrary’s Academic Complete e-book database.  These and other of our early e-book acquisitions basically followed the same models as has been our experience with ejournal packages and aggregated databases.   But e-books have in many ways been even more difficult to integrate into our collection strategies.  The market, the content available, the business models, and the access platforms all continue to be very much in flux.  And just about equally variable has been the demand and use of the e-books we have made available.  Needless to say, our experience with e-books continues to be iterative and experimental, learning as we go.

Around 2010, we made the decision not to continue with the aggregated package of Academic Complete, but to redirect what we had been spending on it to seed our first Patron-Driven e-book Acquisition (PDA) pilot project.   The emerging models for PDA were appealing for the opportunity to engage more directly and immediately with users’ needs.  Of course, PDA was perceived by many to be potentially threatening.  Threatening to derail carefully designed subject-fund allocations, threatening to cause potential cost overruns, threatening to raise user expectations for something we couldn’t sustain, and threatening to the development of a coherent local collection.  This article is a brief description of our experience and the lessons we have learned along our way so far.

This first pilot was provided through EBL and was based on parameters developed by UC San Diego’s Collection Coordinators Group.  The parameters included: no guest access, unlimited browsing, but after 10 minutes the user is asked if they want to “check out” the book for 24 hours for a Short-Term Loan (STL).  After that first 24-hour checkout, the user would need to “check out” again if they needed to continue working with the item.  Three short-term loans would trigger a purchase decision.  And purchase decisions were directed to the appropriate subject selector since the purchase cost would come out of their subject collection funds.  While the STLs were funded centrally, the decision to purchase was decided and funded from the appropriate subject monograph fund.  One concern with this approach was a result of the 24-hour time limit.  Frequently users interested in checking out an item were not finished with it within the 24-hour time limit, thus many had to check these out again.  (In the table below, note the figure for Average cost per STL per “unique title” vs. the Average cost per total number of STLs.)

2010/11 PDA Pilot Results


The highest number of STLs by LC Classification were:

22% in the Hs
15% in the A- F classes
13% in the S – Z classes
12% in the Qs
11% in the Ps

In evaluating the use made of this first phase Patron-Driven pilot project, one significant concern related to the limits of the 24-hour access restriction.  These necessitated additional STLs by the same person.  This continued to be a condition even into our second phase of PDL experimentation, but still not one we are happy with.  We made the decision to further refine our PDA options in 2011/12 to better align the titles we could offer with those that correspond to our YBP approval profiles. Thus in our second PDA pilot in 2011/12, we took advantage of GOBI approval integration that included e-book preferred options.  Subject selectors were asked to review their “slips” profiles and move these to PDA if available.  We were able to exclude e-books from known publisher packages, although this was not1 always a simple process.  In fact, an ongoing priority will be to assess the value of the existing e-book packages and determine if a more Patron-Driven, pay-for-actual-use model, could work for more of these.

In the sciences where we have more established e-book packages, one of our selectors analyzed the 2011 EBL-available titles by publisher for QD and TP to assess the duplication of offerings with existing e-book packages.  She found that big chunks of what she could select for PDA are part of CDL packages like Springer and Wiley, or part of recent local purchasing initiatives like Elsevier and Cambridge.  Once these are taken into account, the numbers of what can be selected for PDA drop dramatically.

While we are still compiling all the results of the 2011/12 project, what we do know is that we spent approximately $20,000 on 2,347 Short-Term Loans for 1,648 unique titles and $4,000 on the purchase of 66 titles. 21% of the purchases were for materials in the sciences, the remainder in the social sciences and humanities.  The STL average loan cost was $8.50.  Of the 10,290 titles we had generally available for discovery, only 6.24% were actually used by our users.  And only 4% of the titles that were actually borrowed resulted in purchases.  If we estimate that the average cost of a title we get on approval with YBP (across all disciplines) is about $50, then  $82,400 worth of titles were actually used, out of a discovery pool with an approximate value of $514,300 in titles (16%).  This reflects a fairly modest investment and a modest amount of PDA offerings.  It must be noted that while the purchase model that continued into our second phase also required approval of the subject selectors, as we set up our plans for the next phase of PDA, we are planning to fund the triggered purchases automatically off the top.

We feel our experience is still quite preliminary, and we are not in a position to project calculations of purchase-avoidance using PDA.  In fact, purchase-avoidance is not our primary motive for exploring PDA. We see PDA as just one piece of our strategy to support access to information resources as efficiently as possible.  The less tangible, but equally important, benefit of PDA is the direct connection it provides us with the students and faculty we are here to support.  And the data we are able to now gather on how they use e-books is invaluable to our ongoing process of fine-tuning our collection development procedures.

Currently we figure that about 47% of YBP’s front list is available electronically, so academic e-books are just a fraction of the current trade and scholarly publishing universe.  But, clearly it is a fraction that is in transition, if not growing.  The transition to e-books in general, and PDA in particular, is a process we are committed to helping shape.  The transition is not just about the book format. It is about culture and the marketplace and most importantly, about redefining the Library’s role in this arena.

The most obvious and immediate cultural aspect that has surfaced in our PDA projects has been the effect on selector behavior and work patterns.  The transition process for library selectors from approval slip reviews to default PDA profiles has been a mixed experience in the different subject areas at our library.  It will be a goal in 2012/13 to complete the switch from slip review to PDA across all the subject areas where this makes sense.  But given the unevenness and unpredictability of when a title will be published in print or in an e-version, we still do not expect to be able to offer a comprehensive collection of PDA e-book titles in all subject areas.  While we are generally encouraging all selectors to opt for PDA, e-preferred, it is clear there are certain subject area (most notably literature and poetry) and classes of users for whom the e-book version is not preferred.  Therefore, we plan to investigate a PDA print plan during 2012/13.  And even in those areas, currently largely in the social sciences, where PDA e-books seem to make sense, greater integration of PDA does not mean lessening the selectors’ responsibility. It just means a change in how they support our collections, away from personally selecting each and every title to doing more analysis, profile management, and ongoing assessment of use.

Complicated as the process has been, making a well-scoped collection of new publications easily discoverable and immediately available for use fits well into the Library’s current strategic plan.  With a more constrained budget for monographs, Patron-Driven potentially reduces our overall expenditures for mainstream materials we know are being used.  Patron-Driven does not replace our commitment to collect in our areas of strength, distinction, and depth and for the long-term.  Rather, it complements and enables us to sustain those commitments.  We no longer need to purchase items largely duplicated in the UCs, just in case there may be a need on campus.  Rather we are able to refocus the expertise of our subject specialists to collaborate with their academic colleagues and ensure that we collect the more elusive resources to support their research and teaching.

Going forward, we will not only assess and adapt our own PDA projects, we hope to collaborate more widely with the other UC libraries to better ensure system-wide sharing of e-books that are made more transparently available as users need them.


1.  Tony Harvell, Director of Content Acquisition and Resource Sharing at UC San Diego, not only supplied the data analysis of the 2010/11 and 2011/2012 PDA pilot projects, he has provided the vision and the details needed to move these initiatives forward.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This