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The building of collections is a practice as old as libraries, and is necessary because perishable physical things that are not easily transported need convenient local storage. Many of us, in small libraries at home, build collections of books, music, or film. But warehoused collections of physical things can be inconvenient, expensive, and often are barely used.

For example, do you have a library of music (in various physical formats) that collects dust, while Pandora plays through your iPod®? Perhaps you have cruised a local store to buy a movie or a season of your favorite TV show, gradually building a collection. This library of DVDs and Blu-Rays probably lives in a closet, most of them watched once long ago, and few are likely to be seen again.

The lifecycle of films has evolved remarkably over about 30 years. A few must-see films take us to the theater soon after they debut. But when the theater run is exhausted, many films migrate to an online media viewing service, like Apple TV®. Sometimes for a month or so the producer requires a viewer to buy the film to see it. But later, for a smaller fee, we can rent it. And later still, as interest in a particular film wanes and it becomes part of movie history, mostly watched by people who happen upon it on a dull night, many films migrate to services such as Netflix. Rather than renting these videos individually, we subscribe to the service and watch them when we like, at no additional cost. (Meanwhile, the DVDs in the closet get another few weeks or months older).

A version of this process is now at play in many academic libraries, where Demand-Driven Acquisition (DDA) has supplemented or replaced new-book buying. Aggregators serve the same purpose for libraries and books as Apple TV and Netflix™ serve for movie watchers and films. Just as we can rent a movie on-demand, short-term loans make it easy for libraries to rent books on behalf of their patrons. And just as online media viewing services put thousands more movies at our command than we could ever afford to buy for a DVD collection, DDA enables libraries to give patrons access to thousands more books than a library budget can purchase.

The key to a much greater universe of possibilities in both cases is rental. Why pay a premium price to own and store something, when we will likely use it only once? How much more sensible is it to pay a small price to rent a book or movie, at the moment of need?

Just as studios allow films to migrate from rental on Apple TV to subscription on Netflix, and the prospects for higher individual sales trickle away, publishers often allow a book to migrate from DDA and rental to a subscription package, such as ebrary’s Academic Complete™ or EBL. For films, a subscriber will check to see if a video is available from Netflix before renting it from Apple TV. For libraries with both a DDA program and ebook subscriptions, access automatically comes through the latter as the book becomes available later in its lifecycle.

While perpetual purchase for archival purposes remains integral to the role of many institutions, the phenomenon many of us have enacted at home, of buying and storing, has mostly been replaced by renting and subscribing. So it’s not that far-fetched an idea for libraries, too – it’s a logical evolution.

The transition from objects to electrons has consequences for current longstanding practices, of course, and they deserve to be explored, as the variety of reading sources from which our users can choose grows daily.

Blog post by David Swords (Director of Consortial Sales, Ebooks) and Mike LoGreco (Sales Specialist, Ebooks)

20 Sep 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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