Thoughts on the Scottish Higher Education Digital Library (SHEDL), Peter Kemp (University of Stirling)

Added by Peterkemp on 16 November 2010 14:12

Peter Kemp, Librarian Emeritus, University of Stirling and participant at the 9 November 2010 workshop on evaluating the impact of the Scottish Higher Education Digital Library (SHEDL) hosted by the RIN & SCURL shares his thoughts on the progress so far. 

It was good to be able to review SHEDL’s progress having been away from the sector for two years.  One thing is very striking: to have got nearly double the average UK growth in usage for substantially the same cost to the sector is very impressive.  The reduction in cost per download is impressive as well.  On this basis alone, SHEDL has proved its worth to Scottish Universities.

As is often the case, a result like this needs some caution and many points were made in the discussion:

1.       This is only one year’s data.  Will the result be sustained?  Sheila pointed out that Edinburgh usage appears not to be growing as fast in 2010 as previously.

2.       There are significant differences in patterns between institutions.  One might have expected that usage in institutions that previously did not subscribe to the NESLI deals would be large, but why is growth at Stirling so much greater than Heriot-Watt?  Of the institutions that previously had access to most material, why does usage at Edinburgh (both in absolute numbers and in growth) far outstrip the others?  Are these issues of university culture or do they arise from style of library service?

3.       There are also big differences in performance with the three publishers in the pilot.  What does this mean?

4.       In the pilot phase, the costs are largely met by the institutions that had already subscribed to NESLI deals.  This is probably not sustainable, especially as SHEDL grows to embrace other publishers – but what can take its place?

5.       How should SHEDL grow – should it attempt to negotiate deals with the very big, general publishers, or should it concentrate on smaller specialist ones?

6.       As SHEDL grows, how much of a problem is reduced flexibility in local library budgets?

There is a huge amount of data underlying the evaluation report; this supplements what will be available from the JISC Journals Portal.  One question is how to use this in negotiations with publishers, especially ones reluctant to deal realistically with universities in today’s tough times.  The data also will suggest ways of improving library services, principally for research but also for learning.  Another challenge will be to examine whether the increased usage experienced during the SHEDL pilot does produce improved research outputs – at the workshop some suggested the lag may be many years, though.

Overall an excellent start – my hope is that my former colleagues will have faith to take this experiment further: not easy in these challenging times.

Peter Kemp, Librarian Emeritus, University of Stirling

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