From “just in case” to “just in time”

Specialist and research libraries are undergoing changes, also in terms of the way they develop their collections. One development is the change from paper-based to digital collections. But the most important trend is the increased use of sources of knowledge. Book borrowing is only slightly on the decline, while digital downloads are shooting ahead.Study groups need to share sources and digital access is on its way to overtake the book. Photo: Aslak Ormestad

Of the specialist libraries’ total budget, the media budget share in both 2004 and 2014 was 33 percent. But during that decade the way in which the funds were shared between paper and digital resources changed significantly.

Between 2004 and 2014, the number of paper books in Norway’s specialist libraries fell from 19 million to 16 million. Well over half the paper books are in the National Library of Norway or in the so-called ‘old’ university libraries in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Tromsø.

Less paper – more electronic 

In 2014, only 287,000 new books were purchased or acquired, a halving of the figure for 2004. That represents an addition to the total library stock of a mere 1.8 percent. What is more, over 100,000 of those books were additions to the National Library’s collection. The paper book collections are slowly being reduced while also becoming increasingly outmoded.

In 2004 specialist libraries had 163,000 print journal subscriptions. Ten years later, that figure had plummeted to a little over 40,000, while electronic subscriptions had grown from 155,000 to 650,000.

Paper book borrowings have remained relatively stable and are now at 1.8 million. But they account for a steadily declining share of the knowledge sources used by students and researchers! While downloads of digital full-text articles were virtually non-existent in 2004, in 2014 they numbered 24 million.

Increase in digital reading

At the Learning Centre and Library at Oslo and Akershus University College (HiOA), of which I am the director, 3.8 full-text articles were downloaded per user in 2005. In 2014 this had risen to 22.1. In 2014 we had 267,000 physical borrowings compared with 291,000 in 2009. That is seven borrowings per user – a little more than the average for the sector.

At HiOA our media budget in 2004 was NOK 4.3 million. Less than NOK 900,000 of this was earmarked for electronic material or databases. In 2014 we spent NOK 12 million on media, of which NOK 7.5 million was used on digital sources.

Looking at all these figures leads to a conclusion that is probably not surprising: purchases of electronic material have mushroomed at the expense of purchases of paper books and print journals. Both in terms of the share of the media budget and what users are reading, it is now digital material that dominates.

Increased weeding 

Last year at HiOA we weeded so much material that the collection was reduced by 10 percent. The greater accessibility of digital resources has brought about increased demands for us to update our paperbased collections. At the same time, it is relatively quick to get older books on interlibrary loans from the National Library’s legal deposit collection.

We have high visitor numbers in our libraries – students come to use group rooms and workspaces. When they actually sit in the library and work, they also borrow books. That means that the greater emphasis on weeding that helps us update the collection and that creates more workspaces for students, actually results in increased borrowing.

From paper to digital

The decrease in the number of paper books purchased means that acquisitions are now made overwhelmingly at the request of researchers and students. There has been a change of direction from developing collections on a ‘just-in-case’ basis to acquisition ‘on demand’. There has also been a change from individual purchases to purchases of large resource packages. Two-thirds of our digital budget pays for subscriptions we purchase via CRIStin.

CRIStin (Current Research Information System in Norway) is a system set up by the Ministry of Education and Research for handling tasks related to research documentation and access to research information. This means that CRIStin is used to administer consortia agreements governing access to various digital knowledge sources and to negotiate with the providers on behalf of the libraries.

In addition to the sources we purchase through CRIStin, we purchase aggregated content from international providers such as EBSCO, Proquest and others. Not many agreements are made directly with individual publishers or individual resources.

Most institutions today have open institutional archives where publications authored by the institutions’ staff are deposited and made available. Last year, there were as many as 7 million downloads from such archives in Norway, mostly through libraries. If collection development is about giving the users access to what they need in the way of knowledge sources, publication is a natural part of libraries’ collection work. For our part this means that, in addition to managing institutional archives, we are also the publisher of a number of Open Access scholarly journals.

Expensive for small libraries

Theoretically, one might imagine it would be easier to be a small library when an increasing share of the media collection is composed of digital resources. But the opposite is the case. Small libraries find it extremely expensive to purchase access to digital resources. The impact is felt especially by small research libraries. Last year HiOA merged with two research institutions whose researchers are now finding they have unprecedented new opportunities brought about through significantly enhanced access to digital sources.

Next year we will merge with another two research foundations, institutions that have barely spent any money at all on purchasing digital access. But those two research foundations bring with them a significant, albeit old, book collection. This is a collection that they have believed to be of great value, but which first and foremost implies increased costs in that it will have to be reviewed for weeding.

Change in institutional structure

The structure of Norwegian higher education is in a process of change inasmuch as several university colleges are merging with the universities in Tromsø, Nordland and Trondheim. The researchers and students at these institutions will experience a significant increase in digital access.

The new structure among these institutions will probably challenge the present price structure at CRISTin. Where other purchasing is concerned, the experience is that the larger the institution and the larger the volume of acquisitions, the larger the discounts.

There is currently no national scheme for funding digital access to knowledge sources. That is primarily a challenge for the public libraries, which barely have the funds in their budgets to effect such access. It is thus up to each institution individually to fund digital access. That is creating big differences between institutions, perhaps so big that they are challenging the political goals of equal rights to education and research?

Director of the Learning Centre and Library Oslo and Akershus University College