Barriers to accessing e-resources

At another UKSG breakout session Dave Pattern from the University of Huddersfield presented a humorous, stat-filled presentation (proving the two can go hand in hand), about the difficulties faced by users when accessing online library content.

To prepare for the presentation he’d posted a question on twitter:

and received a plethora of responses, including ones from our very own @mcbjazz,  which broadly fell in issues around:


With the number of responses he had he said he had enough content for about 32 presentations, not one but essentially the crux of his argument was about how difficult we, libraries, publishers, aggregators make it for users to access e-content. This is at odds with the expectation of the user who is looking for the easiest and most convenient way, hence their propensity to use Google and Wikipedia. This is demonstrated by a quote from a college freshman as part of Carol Tenopir’s research:

“Why is google so easy and the library so hard?”

and other researchers have found that users will sacrifice the quality of information for accessibility (Morville, 2005).

Dave illustrated how difficult it was to access online library content with an access query he’d recently had from a student. The user was faced with 3 potential log-ins; publisher, Shibboleth and Athens all of which Dave tried and failed. With the number of clicks and pages the user would have to go through to find out the article was not available via that route it is easy to see why users get frustrated and give up using library e-resources. Dave did a search on Google, found the article and emailed the user.

So the challenge is for libraries to make access like Google and resource discovery is addressing this but the publishers need to make more content available via resource discovery – this is non-negotiable. At Summon camp it was mentioned that an institution in the US asks whether the provider is on Summon and if they are not they will not purchase the item. As we’re currently implementing Summon is this a policy we would want to endorse? Should we not renew any products not available on Summon?

Since implementing Summon at Huddersfield Dave estimates there has been 70-80% decrease in the number of access queries, previously spending 5 hours a week and now it’s probably an hour a week. So it’s having impact and resource discovery is removing some the barriers to accessing e-resources.

What’s interesting at Huddersfield is how they are using usage stats from Summon and linking it to educational attainment via the JISC Library Impact Data Project. Through deeper analysis they’re attempting to find indicators of academic success and failure: does using e-resources at unsociable hours indicate low achievement? What are the information seeking behaviours of high achievers? Gathering data around this is really useful because if you are able to state “Students who use the library’s e-resources get better grades” it has much more clout in terms of library marketing rather than focussing on all the stuff we have and reminds me of the message Terry Kendrick gave at his marketing training to BCU staff.

Another interesting thing they do at Huddersfield is make recommendations to the borrower on the OPAC, similar to amazon which has meant an increase in borrowing of unique titles, for more details look at COPAC data activity project.

For a copy of Dave Pattern’s slides click here.

Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) at Royal Holloway

Anna Grigson presented a case study of PDA or demand driven acquisition at Royal Holloway as a breakout session at the UKSG 2012 conference.  They decided to pilot PDA because of the mismatch between what the library has and what users want. It is estimated that up to 40% of budgets are wasted buying stock that users do not want. The benefits of PDA are:

–          users get just in time access

–          the library gets better value and staff time is saved

–          the collection is a better fit to user need

Anna described the various different PDA models available: Purchase, Rental, capped pay per view and evidence based selection.

Implementation process

They opted for the Rental Model and they set the following criteria:

–          £10,000 of the acquisitions budget would be set aside for the pilot

–          Review after one term

–          Offered access to 120,000 ebooks; all subjects were included but exclusions applied to ebooks over £250, some languages & some academic publishers

–          Threshold to purchase was set at 4th view of item

–          Each user was limited to 3 loans per day & the length of loan was limited to 1 day

–          There was no mediation, so when the user clicked on the link it went straight to the ebook rather than waiting for librarian approval

–          There was no publicity


Problems with implementation

–          finalising exclusion criteria was difficult

–          deduplicating existing ebooks was difficult because of issues around ISBNs which meant some ebooks were purchased again

–          loading the records on to the library catalogue needed to be done in batches of 10,000 and there was a few weeks delay in loading them on to their resource discovery, Summon


–          the first use was within 30 minutes of adding records to the catalogue

–          the first purchase was triggered within a couple of days

–          the pilot was ended after 6 weeks as all the allocated money had been spent – it seems a term was optimistic! – with 70% of the budget spent on renting ebooks and 30% spent on purchasing ebooks



Royal Holloway still want to go ahead with PDA but would like to explore capped pay per view, the model used by JISC. They would reduce the number of ebooks made available, introduce mediation and also make it clear to the user on the library catalogue which texts are part of the library’s collection and which are not.


Other institutions were invited to share their experience of PDA:

At Kings College they have amended their ILL workflow and will check to see if an item is available via PDA and if it is will direct the user that.

At Newcastle University they currently spend 1/3 of their acquisitions budget on PDA. They piloted with £75,000, which like Royal Holloway, found was spent up very quickly. The service was mainly used by final year students and users from faculties who were scoring low on the NSS. When the library spoke with academics about the use of PDA academics were very concerned about what students would purchase. However they were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of reading and in some instances lecturers updated their reading lists to reflect these new purchases.

There was also an interesting debate around whether it should be PD Acquisition or PD Access. Rather than collection building and owning material there was a suggestion we should be moving towards providing access to content at article and chapter level as this is what users want.

A copy of Anna’s slides can be viewed here



2011 UKSG Conference, Harrogate : libraries and the ‘discovery deficit’.

photo In 1931 the critic Walter Benjamin described in his essay ‘Unpacking My Library’ the intimate side of collecting books, how each book brings with it a particular memory or association: ‘the whole background of an item adds up to a a magic encyclopedia’. He goes on to develop this idea further in the influential Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction(1936), where he describes how modern works of art (such as photography, film) lose this unique ‘aura’ of association, once they can be copied over and over again,

image credit:Nesster

whereas older forms (such as painting, sculpture) still keep their ‘authenticity’ intact. As a result of this changing mode of production, new relations between author and public develop, the artist loses their separatedness, and readers turn into writers.

This struck me as a good thread to follow through the talks at the UKSG conference I recently attended. In his keynote address, John Naughton (The Open University and Cambridge University Library) referred to what he called the disruptive innovation’ of capitalism, and its effect on markets where ‘the basic unit of communication is shrinking’. He gave as examples both Amazon, that now sells Kindle Singles alongside books, and also iTunes where individual ‘tunes’ are now downloaded instead of ‘albums’ (this is where some of us get misty-eyed and reach for our vinyl). The digital age creates new, sometimes temporary, forms of consumption that have shattered artistic ‘auras’ long ago. What would Benjamin have made of the enhanced e-book, I wonder?

Many libraries and publishers have not yet fully woken up to this yet. Andy Powell’s talk Open, social and linked – A ménage à trois of content exploitation’ showed how Web 2.0 has revealed new forms of social relations that challenge our ‘academic inertia’. He drew on work by Dave White of Oxford University on ‘Visitors and Residents‘,which moved beyond concepts of ‘digital native’ and ‘digital immigrant’ to identify new categories of student users.

Whereas the web is social and-behaviour changing (see The Machine is Us/ing Us‘ video); libraries are still content-centric, and we often show a ‘mis-match between repository architecture and real-world social networks’. (And to add to that, I would say we still manage library systems that were built on the book, or a list of books, rather the article or the chapter; publishers still bury content for us in large, unwieldy aggregated e-resources, and some of them even build ‘discovery tools to help us discover their own content – which is nice).

Publishers face similar disruptions, and as Philip E. Bourne pointed out in Digital research,analog publishing : one scientist’s view , even the PDF (that ‘irreducible’ commercial unit) is being open up to semantic tagging of PDF. So researchers are suddenly commenting on, and sharing texts, as scholarly  communication is socialized, and there is a corresponding flurry of new pricing models for students – the most obvious of which is ’patron-driven acquisition’ (PDA) for e-books.

Terry Bucknell’s review of current e-books practice at Liverpool, Buying by the Bucketful advocated a mixed economy but also advised caution in getting the best deal. Sarah Pearson’s session on KBART showed how it was difficult to achieve consortial agreements with publishers on common knowledge base standards for link resolvers. KBART is making steady progress here, and that means sharing publisher metadata at the micro-level .If you look beyond the comfort blanket of a standard model license, the fragmented nature of the e-journal market with all it different pricing mechanisms is all that you see. That effect is multiplied the more we deal with agents, and agents of agents.

Multiple market-led technologies are still driving this change, so the question is not just whether or not It’s a Book, but how many formats is this ‘stuff’ available in? As Rick Anderson put it, in The Future of the Collection Is Not a Collection : before the Internet,libraries were an ‘information temple with the librarian as high priest to grant the sacred knowledge, now they are ‘one of many store fronts offering access to information at a price’. The key word here is many : theplatform fragmentation’ that so bedevils the mobile world (versions upon versions of apps and software that don’t always work together) is rife in other media too, such as  Blue-ray v. DVD.

That’s where us librarians come back in, helping to navigate our students through the format jungle. We need not only to develop tips and tricks ourselves (like the ones Tony Hirst talked about) but also be aware of how many different ways there are to search for, and to comment on, an ever expanding universe of texts. (see for example my comment on a quote from Benjamin which I recently tweeted from my Kindle : the ‘plurality of copies’ he talks about in his essay looks forward to our digital age ).
The ‘magic encyclopedias’ have gone – but the ‘discovery deficit’ (as pointed out by Cameron Neylon) is still with us. This ‘stuff’ is still buried within institutional and commercial silos, and we need to shine more light on it.

Or as Groucho Marx put it :
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read’.

UKSG 2010 : two tribes ?

desk fan from UKSG

desk fan from UKSG

The programme for the recent UKSG conference that I attended covered a fascinating mix of topics from across the entire spectrum of e-resources.  Many of the sessions were blogged about ‘live’, and a constant stream of delegate tweeting with the hashtag ‘#uksg’ ensured debates both on and off the main conference platform.

Why my title ‘two tribes’ ? Some of us might remember the Frankie Goes to Hollywood video of ‘Two Tribes Go to War‘ – and there certainly were two ‘tribes’ of librarians and publishers in evidence upstairs on the conference platform, (whilst downstairs the real horse-trading was being done over coffee!). But there have been other more complex divisions : a librarian called Meredith Farkas blogged recently on whether EBSCO was the new ‘evil empire’ over its practice of exclusivity (‘you can’t have the journal if you’re not in the club’ approach) – a practice which earlier this year drove Gale/Cengage to publish an open letter to EBSCO.

A time of war is usually a time of increased technological consumption and certainly the librarian-technologists were out in inspirational force: Richard Wallis (Talis) flagged up early on in his talk that that the ‘student doesn’t care where resources come from’ & we should be using technology to bring the resource directly to them; a theme taken up by Tony Hirst (Open University) and Lucy Power(Oxford Internet Institute) as they showed how researchers use social networks and other Web 2.0 tools for resource discovery.

Looking ahead, Richard Padley also pointed the way to the benefits of the ‘semantic web‘ of open, linked data (highlighted by the recent release of free government data – an event significant enough to draw comment from EDINA, who in a recent press release seem to be holding back details of their new DIGIMAP deal whilst they absorb the impact of this.) In this session, Richard spoke tellingly for me about how commercial pressures could lead to an  ‘arms race’ as each publisher creates ‘big silos of content’, with a different interface.

In terms of resource discovery, though they are all looking much the same: from what I saw of  Proquest’s new interface (for all CSA and Proquest databases) it adopts the standard ‘one search to rule them all’ ; facets down the left and a googlised ‘did you mean’ search.  The market is still dominated by the big deals, the big aggregators & their even bigger business lawyers. Ted Bergstrom spoke of the case last year when Elsevier attempted to block public release of license terms by taking Washington State University in court. Closer to home, we’ve had Murdoch’s paywall leading to titles being taken off Lexis- Nexis. It’s a shame Denis Potter is no longer with us – I would have like to have heard him respond : he was good on Murdoch.

Where are librarians in all of this? Do we retreat to the warm, comfortable bunker of the catalogue cave, to measure, count and classify? Sue White and Graham Stone gave an excellent presentation on how they had used statistics at the University of Huddersfield to ‘maximise use of their library resources’ – showing how good results correlate to good use of e-resources. One starting point for Huddersfield was their logins to ExLibris’ Metalib (doing this sort of stuff is so much easier when an institution has a login-point for e-resources).

There were other useful debates on metrics – and it was said more than once that statistics achieve a kind of ‘fetish-like status’. Hugh Look (Rightscom) drew on  Claude Levi-Strauss (the ‘father of modern anthropology’), and linked his theories of the  ‘raw and the cooked’ in early societies to the ‘unmeasured’ and ‘measured’ in the world of  library metrics. He spoke of the ‘rise of the managerial class who are the main beneficiary of a measurement culture’.

It struck me that the losers in any such Cold War are the students : and the few sessions that focussed on their experience were immensely valuable. Alison Brock from the Open University looked at e-book readers – though even here the publisher’s favourite weapon  (propietary format control: you can download library content on a PC not on a Sony reader : put me in mind of why I don’t like Apple but that’s another story). The other breakout session I attended was from Philippa Sheail – a brilliant reality check: how the student doesn’t really care where this stuff comes from , and who publishes it – they just want access.

So is the case –  as Winston Churchill said – more recently in Doctor Who – of  ‘KBO ‘ , doing nothing? We like the Daleks – they are our friends ? The last word went to satire and to Marc Abraham‘s presentation on the IgNoble prizes – one of their ‘winners’ for the Peace Prize managed to get the following published in the Journal of Forensic Medicine for determining — by experiment — whether it is better to be smashed over the head with a full bottle of beer or with an empty bottle : “Are Full or Empty Beer Bottles Sturdier and Does Their Fracture-Threshold Suffice to Break the Human Skull? “.

Note the publisher. But before you click on the PDF, (isn’t that helpful, that the link to it comes up first) – you probably won’t get in. We’re not in that particular club.  Or, put it another way : that journal is not in our collection. It’s not the first paywall we’ve seen and it won’t be the last.

As Frankie says, ‘When two tribes go to war/A point is all you can score’.