The PDA service generally takes the form of a library selecting a set of titles that match criteria (subject, publisher, price, etc.), similar to the way an approval plan is created. Bibliographic records for the profiled titles are loaded into the library's online catalogue where they can be discovered by users. Periodically, new titles matching the library's profile are added to the corpus. As patrons discover these records, they are able to open the e-book, which depending on the service provider's model, may trigger a lease or purchase of the e-book. The primary players in this space – Ebook Library (EBL), ebrary, MyiLibrary, and NetLibrary – offer different models that affect the decisions libraries make regarding the outcome of a use.
It's fascinating, not to mention informative, to look at the list of books borrowed via interlibrary loan. These lists generally include titles somewhat distant from the curriculum, often serving a one-time need. In other cases, they reflect emerging and potentially persistent research areas. In both cases, it's difficult, if not impossible, to know in advance the utility these books would have for one's patrons. Enter PDA. With e-book aggregators providing hundreds of thousands of e-books on demand, it's now possible to provide immediate access to content users would otherwise need to wait days to receive.
There are both attributes and drawbacks to this service.
Recently, I spoke with a colleague whose small college consortium spent $25,000 in a year on patron-purchased e-books. In 2009, Duke University, a participant in ebrary's patron-driven acquisitions pilot, blew through $25,000 in 14 days (Hadro, 2010). Both institutions claimed their PDA programme a success.
In each case, 100 per cent of the expenditures went towards providing users with content, unlike print book purchases where a large percentage are never used.
To the question of defining success, it seems to reside within a combination of qualitative and quantitative factors. Given that the purchase cost (though perhaps not the total cost of ownership) of a print book is less than an equivalent PDA book, and that the availability of the print book usually exceeds by a few months appearance of the electronic, providing the availability of a user to access the electronic means there is unique value in the electronic.
Finding and sustaining the right spending pattern is clearly necessary. If PDA is not sustainable fiscally, the alternative is to purchase e-books on patrons' behalf – not an entirely bad option, but one that limits the breadth of available titles. A sustainable spending pattern is predicated, in part, on the vendor's business model. If e-books can be rented, knowing when to own rather than rent a title is critical. Like any collection, most books that are used will be used sparingly. However, a small set of books will be used a lot. Predicting these titles can help optimize value. If the vendor's model includes only a purchase option, getting high use from these titles is critical, and reliant, to some degree, on the size of the e-book collection being offered.
PDA appeals to the gambler in me. But knowing when to walk away from the table is critical, and to this Kenny Rogers's refrain I wonder whether PDA is merely a novelty whose shine will dull as the percentage of library budgets allocated to it climb excessively. Even if one consequence of a robust PDA programme is a concomitant reduction in interlibrary loan transactions, a PDA model that triggers a purchase will require more dollars to put that content in the hands of users than is the case with ILL. The need PDA serves is library-specific, and its success will therefore be measured by each library differently. Yet one must question whether today's economic climate can sustain such programme's long-term.
Hadro, J. (2010), "Patron-driven Ebook model simmers as Ebrary joins ranks", 14 October, available at: www.libraryjournal.com/lj/communityacademiclibraries/887246-419/patron-driven_ebook_model_simmers_as.html.csp (accessed: 21 March 2010).
This is a shortened version of "Shaping a collection one electronic book at a time: patron-driven acquisitions in academic libraries", which originally appeared in OCLC Systems & Services, Volume 27 Number 3, 2011, pp. 160-162.
The author is Norm Medeiros, Associate Librarian of the College, Haverford College, Haverford, Pennsylvania, USA.