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The showpiece of many Chinese Buffet restaurants is the crab legs. One set price for all your crab hip and legs you can eat. Just how does it be performed by them? Shovel Factor, a measure of how fast a food can be consumed popularized in the early 80’s by noted comic Epicurean Garfield the Cat. Crab legs, while expensive, are difficult to eat quickly, while soda pop (always offered before you assault the buffet) is easy to guzzle and incredibly cheap.
Libraries are gradually getting used to the idea of providing all-you-can-eat services. It used to be that usage of books in a collection was sharply tied to supply. Libraries working with ebooks have to reconcile their objective of providing access with their declining and limited finances. One model for achieving this is recognized as “Patron-Driven” (PDA) or “Demand-Driven” (DDA) Acquisition.
In this model, the collection offers access to a huge menu of content but only pays for material actually utilized by patrons. Since 50% of print material acquired by academic libraries never gets used, this leads to a 50% cost benefits (or 100% increase in bang for the buck, if you do bucks). At the University of Texas Libraries, Dennis Dillon, Associate Director for Research Services, is anticipating continuing budget cuts through 2014. “I only want to invest money on books that have a fighting chance of being utilized” he told me recently. 700,000 is spent by selectors, with per-department allocations made to win faculty “hearts and minds”. The others are divided between traditional print out approval ebooks and programs.
UT’s book budget is applied to a demand-driven plan provided by Ebook Library (EBL). In regards to a 100,000 books are offered at UT through EBL. Patrons can search and view the books for five minutes without incurring any charge to the library. After 5 minutes, a window pops up, requesting the patron if they wish to continue using the book. If the patron continues, the collection is billed for a use of the book, but the patron never knows about the charge.
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The patron can continue steadily to use the publication for 10 days without the library incurring an additional use fee. Within the fourth use of the book name in the collection, an automatic “purchase” is manufactured, and the book is put into the library’s permanent collection. Once purchased, an EBL ebook can be “used” up to 365 times per 12 months. This has never occurred at UT. A major benefit of this model is that all the ebooks available to serve as a sort of digital book stacks. They could be researched and browsed in the same way if these were owned by the library.
This sort of full text search combined with full text message availability is something that even Google Books cannot deliver. UT handles the list of books to minimize its budget risk. For example, all titles over a certain price are taken off the list. No caviar on the Longhorn look buffet! According to Kari Paulson, President of EBL, the patron-driven model developed out of insight from libraries who had been advising them on ebook access models. In particular, Alison Sutherland from Curtin University in West Australia and Jens Vigen from the library at CERN both wanted to be able to put information in their catalog but get them only once a patron requested them.
CERN wanted everything available with a pay-per-view option with a purchase after a place quantity of accesses. The library at CERN acts some of the top physicists in the world, which meant that CERN had no pressing issues trusting that their customers knew best what they needed to read. Patron-driven service models are gaining traction throughout the library market.
EBL has used demand-driven acquisition and pay-per-view as its key differentiators and is currently using the DDA model with about 150 libraries round the world. Netlibrary is doing a kind of demand-driven acquisition even longer using its Netlibrary on Demand service. Ingram’s MyiLibrary service also has patron-driven acquisition options.
Over the past year, ebrary has been tests patron-driven acquisition in a pilot program. According to Leslie Lees, library VP of Content Development, the library program resulted from a surge appealing from its collection customers. I asked Paulson how EBL was able to convince publishers to go with the untested model. Lees explained that in addition to responding to customer needs, ebrary is interested in the “short-term loan” element of PDA since it could open the door to new service models that charm to different posting segments. Interestingly, one company that hasn’t dived into patron-driven acquisition model is public-library market-leader Overdrive; hardly any public libraries have ventured into all-you-can-eat ebook buffets.
Perhaps this reflects their funding situation or perhaps a reluctance of librarians and web publishers to trust public library customers with ebook acquisition decisions. I see no reason that limited patron powered programs, such as ones targeting young-adult literature, couldn’t be successful and deliver value in public areas library settings; they should be explored.
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