Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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5.6 Access to the whole database
There were two messages we heard from institutions involved in PEAK: the desire for flexibility in pricing (an ability to make choices) and the value of providing access to the entire database. Of these, perhaps not surprisingly, the second message was one we also heard from other customer environments, such as OhioLINK and Toronto, where the user has access to the entire database — namely, there is significant use of articles from non-subscribed titles. Therefore, anything we could do to increase access to the whole database would be a win-win solution for ScienceDirect subscribers.
In PEAK, it follows therefore that the most satisfied participants were those using the generalized subscription model. They liked the notion of having access to the entire database and of not having to pre-select on a journal title basis. Even though almost everyone overbought bundles in 1998, that was generally a reflection of the slower start-up (i.e., if one annualized the monthly use near the end of 1998, the total purchase for the year would generally have been correct). The purchases for 1999 were much more accurate. This also reflects, in our judgment, the need for marketing and promotion (only recognized late in the process) and the need to build a knowledgeable user base.
It is worth briefly considering the experiences of one PEAK customer, Vanderbilt University, in a bit more detail. Going into PEAK, Vanderbilt subscribed to 403 of the 1,175 Elsevier journals in PEAK at a cost of approximately $700,000 per year. They chose to use only the generalized model, paying $24,600 for 5,400 tokens in 1999. For many reasons (including the Michigan requirement for a registration process, normal ramping up and the critical introduction part way through the year of a link from their OPAC), tokens were not used at the rate anticipated, ending 1998 with slightly more than 2,800 tokens used. More interesting, however, is what was purchased with these tokens. First, there was heavy use of the engineering titles, attributed to the generally poor quality of the engineering paper collection. Haar commented, "Thus information-starved engineering quickly recognized PEAK as a dream come true..." Second, looking more broadly, Vanderbilt users accessed articles from 637 journals. Of those, 45% (289) were also subscribed to in paper. The remaining 55% (348 titles) were not subscribed to in paper. And, of the 403 titles Vanderbilt subscribed to in paper, 114 (28%) were not used online.
In his paper, John Haar of Vanderbilt ascribes some of this behavior to the engineering situation and some to the fact that there was little promotion of PEAK availability within the medical community. I agree with Haar that some of the lower online use of titles subscribed to in paper may be attributable to problems Elsevier had in providing current issues. If an important journal can be read more quickly in paper than online, then it may not be surprising that the online use is modest. That is, admittedly, a more optimistic spin on the data, but one that we believe has to be considered in evaluations.
It is interesting to compare data during essentially the same time (April 1998 - March 1999) on the use of Elsevier and Academic Press journals by OhioLINK. At the annual American Library Association meeting in June, 1999, Tom Sanville, Executive Director of OhioLINK, presented these average use figures for the 13 universities within OhioLINK:
1,345 Elsevier and Academic journals were available, of which on average (at the institutional level) 362 were owned in print
1,035 journals had articles downloaded from them
of the 1,035 downloaded articles, on average, 318 were held in print and 735 (about 70%) were not held in print
19,284 articles were downloaded, of which 9,231 (48%) were from journals not held in print
This reinforced for us a essential message: there is tremendous value in finding ways to give people access to the entire database. Although there are some collection development librarians who have continued to argue strenuously on listservs that is it essential to select and acquire only on a title-by-title basis, the facts do not support that position. Clearly, in an era of limited funding and budgets inadequate to acquire everything needed by faculty and students, systems that make it easy to access a broad range of refereed information offer significant user advantages. Having said this, however, it is clear that there is still room for much more research in how users actually use services such as ScienceDirect, what value they place on which functionalities and content, and which enhancements they will appreciate most.