Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Penrose Library moves to demand-driven system

Technology has allowed companies to move from stocking large amounts of merchandise to shipping what the buyer wants directly to them. It’s called “on-demand” service and it is used by Netflix and Amazon.

Now, the same concept is being used by librarians at DU’s Penrose library. They call it “demand-driven acquisitions.” 

“This model will allow users the opportunity to select the title and format that most suits their needs and should allow the library to expend its collection funds in a more logical way,” says Michael Levine-Clark, collections librarian at Penrose.

Levine-Clark has been studying this issue for several years and has presented on the topic at a half-dozen conferences, including the American Association of University Presses and the American Library Association.  

He says academic libraries have traditionally purchased books based on potential use by their patrons. Librarians wanted to make sure they offered a wide-variety of materials and needed to make sure they purchased books before they went out of print.

As a result, he says, 40 to 50 percent of books in academic libraries do not get used.

It is no different at Penrose. Of the 126,953 titles purchased between 2000 and 2004, about 50,226 — 39.5 percent — went unused. 

Levine-Clark believes technology is part of the solution. As publishers transition to e-books, paper books should no longer go out of print. In addition, e-books can be purchased “on-demand.”

“This allows us to better serve our patrons,” Levine-Clark says. “We can give them wider access to what they really want, instead of guessing at the possible need.”

This model is already up and running at Penrose Library. Patrons can search a database of e-books and access any one they want. They can also find e-books when searching the library catalog.

All the user knows is that they can read their book of choice. What librarians know is that the book is rented initially; it is only purchased after the fourth use of that book. The system saves money and provides students and faculty with a wider choice of material than would be possible under the traditional method of acquiring books.  

Faculty and students can still request books for purchase and librarians will continue to purchase books and collections that have proven to be of high value. Levine-Clark hopes that as more publishers transition to e-books, libraries will continue to see an increase in the number of books or e-books that are used.

“This is all about service,” he says.

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