Sunday, March 10, 2013

Reflecting On... Patron-Driven Acquisitions

[This is a so-called reading reflection paper for my Collections Management class, but really it's more like a book report on an article of our choosing.]

There was a brief mention of patron-driven acquisitions in class, but I wanted to know more about how this is being done. Patron-driven acquisitions are purchases made more-or-less directly because of specific patron interest in titles, as opposed to the more traditional method of collection librarians supplying titles, and patrons choosing from what already exists. From late 2009 through late 2010, the University of Iowa library system experimented with a patron-driven acquisition program for e-books, then reported their results:
Fischer, K.S., Wright, M., Clatanoff, K., Barton, H., & Shreeves, E. (2012, September). Give ‘em what they want: A one-year study of unmediated patron-driven acquisition of e-books. College & Research Libraries, 73(5), 469-492. Retrieved from
University of Iowa Libraries set aside $50,000 for the experiment, with $25,000 initially in their ebrary account (p. 473). After ten views of a title’s preview pages, that title would quietly and automatically be purchased (p. 474). Patrons would easily discover these titles because ebrary supplied free MARC records which librarians judged to be of sufficient quality to add to the ILS without modification (p. 472).

There were some limitations on titles. Publishers who were already represented in other library-purchased databases were excluded to avoid duplications. Popular (as opposed to academic) titles were excluded. Same for titles costing over $250, or titles with a pre-2008 publication date. These exclusions, plus an unexpected-but-fortuitous error in MARC loading that left out many titles before the winnowing left the selectable pool at a manageable 12,000 titles (p. 473-474).

To understand the results, it helps to understand why these librarians were interested in this acquisition model in the first place. In short: expert selection of titles in academic libraries has historically resulted in a scarily large percentage of unused or little-used materials. Referring to an earlier study:
“If the criterion for a cost-effective acquisitions program was based on a minimum of two circulation uses, 54.2 percent of the titles purchased in 1969 would not have been ordered. In fact, 39.8 percent of the new books tracked from 1969 through 1975 never circulated during their first six years on the library shelves.” (p. 471)
By contrast, this experiment’s results were quite promising:
“Books purchased by PDA [i.e. patron-driven acquisition] show persistent downstream use once triggered. The majority (60%) of PDA books experienced between two and five user sessions in the past year, and more than 80 percent of the books saw between two and ten user sessions […]. This represents significantly more use than most print books receive as measured by circulations in a given year [….]” (p. 479)
Some interesting stats: weekly average cost was $1848, average books purchased per month was 71, average spent per title was $106, average uses per title was 6.3 (p. 474). The most popular subject areas in descending order were: Medicine, Sociology, Economics, Education, Biology, and Psychology.

Overall, the experiment was considered a success. Does this mean Iowa University Libraries will be switching over fully to patron-drive acquisition? No. E-book offerings don’t yet provide the coverage of print titles, and is still considered a supplement to “expert selection as practiced by liaison librarians” (p. 490). E-book usage also raises issues that need to be addressed moving forward, such as: “licensing terms and copyright, effects on interlibrary cooperation, long-term preservation, user experience, pricing models, the calculation of value (or cost/benefit), and the continued role of print, among others” (p. 490). However, there is now good research indicating that it will be worth the effort to face these challenges.

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