The Future of Library Access: Open Access Linking and “Hybrid” Interlibrary Loan

Florida State announced today they are cancelling their Big Deal subscription with Elsevier. The list of libraries cancelling keeps growing.

I’ve been talking to a few librarians of late who have, or who are actively trying, to cancel big deals and it’s become more and more clear to me how immensely hard a thing this is. Cancelling a Big Deal involves a lot of work and staff-power on behalf of the library. There’s the outreach to researchers about what is happening and managing individual ejournal packages can actually be a lot more work from a cataloging and electronic resource management perspective.

As one librarian quoted another librarian as saying, “You can’t cancel your way out of a budget crisis”. It’s not as easy as just cancelling and saving all that money. A large amount of that money will have to go toward building the infrastructure and filling the resource gap Big Deals cancellations create.

I still think they are worth critically evaluating and working toward cancellation though. With Open Access percentages growing it doesn’t make sense that we pay more every year (See my previous blog posts). I think we are going to see more and more critical conversations about Big Deals and cancellations in the next few years.

What really stood out to me in the Florida State announcement though was this bit about how patrons could get access to Big Deal journals that will now be cancelled:

“Much of the demand for articles will be met seamlessly through individually subscribed titles. For unsubscribed content, access will be available by (1) interlibrary loan delivery to the desktop guaranteed within 24 hours (no cost); or (2) expedited delivery within minutes ($30, subsidized by the library.)”

Most libraries have regular vs Rush options for interlibrary loan (ILL), but this is Rush service is something new. Delivery in minutes!? How do they do this? Do they have library staff watching the ILL inbox 24/7, with credit cards out and at the ready to purchase articles?

This got me thinking about another library who has also cancelled Big Deals who has the same approach to ILL, Caltech.

When a researcher tries to access an article the Caltech Library doesn’t subscribe to, they come across a screen like this:

Caltech screenshot


Caltech is giving the user four options here:

  1. Access an open access copy of the article via OAfindr. This is an open access search tool from 1science. No OA copy found for this example unfortunately, but one of the OA options OAfindr would find will be pre-peer reviewed preprints.
  2. Search for a copy in Google Scholar. Always a chance Google Scholar will find an open access copy that OAfindr can’t because Google is just so big and indexes so much.
  3. Request a regular interlibrary loan. Fulfilled by library staff by requesting from other libraries. Takes around 2-48 hours and there is no charge for the user.
  4. Request via RUSH. Filled within minutes. Cost $35 dollars but the library will pay for your first 10 RUSH requests so those ones are free.

So how does Caltech do these RUSH Requests? They use a Commercial Document Delivery service, Reprints Desk.  The article metadata are submitted to Reprints and Reprints fulfills the request within minutes at a cost of $35.00 USD per article. (Like any ILL service, there’s always going to be weird requests that can’t be filled quickly  – or even found at all – but Reprints does appear to be able to acquire articles from all the major publishers)

There are other services like Reprints Desk out there like Copyright Clearance Center’s RightFind.  Usually these commercial DocDel services have been used to fully replace a Library’s ILL services, so it’s interesting to see this hybrid approach of both traditional ILL and commercial DocDel services.

This hybrid approach makes a lot of sense when I think about it now. The weakness of commercial DocDel services is that they overcharge for easy-to-find items and that it’s usually more cost-effective for ILL staff to fill non-urgent requests. The weakness of an ILL department is that they are unable to function 24/7 and fill rush requests as quick as needed. So combining the two works well.

One concern you might have here is that users would always choose the Rush option and libraries costs would balloon. However, looking at the data Caltech has released, this does not seem to be the case. Only 234 of their 9,000 requests were Rush requests in 2017. Just 2%.

So this hybrid approach to ILL seems to work well. The ability to fulfill articles within minutes means it is a solid competitor for researchers trying to get access to article via networks on social media, by emailing the author, or even via Sci-Hub.

When you add the open access linking options, there seems to be a nice little flow chart here:

Untitled Diagram

I really like this approach, it both empowers the user and allows the library to provide multiple options before going with the most expensive one.

Now, all of the above focuses on just articles, book chapters, or other shorter scholarly publications. Users requesting whole books is another beast, because they can’t be emailed and shared as easily! I’m wondering if a similar procedure could be developed, using different options like:

  1. Borrowing the print copy from another library
    • 1-2 weeks for arrival
    • short checkout period
    • No or minimal cost
  2. Short Term Ebook Loan via vendor (ProQuest or EBSCO)
    • immediate arrival
    • very limited access
    • short checkout period (Can renew, but is expensive)
    • high cost relative to short period of access
  3. Demand Driven Access
    • immediate arrival
    • can be limited access depending on vendor
    • long check out period
    • Cost varies from medium to high.
  4. Request gets meditated by library staff member who decides to purchases a print or electronic copy. This option would likely be there if there are no ILL, STL, or DDA options.

A lot of larger libraries already have STL and DDA functioning on the back-end. Users don’t even know that they are initiating a one-off purchase when they select a book instead of accessing a pre-purchased library subscription. Some libraries have even set-up similar DDA services for journal articles via services like ReadCube.

There’s a lot of problems with ILL for books with long wait times (for print versions) or high prices (for online versions). Doing STLs via ProQuest or EBSCO can be especially expensive. Occam’s Reader is trying to fix this by creating a library built STL system.

I could easily see these different options for acquiring a book being laid out in a similar way to the flowchart above though. The library giving the requester different options and letting them know how each of them works. And then letting the user decide. As open access for ebooks starts to grow, especially for archiving for individual chapters, these linking options could be added as well. e.g. “These three chapters from your requested book have open access versions”

Getting back to Caltech’s ILL though, I really do feel their approach of linking to OA versions along with a hybrid approach to ILL is a good step in the right direction. I think this is a good prediction of what discovery and access via the library will look like as Big Deals start to get cancelled.

There’s still a lot more to discuss and do here though. Helping students understand the difference between open access versions is going to be a big one. This all fits into the goals of scholarly communication and information literacy though. Users should know more of the context behind the information sources they are using. Developing these new systems and processes aren’t going to be easy, but they will be worth doing.

I owe almost all of the ideas I had in this blog post to discussions with Heather Wilson @authcontroller. So big shout out her.

Published by Ryan Regier

Doing lots of different stuff. Follow me on twitter at: @ryregier

7 thoughts on “The Future of Library Access: Open Access Linking and “Hybrid” Interlibrary Loan

  1. I love open access. And if canceling big deals helps us get there I want to be supportive. It having to wait minutes for a paper is an annoyance having to wait days after your first 35 a year would be a terrible experience. But maybe I would get used to it. But it does seem to cancel the progress from paper journals in storage.

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