Exploring the evidence

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Rebecca Howland describes the ways in which Cambridge University Press is maximising the benefits of its evidence based acquisition (EBA) model for its customers

Under the Cambridge EBA model, institutions are given access to an extensive online collection of Cambridge and partner press eBooks before they make decisions about which titles to buy access to in perpetuity. The evidence to support decision making is supplied in the form of usage reports, indicating which titles are the most popular within the institution during the initial access period.

The Cambridge EBA model allows institutions to access the full collection of ebooks or a subject specific collection – with broad lists in humanities, social sciences, science technology and medicine. The model includes monographs, coursebooks and reference materials. EBA has several advantages over other ebook collection purchasing models, not least in that it allows the institutional library, which has expertise in managing acquisition, a key role in selecting resources.

EBA also opens up a wider selection of titles to the reader, and enables purchasing decisions to be matched precisely to end user preference, so it’s a great way of filling in gaps within ebook collections or building e-resources in certain areas. This can have the added benefit of helping to improve National Student Survey (NSS) scores, as students are able to find the books they want. Due to the fact it’s a simple and controllable model, EBA also reduces complexity in your buying process and makes an efficient use of library budgets.

If agreed as part of the EBA deal, newly published titles are added to the chosen collection on a monthly basis during the access period, and ebooks from Cambridge partner publishers, such as Edinburgh University Press and Mathematical Association of America, are also included.

All revenue in an EBA is assigned against the cost of individual ebook titles at the end of the agreement; all the collections are hosted on the Cambridge Core platform.

What is the difference between EBA and PDA?

Patron driven acquisition (PDA) is seen by some as a less attractive forerunner of EBA.

With PDA, the university commits an amount of funds to access a collection of content, and needs to set limits in order to control what content is accessed. It also sets limits as to what triggers a perpetual access purchase; for example, a book is purchased in perpetuity after three ‘uses’. Once the allocated PDA money runs out, their access ends – meaning that a library could get through £100,000 in a matter of weeks.

The main advantage of EBA is that the library maintains control over every purchase decision; even if a title is accessed 100 times, the library does not have to commit to buying it – for example if a course is about to end, or if the book is not considered to be suitable or necessary for the institution's needs.

Additionally, the EBA enables access to the full collection for the duration of the agreed initial period, which is usually 12 months. Setting up an EBA agreement is quick and all the purchasing decisions are made at the end of the agreed period. By this point, the library will have a full set of data for analysis, which helps to ensure well-informed decision making.

How it works

Payment: institutions can choose a six- or 12-month access period to all Cambridge and partner press titles or selected subject collections. A payment that takes into account the number of titles involved and expected usage is agreed mutually. Payment needs to be made before access is opened up.

Full access: access is opened and usage measured to help inform purchasing decisions at the end of the project. Throughout the EBA project the Cambridge administration team will communicate usage statistics and details of newly added content every month (where applicable).

Decision: under the six- and 12-month EBA project ebook purchases are decided and made perpetual within 30 days of the end of the project. Libraries are given usage data to inform their decisions, which is then analysed and purchase choices are made within the library. After the agreement has ended, institutions are able to make additional payments, if they wish to purchase further titles in perpetuity. They can also request to begin another EBA under the same or different content model.

What support should the library expect?

Cambridge provides enhanced, free MARC records throughout the process so that libraries can ensure all the titles are discoverable in library systems. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of this stage of the process.

Unless the content is discoverable there is little chance of users taking advantage of access to the vast amount of content they are receiving via the EBA. Discoverability means the university will have a clear indication of needs and therefore make informed purchasing decisions at the end of the project. Because discoverability is so crucial, Cambridge works closely with the institution to ensure this is optimised.

We also offer a range of support regarding communication about the availability of content to end users and can provide email templates, posters and other resources for the library. We can even contact the university academics on behalf of the library. We can also update the library with new titles and regular usage statistic as the months pass. This is a bespoke service and can be tailored to the requirements of each institution.

What collections are available?

There are two options for UK institutions, one via JISC and one direct with your Cambridge contact.

The Jisc/Cambridge EBA: these EBAs can last for six or 12 months, and the library can choose between Full, HSS, or STM collections. The books included can either be coursebooks, monographs or both. The pricing is banded and ranges from £3K - £75K. The JISC Cambridge EBA suits centralised budget pots.

Bespoke Cambridge EBA: these also last for six or 12 months but are better suited to customers who wish to choose more specific collections. Collections can be subject specific, comprise titles not available via aggregators, or be entirely unique and based on individual needs. We offer profiled pricing from £1,000 to £19,000 and this model is very well suited to purchasing from departmental budgets.

Selling the EBA product has given us a golden opportunity to engage in some very important feedback from our customers. The main pulling factors revolve around allowing the library to maintain control of the library collections, the ability to justify purchases with the use of informed usage reporting, and not being restricted to purchasing the titles with the highest usage if they don’t fit to your library specifications.

The fact that you receive a full six or 12 months’ worth of access with nothing being switched off has received a positive reaction from our customers. On top of these benefits our customers also like our free enhanced MARC Records. We are happy to work around our customers specifications, whether that is by not using MARC records – or, if you have a more bespoke package and want this made available for activation in your LMS, we are happy to liaise with our third parties. 

Of course the success of any model can only be judged by how popular it is. As more libraries experience the control, efficiency and accuracy of choosing ebook titles via EBA, we expect the model to continue to grow in popularity.

Rebecca Howland is library sales manager for the Academic Group at Cambridge University Press