On the 20th April I travelled over to one of the stops on the British Library roadshow circuit. I was interested to hear about a number of developments, as well as catching up with a number of old friends and colleagues in the document supply field.
Future Developments BL Document Supply Service, Barry Smith
The theme of the day was looking at ideas that they can help with in times of fiscal crisis. He noted that the BL needs to generate revenue to support its wider goals, and this is what Document Supply services is about. He noted the biggest change is the major overall planned in their document supply services in the coming three years.
Background is more people are now in tertiary education than ever (estimated 140M+ globally as of 2006), and likewise more research than ever is being produced. Developing markets (India and China) exploding in terms of production. Creates an increased demand at the faculty level for the average number of articles read a year by academics 1977 (150 articles) by 2006 (271 articles). As a result the number of titles that are being subscribed to by unis has increased – more or less doubled in 10 years. However, hard times are ahead- current expenditure of £10M a year spent by BL on acquisitions cannot continue.
Discussed academic libraries’ coping strategies (from a study conducted by Newcastle University) – plans how each will cope with the cuts. The largest portion by far said that 33% would respond by requesting more funding from their central bodies, but how realistic is this? Next on the list were cuts in book funds and serials funds. Staff cuts were above cutting Big Deals in 2009, but by 2010 these had risen dramatically in prominence. In US they protect acquisitions above staff. Notable that in the face of all this fiscal uncertainty that publishers remain bullish over increasing prices their prices; a deeply lamentable situation that a decade of open access has yet to impact upon.
A graph showing the demand on BLDSC for documents from m1973-2010 showed peak in requests in the period 1999/2000 (over 4M requests a year). Now this has dwindled to lowest point over this 30+ year period (less than 1.5M a year). Price vs cost of copies the current charge for an article is £5.40, but the cost to BL to supply is £6.64, thus there is expected to be a rise in the charge to libraries in the future. A project at the BL called Document Supply Futures is looking at manual activities to retrieve items and photocopy or scan. Increasing acquired digital content over physical held to reduce the manual processes need to distribute.
In the room only a few people (institutions) are already using Fileopen it seems (aside from Scotland). Barry noted that Adobe Digital Editions upgrades are built for Ebooks technologies not document supply, and this is major reason for the shift to Fileopen. Right now they are waiting for the tipping point to start planned withdrawal of ADE, but date as yet undecided. 36% of academic customers now on Fileopen, mostly in Scotland. Barry outlined the advantages of moving to Fileopen (I’m already convinced and we’ll be running tests on it at Leicester in the coming months, with a plan to move to it for academic year 2010/11). Most experiences in the room with FO were good, some initial Mac problems, but these seem to have been resolved by the BL team now. Barry noted that they are trying to move to a point where you wouldn’t even need a plug in to open Fileopen, but for now one is needed.
HE subscription model discussed – two year tie in – with the savings really beginning from August 2010 as transactional charges are frozen.
- Transactional model
- Aug 2009: £5.40 copies/£9.90 loans
- Aug 2010: £5.85 copies/£10.80 loans
- Subscription model
- Aug 2009: £4.95 copies/£9.90 loans
- Aug 2010: £4.95 copies/£9.90 loans
Development of the UK Research Reserve (UKRR), Pavan Ramrakha
In a rather brief talk Pavan gave an overview of this HEFCE funded partnership. With £9M over 5 years this aims to protect research info and free up 100km of shelving allowing collaborative collection management, and free up space for libraries. This allows disposal of material that is held by other members of the partnership as it will be supplied for free between them and the BL. 29 members are currently signed up to this, and membership is now closed. Since the start about 15km of space generated and 3% of the materials withdrawn have been deposited to the BL.
Within the membership supply is <24hrs and you can have branding on documents supplied, thus it appears as though the document comes from within your own institution. You can customise the coversheet with your local information.
EThOS a year in review, Barry Smith
For me one of the highlights of the event was to hear about where EThOS had reached. Barry explained that there was going to be a JISC/BL review of service in the coming year and we would have a chance to be involved in this. Currently there are 7,600 theses downloads a month vs 400 items a month for the old microfilm service (interestingly this is comparable to a mid-sized IR). He acknowledged the issues over summer 2009 where demand far outstripped capacity to digitise. Throughput dropped from 30 day to 90 day turnaround per item and the BL employed three shifts to get over the backlog. In terms of the age of theses being digitised – three quarters (73%) are post 1995. 69% of ETHOS users are from the UK, which is perhaps not a surprise when you realise that the site is neither indexed by Google nor promoted overseas. The BL fear is that this would increase demand beyond their capacity to digitise, although EThOS is hardly a secret I would say within the global academic community. There was also the issue that more traffic to the site would mean more pressure on their servers.
109 universities are involved (Oxford and Cambridge still notable hold-outs) and as of 2009 (Jan) 94 of these were by the subscription model. By Jan 2010 this had dropped to 72 using this university pays model, with the remainder switching over to the first user pays model. Barry acknowledged that there are concerns from those universities on the subscription model effectively paying for the theses in other institutions to be digitised as well as funding their own subscriptions & digitisations. He argued that many are unhappy with this state of affairs digitising stock that is not of interest to their core (local) audience.
Cost cuttings over the next four years in HE libraries means that participation in EThOS may well be seen as more of a luxury (although personally I suspect I would be hard-pressed to resource effective digitisation for the relatively small fee we pay), Many unis are also stopping loaning theses on the back of their involvement in EThOS. BL is seeking a way of making EThOS a more representative archive, rather than a patchwork. They also want to find a new way to fund it, in many respects they can’t continue to expect Universities to bank roll digitisation the way they have done.
“Monetising” ETHoS is a way forward possibly was considered – charge non UK-HEI users was suggested but rejected as they could just use IRs to access the same files. Another suggestion was to give more information on who is requesting a thesis to the universities (status and affiliation) so they can make a value judgement and consider if it is a priority to digitise a thesis in response to a request. Discussions about asking for digital copy from authors, and noted that Leicester and Nottingham were among the few to do this in the room.
One thing that was a little shocking was how EThOS handles inappropriate levels of request (tens and hundreds) from single individuals. They do monitor this, somehow – they didn’t go into depth, but they do not actually have a fair use policy for the service. I find this somewhat surprising for a major national service of EThOS’ age. Barry cited a recent incident where a US woman requested 300 theses – their approach was to use Google Street view to look at her house, assess whether this looked academic and then ring her up. To me this hardly seems a robust or systematic approach, and it does seem that EThOS is now finally thinking about developing a proper fair use policy.
One thing I did take away from this talk is that I still have my doubts about how effectively EThOS is being run, but at least now the BL do seem to be beginning to acknowledge the myriad of concerns that I’ve heard throughout the HE community past couple of years.
A question from the floor was about the microfilm theses that for years the BL created – why were these now no longer loaned? Barry confirmed that while these could be consulted in the BL reading rooms, that yes they were no longer loaned. The staff who ran the British Thesis Service had been redeployed to work on EThOS and so there wasn’t the capacity to send these. For now their non-loan status was set to continue.
Introduction to New BL Resource Management Platform, David Hughes
David showed off their resource navigator a tool which can help a library manage subscriptions as well as cost-per-articles statistics for e-subscriptions. It offers a federated search with customisable options and an integrated, knowledge base alerts the user where subs are available locally. Not clear why we would want to use this tool, no matter how customisable it was – when our local federated search (single search) tools are already set up.
Next he showed the A-Z manager a low maintenance way of tracking things you have licensed in a single database. Admin tools to make own site. One report allows you to identify where you are subscribing to journals from more than one source, and in terms of reviewing subscriptions I could see how this would be of value to my information (subject) librarian and Periodical team colleagues. No pricing or technological details were mentioned, so it wasn’t clear if either of these two products comes with a price tag, nor the system requirements needed to run them