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Thursday, 4 May 2017

“Pay Per View” (PPV) vs. Subscriptions – The Challenge facing Academic Libraries

Omesh Jagarnath
The value of the library to the university’s mission and vision as well as its priority in the university’s allocation of funds can no longer be assumed. Libraries are constantly facing challenges, one of the more serious being the budget constraints which in turn may impact negatively on service delivery to the users. The rising costs of resources, especially the electronic formats including e-journals and databases are taking a huge slice of the library budget. This places a heavy strain on libraries and its resources, especially the librarians who have to ensure that the same levels of services are maintained. Time and again, libraries have to continually defend their worth and importance to academics or campus administrators (Spalding & Wang 2006, p. 495). Libraries have to submit convincing proposals or arguments as to why funds requested from the parent body are needed to subscribe to some of the much needed databases. Yet, it is these very academics, and some of the administrators who may require these resources for their own teaching, learning and research needs. There is a common belief that the World Wide Web provides access to all of the world’s accumulated knowledge and that a simple Google search will provide all the relevant information a person may need on a topic (Cheng 2016). What many people don’t know is that valuable peer reviewed information is never freely available and that much of the information they access is in fact paid for by the library. The academic community do not know that it takes a sizeable budget to maintain library facilities; purchase license agreements to collections and to hire staff with specialized skills and expertise to make this content available. Therefore, the question that arises is: How do libraries continue to provide the same level of quality service to patrons despite dwindling budgetary constraints? How can libraries maintain their worth and importance by ensuring users are satisfied? If universities pride themselves on their research and quality teaching and learning, how can libraries ensure that students continue to receive quality research material to pursue their studies? These and many more questions of this nature, poses serious challenges to librarians across the globe. Hence, for these reasons, librarians need to be equipped with various skills in sourcing alternative methods of meeting the growing need for information amongst researchers. In addition, understanding research trends and their role in the research cycle is crucial in connecting users to information (Cheng 2016).
(Source: https://www.google.co.za/search?q=payfor+view+journal+articles&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjEl__8go3TAhVGLMAKHVIfBWEQ_AUIBygC&biw=1093&bih=474#imgrc=p5U9wb3YSu5sYM:&spf=227)

The University of Kwa-Zulu Natal library has been very proactive in meeting these challenges and seeking alternative ways of serving its patrons. The University for instance had been a loyal subscriber to Science Direct, one of the world’s leading sources for scientific, technical and medical research. However, with the rising yearly cost of the Science Direct database, the library had no option but to terminate its subscription for 2017 which would have cost the institution R15m in subscription for 2017. As much as this was not expected, and amidst an outcry from some academics, perhaps this was a turning point amongst academics in realizing the importance of libraries and the cost of subscription material needed for teaching and research. However, the library did not cancel its subscription to Science Direct without embarking on internal research and viewing user statistics and URLs. As a result it was discovered that there was large overlap with a few of the other key databases that the library subscribed to. The library also assured its patrons (especially Academics) that it will meet their demands by adopting a “Pay Per View” (PPV) service, with a turnaround time of 24 hours. However, with the increased volume of article requests, this turnaround time may exceed 24 hours due to several challenges one may face, especially when incorrect information is provided or lacking in some instances. Hence, this means that the library will purchase the article on behalf of the patron and bear the cost. In addition, there are plans to archive the purchased article within the library’s intranet and make them available as read only to students and staff of UKZN. At the present moment, the Pay Per View service is only open to registered Masters, PHD students and academics of UKZN. Since its inception in February 2016, the PPV service has been well received by academics and masters students. The trend of Pay Per View (PPV) is not a new one. As far back as the 1990s libraries were experimenting with an alternative to traditional forms of inter-library loan. This was in part a response to the rising costs of serial prices and the need to continue with the provision of a quality service to users (Chamberlain & MacAlpine, 2008: 30). In view of the current budget deficits affecting libraries, several issues come to mind. Publishers will either have to rethink their subscription policies and lower their tariffs, or risk losing their customers. Libraries may have to continue monitoring usage statistics of databases and adjust their subscriptions needs accordingly (Troknya 2015). At the same time libraries will continue to seek innovative ways to survive without compromising on service delivery. Hence the questions that arises - How should libraries respond to these challenges? Is it really feasible for libraries to subscribe to a database costing millions just because that was the trend in the past when only a small percentage of the articles are accessed? A review of the Pay Per View option for the past year has cost UKZN libraries well below a million rands. Is this the way forward? What are your thoughts on this?
1. Cheng, J. 2016, “The top 10 challenges Academic Librarians face in 2016”, web log, viewed 30 March 2017, https://hub.wiley.com/community/exchanges/discover/blog/2016/09/13/the-top-10-challenges-academic-librarians-face-in-2016
2. Troknya, M. 2015, Budget cuts require tough choices, viewed 31 March 2017, http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2015/12/sophies-choice-with-library-budgets/
3. Hiller, S 2001, Assessing user needs, satisfaction, and library performance at the University of Washington Libraries, Library Trends, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 605-625.
4. Spalding, H. H & Wang, J 2006, The challenges and opportunities of marketing academic libraries in the USA: Experiences of US academic libraries with global application, Library Management, vol. 27, issue 6/7, pp. 494-504. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01435120610702477


  1. Will pay per view be a permanent solution to budget cuts?

  2. Am sure there are various solutions such as entering into Consortium with other libraries and negotiating deals with vendors when purchasing materials.But the idea of paying for only that which you use will become an important feature amongst academic libraries feeling the pressure of budget cuts.

  3. Thank you...lets hope this will pave the way for open access to take off..

  4. Would love to hear what others have to say about Pay per view as an alternative to subscription model