The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) is a post-1992 university, with a large and diverse student base, spread across four campuses and more than 30,000 students worldwide. Up until 2016, we had a fairly traditional method of acquiring e-books - titles were identified by academic staff and subject librarians, before being purchased outright for students to access well in advance of them being required. We also had a problem that any universities encounter though, in that sometimes we would be asked to purchase texts that students never went on to access, or in the absence of comprehensive reading lists, we would have to use our judgement to select books we thought would probably be useful to students. Inevitably though, our choices would not always be correct!
In Spring 2016, I started a new role in charge of the book acquisitions team at UWE Bristol, having previous experience in e-resources management. I wanted to make better use of usage statistics and data analytics to help inform the choices we made on what books to buy, and it was at this point that I realised that 20% of all books we had bought in the previous academic year had still not been used a year later. This equated to a substantial five figure sum, and I was convinced that we could do something to solve this conundrum of how to stop wasting money on unnecessary speculative purchases.
UWE Bristol had dabbled with Patron Driven Acquisitions (PDA) in the past, but shortly after starting my new job, I discovered a new PDA service from one of the major e-book suppliers - PDA+ from Askews & Holts - that looked like it could be just what was required to help us reduce expenditure on e-books that were never used. For those of you who don't know, PDA is a way to make e-books available to students through the library catalogue, with no upfront financial commitment. The catalogue records live in the library management system, and an invoice is only generated when a library user actually uses the e-book. Traditionally, libraries would submit a set of criteria based on Dewey ranges, price, year of publication etc. and be sent a substantial number of catalogue records by the e-book supplier for all books that fitted those criteria. This made a significant number of titles available to students, but had the potential to be large money sink if students accessed a higher than expected number of books. The benefit of making such large swathes of content available was significant, but along with it came substantial financial risk.
The new PDA service from Askews & Holts gave libraries the ability to add e-books to the catalogue on an individual title-by-title basis. Theoretically, we would never have to pay for an e-book upfront ever again. In the summer of 2016, we moved all e-book acquisition to this new model of PDA. Rather then being invoiced for books immediately on selection, we could now select books and add them to our catalogue. These books became available to students right away, but UWE Bristol would only get invoiced for them upon their first use.
Implementing this new method of e-book acquisition was quite a challenge in a relatively short space of time. It took us three months to move from initially conceiving the project in May 2016, to having it fully rolled out by the end of August. Not only did we need to work out and finesse the new processes, we also had to train all the librarians who selected stock to use the new method. One of the most challenging aspects of the implementation was changing the mindset of staff who had to get used to the idea of not actually owning the stock they selected. Our whole book budget was now in the hands of students, albeit with library and academic staff controlling the range of books available to choose from.
We are now coming to the end of our second year post-implementation, and the new strategy has been a complete success. We have been able to make far more books available each year to students - for comparison, we were only able to buy around 4,000 e-books in 2015/16 before implementing full PDA, whereas the total number of books we made available to students the following year was close to 40,000, of which over 5,600 were eventually either purchased or rented. We even decided to increase the amount of money we spent on e-books because we knew we could justify the expenditure on books that were actually being used.
As we enter our third year post-implementation, we are now looking towards further improvements we could make. The implementation of Reading List software at UWE has made it even easier to justify expenditure on the content students needs, and we want to widen the breadth of content available even further. Whether this will take the form of more PDA or other innovative services becoming available to us, one thing is for sure, that UWE will be utilising every tool possible to extract the maximum value from our budget on behalf of our students.
About the Author
Ted is a Collections Librarian at the University of the West of England in Bristol. After a brief career in publishing, Ted qualified as a librarian in 2014 and worked as collections support librarian in e-resources and book acquisitions before moving to his current role leading the book acquisitions and digitisation teams.