Digital Highlights from the National Acquisitions Group Conference

The National Acquisitions Group Conference took place in York on 3rd and 4th September.  As usual, speakers were drawn in part from the public library, in part from the academic library, sectors.  As for the past several years, digital issues were prominent on the agenda.

The Public Library and the 21st Century People’s University presentation was given by Ken Chad, a freelance consultant.  He offered a vision of a ‘free university’, in which the public library would play a central part in educating those without formal tertiary education. He referred to a recent article in The Economist, which said that ‘Universities represent declining value for money to their students. Universities are clinging to a medieval concept of education in an age of mass enrolment.’ In a recent book, Reinventing Higher Education, Ben Wildavsky and his colleagues at the Kauffman Foundation, which focuses on entrepreneurship, have said that there has been a failure to innovate.  Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models.  E-books and e-publishing generally will play a key part in the way that people access tertiary education if this revolution takes place.

Also at the NAG Conference, Steve Sharp and Bryony Heyhoe-Pullar, respectively from the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds and Huddersfield University Library, gave a joint talk entitled Good PDA or Good PR?  Sharp said that Leeds ran its first Patron Driven Acquisition [PDA] trial in October 2012 and has just finished its third ‘extended’ round of PDA. Around 50% of e-book purchases are now acquired via PDA; but this raises questions over who ‘owns’ the collection development agenda.  Is it still the Library? Sharp pointed out that analysis of the success or otherwise of PDA is important.  In Leeds’s first trial, 5 subject areas were covered.  A total of £40,000 was spent and 617 e-books were purchased.  In the second trial, nine subject areas were covered.  A total of £54,000 was spent and 1,151 titles were purchased.  In the third and latest trial, a total of £104,500 was spent and 2,658 titles were purchased. The cost per title had roughly halved over the period.  However, librarians are as much concerned with usage as with cost.   Leeds has now assembled a full year of usage data to analyse.  The results are as follows: 340 PDA titles scored zero usage, as opposed to 287 non-PDA titles; this equated to 19% of PDA titles and 13.4% of non-PDA titles.  The message was that a professional librarian is still better at selecting titles that will subsequently attract usage.

Bryony Heyhoe-Pullar said that the University of Huddersfield Library ran a PDA pilot with EBook Library [EBL: now owned by ProQuest] from 7th February to 13th April 2014.  

The money allocated to the project was spent in nine weeks. The amount spent equated to 20% of the book fund.  6,071 titles were accessed.  637 of these were purchases; the remainder became short term loans (i.e., titles not accessed more than twice).  

PDA participants were asked to complete a questionnaire.  They proved to be fairly evenly divided between those who preferred electronic books, those who preferred print books and those having no preference (which meant that about two-thirds of participants who responded to the questionnaire were happy with e-books).  About 20% had accessed books via a mobile device. Third year undergraduates were the highest users by a long margin in every discipline.

As a result of the pilot, the Library has decided to top-slice 25% of its book budget in order to continue to provide a PDA service next year, and will stay with its present supplier.