Patron Driven Acquisition Libraries Built by Users

Annette Klein
Annette Klein | Photo (detail): © private

Like other academic libraries, Mannheim University Library has since 2010 been trialling a form of acquisition in which the user plays a key role. Dr Annette Klein, head of the library’s media processing department, explains the opportunities offered by Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA).

Dr Klein, what is actually meant by Patron Driven Acquisition?

PDA refers to models in which libraries make media available to their users which the library has not previously acquired but whose purchase is triggered by actual use according to certain criteria. Currently, Patron Driven Acquisition tends to be based on eBooks, though similar models for printed books also exist.

Intensive use is the decisive factor

How exactly does the user acquisition process work?

It differs from library to library. In the models most commonly used today, the library can use an acquisition profile to select relevant eBooks from the total collection of titles available. Library users are given access to the desired titles on the aggregation platform, and the title data are entered into the library’s online catalogue.

When a user comes across a PDA eBook in the catalogue, it will look just like any other eBook in the library’s collection. Via a link contained in the title data, the user is rerouted to the provider’s platform, where a free preview of the book is initially available prior to purchase.

Full access, which requires payment, is only triggered by more intensive use – just what constitutes intensive use is defined differently from one platform to another: it may be if the same title is accessed several times, if it is accessed beyond a certain time limit or if the book is copied, printed or downloaded.

Temporary purchase

And then the library automatically purchases the book?

The library can determine whether a book should be purchased permanently upon initial intensive use, or whether access should first be granted in the form of a temporary personal loan.

Other PDA models also exist, though these are still at the development stage. In one case, the library can offer its users free access over an extended period – one year, for instance – to selected packages for a fixed price. At the end of this period, the library can then decide on the basis of usage statistics which books to permanently include in its collection.

The need for clear criteria

Which requirements do PDA models need to satisfy?

It is essential that new publications be available for PDA without any delay. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. This is a major disadvantage which providers need to remedy as a matter of urgency.

Another requirement is that the criteria which trigger a purchase should be fair. As far as possible, they should be designed such that libraries are not forced to acquire books which are only viewed in order to ascertain whether they are in fact at all relevant for a particular purpose. It needs to be determined whether the criteria that are currently in place are suitable to ensure this.

Furthermore, libraries and their users want providers to lift virtually all the restrictions on use imposed by digital rights management. Users particularly criticize restrictions applying to the use of downloads which currently tend to “expire” after a certain period of time and can then no longer be accessed.

Creating the ideal collection?

Will PDA make specialist librarians redundant in future?

I do not believe so. For specialist librarians it is also an attractive new option to be able to create – at least virtually – an almost ideal collection. Not every single book, after all, has to be approved for sale: if one so wishes, one can create highly distinct PDA profiles and decide on a case-by-case basis whether a particular book should be made available to users or not.

Of course, a much more generous approach is also possible, involving only a very general process of pre-selection. Every library must decide for itself which option makes best sense and is desirable. In any case, the PDA model certainly gives libraries greater scope, allowing them to better support legitimate research interests in many areas.

No flood of buying

How high are the risks to the library’s budget? After all, it is impossible to know in advance just how many books will be purchased over a given period of time.

We have found this to be fairly unproblematic: at no point have we ever experienced a flood of buying – expenses have been incurred on a relatively continuous basis and overall costs have remained within the expected range.

Incidentally, it is perfectly possible to build in a variety of “emergency brakes”: our provider allows us to configure maximum cost limits both for the entire range and for individual subject budgets and indeed for individual eBook purchases.

That said, it is not always the case that PDA is the cheapest means of acquiring an eBook. In some situations, traditional acquisition forms actually offer better value.

Is PDA the acquisition form of the future?

Not the but certainly an acquisition form of the future.