In the years and decades leading up to the digital revolution, academic librarians often questioned how much of the content they acquired in print really got used. Did the books they purchased in advance via approval plans and other methods get used enough to justify the cost of the library’s largely speculative buying? Were those books they bought really what library patrons needed in the first place? Then the universe of content exploded online and overnight, it seemed, an ocean of digital books became available—some for purchase, some via subscriptions, some free (e.g., Project Gutenberg). New ways of building library collections content emerged—ways that would allow librarians to gain valuable insight into patron activities and answer the decades-old question at the heart of collection development: Are libraries acquiring what patrons need?
The last few years have seen a steady proliferation of business models used for selling and acquiring ebooks by libraries, each with a unique set of benefits and challenges, but no other model has held as much promise to give patrons what they needed—at the moment they needed it—as Demand-Driven Acquisitions (DDA), also known as Patron-Driven Acquisitions (PDA). This is because at its core, DDA places the user (the patron), not the librarian or the publisher, in the driver seat. For the first time in the history of institutional book buying, patrons decide, for a portion of titles, what the library collects, leaving publishers and vendors without the predictability they enjoyed for many decades before ebooks came around.
Why were so many libraries and vendors happy to give up control at first? Hasn’t the industry invested the past two decades in the argument that quality will always trump quantity in research and that content filtered by professionals—not random users, even if they were savvy researchers—is far superior to what is freely available online? And haven’t we also argued that information literacy—the ability to find and evaluate information at hand—in and of itself needs to be taught and learned? The simple, and somewhat paradoxical, answer is: by giving up control all sides would eventually benefit. For libraries, it meant that a larger pool of titles would be immediately available for discovery—the titles they would never buy outright—and this in turn meant that the library would be able to support their patrons’ research at the point of need. For publishers, it meant incremental revenue and more revenue from the backlist that libraries either overlook or never have any intention of buying through other means. And for patrons, the ultimate beneficiaries, it meant that they would have immediate access to what they needed when they needed it, while remaining blissfully unaware that their actions were driving the buying. Continue reading Demand-Driven Acquisitions: Do Library Patrons Get What They Need?