Value for money and how this might be demonstrated is very much on my mind.
When looking at e-journals providers often supply usage data at the search or download level which can be indicative of whether the ‘cost per use’ or ‘cost per download’ comes to a total which makes sense. But one must also consider the audience of each individual journal – a rule from library school I remember is that some areas of teaching or research might have very small numbers of interested readers, yet still be ‘core’ in their field.
E-books which are purchased on subscription models can also be assessed in the same way, while those purchased outright can be assessed as to their usefulness and relevance to a collection as a whole. We should not be afraid to retire or ‘weed’ e-books simply because they were purchased in the past, especially when there are platform fees involved which might impact on our budgets.
Print resources, however, are more difficult to assess in terms of their value. They take up space on shelves and have associated costs relating to processing, repair, cataloguing, shelving, and circulation. A collection development policy may discuss areas relating to the condition of the stock when considering disposal, or relevance to current teaching or research disciplines. An item which was high value when purchased may not retain its value through the years, unless it is historically significant or rare in some way.
Many libraries have used the ‘date of last loan’ acid test when looking to withdraw stock; often items which have not circulated for 5-10 years may be candidates for replacement by more relevant books. The ‘condition’ survey is more problematic – poor condition books (which are no longer candidates for repair) may be bound, with the associated costs, or they may need to be replaced by new copies of the same title. A print book in excellent condition may not be of any interest to the customer who frequents the library, while the book falling apart may be in constant demand. Especial care must be taken with regard to reference copies which do not have associated loan data.
How are print books assessed for their scarcity, especially when they have become out of print? Items recommended for reading lists may be impossible to obtain, or only in substandard, second-hand copies, which themselves become candidates for disposal very quickly. This is where the e-book may, in time, be able to make inroads into a collection and provide a new revenue stream for publishers: after all, with journals the back numbers have been very profitable to their suppliers in digital format.
The print journal must also be constantly assessed for value for money. A teaching collection may, where funds provide, support a move to e-format where the title is available in both print and digital types, leaving trade or current awareness titles as the only ones retained in print. Historical print issues should be regularly weeded if there is evidence they are not used (often referred to as ‘the dust test’) or are no longer relevant. We cannot afford to be sentimental about our collections just because we might have spent money on them in the past; rather, consider them as seasonal wardrobes which should be periodically refreshed. In this case, to provide more space for group study or silent revision, or for a planned movement of stock between sites or subject areas.
In my last institution, an objective had been set to reduce the collection across the board, print books and journals, in order to support a move to a new library. We had participated from an fairly early stage in the UK Research Reserve project which allowed print journals to be offered to a British Library-led project for shared storage of low use titles, with donating libraries receiving financial support in lieu of their donation (although in practice there were high costs involved in terms of the administration of the donations and their subsequent disposal or retention as dictated by the UKRR team). Where print books are concerned, there is no such initiative at the moment, although various scenarios were at one point under exploration.
Subject librarians are key to the decision making process and the process of evaluating resources for value for money should be a partnership between them, technical services staff involved in acquisitions, serials and e-resources management, and academics across the institution. Academics know the key titles in their fields (and where budgets are tight, many institutions invoke the ‘one in, one out’ principle where any new request must be accompanied by a matching cancellation). Where print and e are managed separately, there can be little consistent evaluation of resources. It is important for print serials staff and e-resources staff to work together to establish which titles are available in each format, and where any savings may be accrued; the same with print acquisitions and e-book staff, especially where titles may be available from different suppliers.
We are in a changing world with regard to resources – our customers may well be vocal in shaping our policies and strategies (at last year’s UKSG, for example, a postgraduate student claimed he was now ‘entirely digital’ but in becoming free of paper he appeared to be free of the library too) in order for us to survive. It is true that publishers are now experimenting with ‘bite size’ book publications in both print and e formats, but it is unclear whether these will replace the traditional reading list model of set texts and chapters. And what is clear is that we must demonstrate that in embracing these new publishing models and opportunities we must save money and associated resourcing issues at the same time.