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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995

Access vs. Ownership: A SUNY University Center Libraries Study of the Economics of Document Delivery

Barbara von Wahlde, Associate Vice President for University Libraries, State University of New York at Buffalo, United States of America


This paper examines a research study funded by the CLR (Council on Library Resources) and the SUNY (State University of New York) central administration and looks at issues surrounding the ownership and borrowing costs of scientific journals at the four SUNY Centers (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook). Access to journal articles is compared in three ways: a consortial approach, trad itional interlibrary loan, and commercial delivery services. Data was collected and analyzed in 1994/95 for scientific articles requested through ILL offices at the Center Libraries. Requests were coded and tracked and user satisfaction and opportunity costs were measured via a survey instrument. A decision rule based on cost factors related to ownership vs. delivery will be developed.



What academic library would not like to know when it is more cost effective to own an expensive journal than it is to borrow articles through traditional interlibrary loan channels or to purchase art icles on demand through commercial sources? It is precisely this question that the four University Center Libraries (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, and Stony Brook) of SUNY (State University of New Yo rk) are investigating in a research project, "A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Access Compared to Ownership Costs for High Cost Research Journals." Funding for our $108,000 project is supported by the Co uncil on Library Resources (CLR) and the SUNY Office of Educational Technology with additional cost sharing support from the four University Center Libraries. The grant proposal was submitted in 199 3 and funded in 1994. The study will be completed in 1995.

The simplest and most straightforward way to describe our research study is to divide it into four segments:

  1. background information on previous University Center collaborative efforts;

  2. a description of the research study objectives and specifics including the methodology;

  3. an update on our progress; and

  4. the implications of the study for us and other libraries. I have drawn upon our grant proposal, our meeting minutes, and periodic reports for my text.

Background Information (See Annex 1)

( During the past several years, Libraries of the SUNY University Centers have engaged in a series of cooperative ventures to implement a program of cooperative collection development and resource sha ring through expedited collection access. A 1988 Department of Education Title II-D Research and Demonstration grant led to a four campus study of the application of telefacsimile and scanning techn ologies as a means of improving accessibility to remote information and as a commitment to further inter-institutional cooperation.

Since then, each University Center Library has purchased ARIEL software developed by the Research Libraries Group (RLG). The Centers have established policies which guarantee priority respo nse to each other's interlibrary loan requests. This special ILL operation is called "SUNY Express" by the four Centers.

A co-development project in the late 1980's with NOTIS (now owned by Ameritech) supported the design of the PacLink software, a Z39.50 linkage among the Center catalogs. Through easy linkage to our catalogs, ILL (interlibrary loan) staff can determine whether volumes are on the shelf or checked out. PacLink also facilitates the sharing of databases mounted locally with special licensing arran gements and accessible to center users through our linked catalogs.

The Center Libraries were awarded a "Cooperative Planning Grant" by the CLR in 1991 to conduct in-depth journal use and interlibrary loan studies and to begin involving their campus communities in t he development of policy as a move toward greater inter-institutional interdependence.

This steady building of our collaborative relationship and the data gathered from earlier joint projects prepared us to seek additional outside and local support for this research study which specif ically focuses on ownership and access costs. Escalating journal subscription costs of expensive scientific journals and budget increases that do not cover inflation have left us with declining purc hasing power. We must collaboratively, wisely, and economically build our collections together and make cost effective decisions on how and when to provide access for our users.

Research Study Objectives and Methodology

Our research study is managed by the University Center Library directors working closely with the project Research Director, Dr. Bruce Kingma. The study is supported by our interlibrary loan heads a nd their staffs. Dr. Kingma, an economist specializing in the economics of information, is jointly appointed in the School of Information Science and Policy and the Economics Department at SUNY Alba ny.

A theoretical model developed by Dr. Kingma will be used to determine financial cost savings, financial efficiency, and local ownership compared with document delivery via a consortium of the SUNY U niversity Center Libraries (SUNY Express); traditional interlibrary loan or commercial supply/delivery services. Using the economic models and data gathered, two cost-benefit analyses of document de livery will be developed. (See Annex 2). The first analysis focuses on the library cost savings of local ownership versus different document delivery choices which utilize document scanning and tra nsmission equipment. (See Annex 3). For the second analysis, the focus is on the user's opportunity cost with different document delivery approaches. Additional intriguing and related research is sues are raised by the study. (See Annex 4).

An important objective of the proposal is wide dissemination of the research study results because of their value to the research community and to academic libraries facing the same economic issues. More on our dissemination plans will follow.


After our proposal received funding, the data gathering methodology was changed. Originally, the plan called for us to sequester 50 expensive, lesser-used, journal titles and to request articles fr om them through ILL even though they might be owned on site. However, this approach set up an unreal situation for our users and would have been difficult for other libraries to replicate. Instead, we chose to study actual interlibrary loan requests.

During the 1994 fall semester, the Center ILL offices marked science requests (Library of Congress classification letters Q, R, S, T, or W) for inclusion in the study. Normal procedures were used t o determine holdings and the borrowing source. This resulted in a reasonable distribution among SUNY Express, traditional ILL, and commercial document delivery.

Last summer, Dr. Kingma designed the survey instrument with the advice of the Center participants and pre-tested it. ILL users were asked about the timeliness of the service, the quality of the ser vice, and the value of their time spent waiting for the article to be delivered. Another question asked the user to relate their satisfaction with the delivery service in comparison to having a loca l subscription of the journal. The article and the survey were sent to the requestor together.

Demographic data about the requestor was solicited: status (graduate student, undergraduate, library staff, professional rank, other) and the academic unit with which the user was affiliated. Infor mation on the journal price, frequency of requests, cost of delivery, and time and method of delivery were recorded locally.

Responses returned were about 50 percent, more than were expected might be returned. Data for articles acquired but without returned survey forms was still tallied. Since some users may have recei ved more than one survey, this may account for some of the non-responses.

Progress Report

Our study is nearing completion. Data was gathered during the fall, and the survey tabulated and analyzed in the spring. Dr. Kingma worked closely with our ILL staffs on the costs of ILL services at each of the Centers over the spring 1995 semester.

Additional research for the summer of 1995 includes several different calculations to establish a decision rule as to when ownership becomes more cost effective than access through document delivery . (See Annexes 5 and 6).

What have we learned so far? The primary users of the science and math journal articles requested were graduate students. On average, graduate students were more willing to pay for delivery than w ere undergraduates. Faculty were the group least willing to pay. None of the groups was willing to pay much for either one-hour delivery or one-day delivery. Document delivery via SUNY Express too k, on average, four days less than OCLC related delivery. (See Annex 7).


With the completion of our study, we intend to share what we have learned with the research community, academic libraries, administrators from higher education, and the organizations that sponsored our work. We expect that our study can be replicated by others using local costs and satisfaction levels thus providing guidance to other libraries struggling with these same economic issues. To ma ke access a viable option, good business decisions based on costs, benefits, methods of delivery, and user costs both in terms of time and expense will be needed. Decision rules from our study can s erve as models for others able to gather and analyze data locally. An understanding of the optimum combination of journal subscriptions, commercial document delivery, consortium delivery and members hip, and the most efficient speed of delivery will be welcomed by many institutions. Not only will libraries be confident that they are making cost effective and good service decisions, but academic administrators will be confident of the library's managerial and policy decisions regarding ownership and access. Our users will understand better why decisions are made about retaining or not reta ining various journal titles based on collection development policies grounded in research and established with consortial agreements.

Dr. Kingma will publish the complete study results in a special issue of the Journal of ILL, Document Delivery and Information Supply. Later, it will appear as a book with Haworth Press.

A major conference on the economics of information in the context of higher education is planned for fall, 1995. Scheduled for September 18-19 in the Sheraton City Centre, Washington, D.C., the "Ch allenging Marketplace Collisions to Problems in the Economics of Information," is designed to attract academic officers, chief information officers, economists, interested faculty, librarians, comput er professionals, and representatives from higher education associations. Besides CLR and SUNY University Centers, the ARL (Association of Research Libraries), CNI (Coalition for Networked Informati on), and NASULGC (National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges) are endorsing and supporting the conference. The conference should be of interest to many constituencies that ca re about the economics of university information resources and the scholarly communication process. Topics to be addressed at the conference include: costs and benefits of electronic journals, unive rsity investments in information and technology, digital libraries, case studies in transforming scholarship, economics of the Internet, and economics of resource sharing. Conference proceedings wil l be published by the Office of Scientific and Academic Publishing of ARL some time in 1996.


Knowing when to own, and when to borrow as well as how to borrow are questions of common concern to academic and research libraries. This study will provid e us with information that will enable us to assess our effectiveness as a consortia relative to other document suppliers and to on site ownership of journals. Results of our study and the applicati on of the methodology by other institutions can help libraries manage acquisitions budgets, make journal cuts wisely, and select cost effective interlibrary loan and document delivery choices for use rs. Building on our earlier research efforts and other studies, our grant focuses on a theoretic economic model for cost savings and the opportunity costs of users with various document delivery pro viders. Formulation of decision rules to help make ownership and access choices will also be an outcome of this study.

Our findings will be disseminated through journal articles, monographic publications and conference proceedings. Libraries should find our research relevant and replicable for their own decision ma king regarding journal ownership or access.