Reflecting on EBASS

This reflection was originally developed for the EBASS25 blog (http://ebass25.rhul.ac.uk) where you can also access other posts that built towards the final project deliverables presented in this toolkit website. It was written by Dominic Tate, EBASS25 Project Manager, Royal Holloway University of London.

On the nature of PDA

The project has been successful in defining four models for PDA, which could be used by individual libraries, or within the context of a consortium of libraries looking to purchase e-books together.

The four models apply different principles to the concept of PDA.  The first three (PDA Purchase, PDA Rental and PDA Usage) are variations on a theme of payment.  Effectively, the spread of titles your users are able to access varies according to the library’s attitude towards payment and ownership.

Imagine a library has £1,000.  If the library wishes to use this money only to buy new material then PDA will allow them to do this easily, but they will buy few books.  If the library is happy to use some of the money to rent, then it will end the agreement with fewer books, but its patrons will have accessed a wider spread of content.  Finally, a library wishing to spend all the money on micropayments will own very few books for the money, but its patrons are likely to have accessed the largest number of books to some extent.

This brings us to the fourth Evidence-based model.  Seemingly the most popular amongst both librarians (see Survey) and publishers (see Feedback), this model allows patrons to access a whole range of content during the course of the agreement, with the guarantee that all the money will be spent on whole books at the end.  Sounds ideal?  Well, almost … here’s the rub.  The library can choose which books they buy at the end of the agreement.  This is great for library choice, but surely this is not truly PDA? There is an intervention between the patron and the purchase.  Surely this adds an indirection and an administrative burden that PDA was designed to eliminate?  However, perhaps this model could still achieve cost savings and facilitate balanced choices when scaled up to a large consortium?

On the Nature of Consortia

Library Consortia are organisations we have engaged with for years, but it is only really through E-BASS25 that I have spent time pondering and analysing the nature, structure and purpose of various library consortia.

As detailed, there are certain consortia with a strong sense of identity (normally with national, regional or subject-allegiance) that have a successful history of consortial purchasing.  This type of consortium is to be found, for example, in a single US state (OhioLINK) or in a small group of adjacent states (Orbis Cascade).  In Europe, these consortia are often found in smaller Western European countries and territories such as Finland, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.

Larger consortia can be unwieldy and can contain very diverse organisations.  In these types of consortia, opt-in deals may work though considerable leadership and administration from the consortium is needed to manage the deals.

On The Way Forward

I believe that consortial e-book purchasing through M25 can work, but it needs strong leadership to bring the deal together for such a large and diverse consortium.  The consortium would need to assert the model, parameters and content, giving its members the chance to opt-in to achieve maximum savings.

A consortium has strength to strike a deal with a publisher because its size maximises sales for the publisher and reduces their overheads of dealing with individual customers.  Libraries similarly benefit through reduced overheads and costs so consortial purchasing is potentially a win-win.

This might best be achieved by using the evidence-based model.  Participating libraries would combine their guaranteed spend to achieve the highest possible leverage.  At the end of the term, those books every partner wants would be bought.  The remaining fund could be divided up in line with the initial deposit, with each partner choosing its books. It is likely that a number of publishers may be interested in trialing this approach, which would benefit from the guidance of such as JISC Collections.