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The Digital Toolbox — Balancing Patron Needs, Librarian Interests and a Too-Small-To-Do-Everything-Budget with a Robust Digital Collection

by | Sep 30, 2021 | 0 comments


By Rebecca Walton  (Acquisitions & Collection Analysis Librarian, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT  84602) 

Column Editor:  Steve Rosato  (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH  44125) 

Against the Grain Vol. 33#4

Utah’s Brigham Young University (BYU) has partnered with OverDrive to provide additional eBook and audiobook options for our students since 2014.  Our collection is small compared to the public libraries in the area, but the 11,300 titles we have available have been checked out over 379,000 times.  As our collection has slowly grown over the past seven years, our usage has grown alongside it.  In 2020 alone there were 87,257 checkouts by 9,445 unique users.

OverDrive is especially useful for providing online access to popular material.  Academic libraries may not see collecting popular materials as part of their core mission.  However, there is a case to be made for such materials to connect with students at a level they can understand.  Popular materials can not only support recreational reading but can also be used to support exploratory learning by serving as an introductory text to a complex subject.  Some courses even use popular nonfiction texts as supplementary course materials to take advantage of this aspect.  

The titles with the highest demand are often tied to current events.  Something as simple as a new movie or television release can lead to a buildup of holds on a title.  On the other hand, it is important for librarians to stay abreast of current issues because something as significant as a political or social movement can also trigger patron interest.  This was very evident in BYU’s trends during 2020 when the titles which saw the highest number of checkouts per copy were all related to social justice and antiracism.  

Balancing Budget with Demand

Choosing where to spend the relatively small budget we have for OverDrive purchases can be a challenge.  It requires balancing patron demand for new titles expressed through recommendations, patron demand for existing titles measured by the number of holds, anticipated patron demand for titles associated with current events and popular culture, and the need to still have money left over to pursue librarian priorities.  At BYU we have chosen to put higher priority on increasing the number of titles in our collection rather than on reducing wait times for titles on hold (though we do still order additional copies for those with the most demand).  Although this can be frustrating to the patron, we have found that it also encourages them to discover lesser-used titles within the collection to check out while they are waiting.  The front page of our OverDrive digital collection website features titles which are currently available so that patrons have a frictionless experience in discovering these titles

Curation Increases Exposure, Return on Investment

Promotion is one critical tool to use to ensure that purchased titles continue to provide an appropriate return on investment.  Within the OverDrive platform, the curation tool is an excellent way to customize the digital collection website to meet a library’s specific priorities.  BYU has implemented banners that highlight different collection aspects.  Trending titles may have very high use when purchased, but that use can also wane over time.  If we purchase multiple copies of a title to meet initial patron demand, we may also be in a situation with a lot of underperforming titles a few years later.  To mitigate the impact of downward trending interest, we feature currently available titles which have historically been very popular.  This increases the chance of these titles being seen by a user and continuing to generate checkouts even after their moment in the sun has passed.  We also feature little-used titles in a similar way to enhance their discoverability by patrons.  Promotion allows us to remain relevant by frequently updating certain sections of the digital collection website to focus on trending topics or highlight specific collections.  Much of this can be automated through OverDrive’s curation tools to avoid a huge drain on staff time. 

Meeting Students Where They Are

What do these trends tell us about what librarians should do to meet student needs?  Students are influenced by what is going on in the world, and as librarians we need to be constantly pivoting our collection strategies to anticipate and respond to changing demands.  This is especially true in a collection comprised primarily of popular titles, such as BYU’s OverDrive digital collection.  Additionally, the trends tell us that by doing these things to meet students where they are, we can build a user base that continues coming back for more.  Overall circulation numbers compared to the number of unique users tell us that students who discover eBooks and audiobooks through OverDrive come back again and again.  


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