at The Evergreen State College

Patron-Driven Acquisiton

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The Basics of Patron-Driven Acquisition

Patron-driven acquisition (PDA) is a model for collection development that performs exactly what it describes: library users locating content (journal articles etc.) and purchasing it for single-use. It's a sharp departure from the familiar model of collections where blanket purchases of large databases and books accounts for much of the acquisitions. PDA utilizes the "discoverability" of materials on the internet and posits a new mantra for Collection Development departments everywhere:

Just in time, not just in case.

I mentioned Rick Anderson from the University of Utah when defining "Library" in contemporary society, and his emphasis on patron-driven acquisition is vital at a time when library budgets are essentially vanishing.

To simplify the concept of PDA, a run-down of the benefits, as well as shortcomings, as originally posited by Anderson in a Q&A from Scholarly Kitchen1:

Pros of PDA
  • primarily that it gives users what they want
  • while not explicitly reducing collection costs, it can save money by limiting the number of expensive journal subscriptions with pay-per-article pricing schemes.
  • emphasizes speed and choice

Cons of PDA
  • potentially more expensive per article
  • fundamentally smaller collection

Anderson describes how libraries have evolved in an environment where they could only "buy lots of books and articles that they didn’t need, because that was the only way to guarantee access to books and articles that they did need". Casting off a net and catching whatever is floating in the sea (e.g. the Internet) is infeasible given the precision with which one can target online content. Patron-driven acquisition is not something that can be instantly implemented as a miracle cure for Collection Development departments in university libraries, but it is a conceptual alternative to the sometimes wasteful status quo.

The Amplification of Database Size

In a report entitled "Aggregated Interdisciplinary Databases and Needs of Undergraduate Researchers"2, the immense size of EBSCO is taken into consideration. The critics of mega-databases claim that they are simply too big- rather than expanding them (an eternal goal and bragging point for many databases), they should be contracted. The problem is, according to the researchers, undergraduate inexperience in using them. A student researching "the Library of Alexandria" might run into thousands of full-text articles and not have the research skills to disseminate and choose from such a large selection. "Rather than focus on a limited number of core journals as the interdisciplinary indexes of the past did, the leading aggregated databases appear to be attempting to create gateways to as many publications as possible" (275). Bigger databases lead to greater frustrations for students.

Typical of the convoluted databases and resources available to and encroaching on the library, textbooks published by powerhouses like Pearson are bundling content along with their textbooks that is already available in many university libraries. Essentially, the vendor is claiming that their "'free' product is superior to what the library offers" (276). Perhaps surprisingly, however, is the result of a survey that found that 91.7 percent of librarians at universities found the aggregated databases like EBSCO satisfying. Undergraduates reported that most started a search using Google, but 40 percent started with a database.

- in conclusion, databases plan on adding more and more full-text articles over time
- controlled vocabulary emerged as a point of contention between libraries and databases; students' poor search skills and inability to disseminate worthwhile content can be aided by clear search terms and keywords

The increasing size of databases, the inexperience of students to locate information, and the exorbitant cost of these services all point to a fundamental issue with the way the Daniel J. Evan's library spends its money.


2"Aggregated Interdisciplinary Databases and Needs of Undergraduate Researchers"