Patron driven acquisition at the Royal College of Nursing library

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 36 (2)

Rachel Sully
Collection Development Specialist
Royal College of Nursing
20 Cavendish Square
London, W1G 0RN
Twitter: @rl_sully

Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) has been a huge success for the RCN library. It has shown us that electronic access to information is a priority for members and that their information needs expand much wider than nursing specific texts. In May 2016, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) library implemented PDA, a member driven collection development tool. PDA has provided access to over 29,000 pre-selected eBooks to over 435,000 RCN members. This new tool has allowed our members to lead our collection development while giving them more choice. Our experience with PDA has shown that although a large figure is impressive, titles can be irrelevant, inappropriate or out of date. We have learnt that PDA needs continuous development and are now curating the collection to ensure it is and remains relevant to members.


The RCN library is the world’s largest library dedicated to nursing. We support the whole nursing workforce from healthcare assistants to qualified nurses, academics and beyond. This report will show how we have used PDA to improve subject coverage by providing members access to a large profile of eBooks. As a member led and member funded organisation, we understood PDA as an opportunity to increase member engagement with collection development. Though our members are not aware, by accessing eBooks through our PDA platform, they are participating in building a holistic collection dedicated to nursing and allied health.

During 2015, we invited three suppliers to present their PDA offer and ProQuest was chosen as our supplier for a 3 month trial. The main benefits to using ProQuest were as follows:

  • Ease of set up
  • Choice of licencing options
  • Choice of rentals and full purchases
  • Choice of mediated and non-mediated access
  • Welsh language coverage
  • Compatibility with our resource discovery tool, Summon
  • Extensive reporting and analysis
  • New eBook central platform and developed functionality for users

PDA Setup

The initial set up was straightforward and we were well supported by ProQuest. Using metadata terms ‘nursing’, ‘health’ and ‘medicine’, ProQuest produced a list of 29,000+ titles. All of the titles were published in the last 5 years in English or Welsh language. ProQuest provided us files for the selected titles and these were loaded in to our library management system and mirrored in Summon. We decided not to formally launch or publicise PDA as explaining the system to our members would have been too complex. It also allowed us time for testing and for use to grow organically.

The collection development team chose to provide mediated and non-mediated access to PDA. Members are able to view an eBook for 5 minutes for free. After 5 minutes, non-mediated access allows the eBook to be purchased or loaned without library intervention. Access is mediated if the cost of a purchase or loan is above our top parameters which allows us to approve or reject access to titles. For example, if a request for a short term loan is more than 25% of the RRP, it may be more cost effective to purchase the eBook. After two loans, an eBook will be purchased on its third use to ensure that only eBooks with more than two substantial uses are added to the collection.

The Trial


The collections team allocated 2% of the book budget for the 3 month trial. Due to the decision not to market PDA, we were confident that this allocation would support access for the trial period. However, usage of PDA was much greater than first anticipated and a third of the budget was spent in week 1. This unexpected high use meant that we had to re-calculate the potential spend and put measures in place to continue with the trial. We decided to limit our book purchasing to core nursing titles and allocate a further 8% of the book budget to PDA.

The high spend made it obvious to the team that PDA was fulfilling a member need. We were interested to see whether spending would plateau over time and so decided to extend the trial period to 6 months. To support this financially, we approached the RCN Nursing department who agreed to commit an amount equal to 2.5% of our book budget. Basing our budget calculations on the 3 month spend, we then allocated a further 11.5% of our book budget to PDA. Figure 1 shows that our prediction was much more realistic for these 3 months and we experience a minimal overspend.

Figure 1: Allocation of book budget vs actual spend

Overall, the RCN library spent 25.4% of its book budget on PDA in 6 months. We noticed that spending slowed down between August and September which are also our quietest months for print book loans and access to services. This is likely due to the academic year beginning late September and goes some way to explain why expenditure increased in October.


PDA saw 1,978 unique users and eBooks were accessed 8,546 times with 2,886 of these being unique titles. Although we cannot tell where in the country our members were accessing the eBooks from, it is evident that our members require remote access to information. This can be seen when comparing PDA use with the number of print books loaned from our London library. Figure 2 shows that PDA use was a third higher than print loans between May and October 2016.

Figure 2: PDA use vs physical book stock use

It is pleasing to see that only 162 requests for access were mediated by the collections team. Figure 3 shows that the majority of loans and purchases were done so by the members. This has confirmed our original understanding that members can help develop their collection seamlessly and without difficulty.

Figure 3: Mediated vs non-mediated loans and purchases through PDA

Titles and subjects access

Table 1 details the top 5 eBooks accessed during the 6 month trial.

Communication Skills for Nurses60
Reflective Practice in Nursing56
Fundamentals of Nursing Models, Theories and Practice49
The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures44
Foundations of Nursing Practice : Fundamentals of Holistic Care44
Table 1: Top 5 titles accessed

Digging deeper, we noticed that one was an old edition and two were copies of a title that we already owned from another supplier. This has told us that we need to spend time editing the PDA collection to remove titles that are identified as such. When PDA was first launched, we noticed a range of inappropriate or irrelevant titles appearing in the collection, ranging from adult to lifestyle titles. These titles were added because they had ‘health’ metadata attached which tells us that classification searching needs to be explored when adding items in the future. Although we did shadow many of these titles in our library management system, with 29,000 eBooks, it was not possible to weed them all. When analysing the title usage, we were happy to see that none of these eBooks were accessed.

Although the top 5 eBooks were nursing specific, we were interested to see that the most popular metadata term was ‘medicine’, as shown in Table 2.

Social Science; Health302
Health; Social Science268
Medicine; Pharmacy128
Table 2: Top 5 most used metadata terms

Table 3 details a selection of ‘medical’ tagged titles used by RCN members.

Comorbidity of Mental and Physical Disorders1
Comprehensive Tracheostomy Care : The National Tracheostomy Safety Project Manual2
Hypnotherapy : A Handbook5
Neurobiology of Depression4
Targeted Therapies for Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer3
Table 3: Example of medical titles accessed

Low use of ‘medical’ tagged titles appears to be common when analysing the usage data. There are many that have been accessed 5 times or less and as a consequence, the number of ‘medical’ titles surpasses ‘nursing’. This tells us that nurses are not only accessing titles core to their profession but also seeking further detail. Members are using titles that are condition or treatment specific which mirrors their changing professional role.

We observed a number of recurring subject themes when reading through the usage reports. Popular subjects include: diabetes, wound care, care planning and mental health. We also saw access to titles on child protection, refugee health care, sepsis and sexual abuse. It is interesting to note the use of these titles as it suggests a response to media attention in 2016. The broad range of subjects confirms that PDA offers members access to titles that may have otherwise been unavailable electronically.


We have learnt that our PDA collection needs to be refined and have already begun work with ProQuest to remove duplicates. Once this work is complete, we will begin to investigate a process for removing old editions. Doing this will benefit our members as we will be providing access to up to date, quality information. Having experienced a range of inappropriate and irrelevant titles in our PDA collection, we now know that we should not rely on metadata when searching for titles to add to the collection. We hope that classification searching will allow for a more considered collection and plan on testing this later this year.

Since the 6 month trial, ProQuest have launched patron analytics. This function has enabled us to ask PDA users which UK region they are from. Collecting this data provides us with evidence to prove that PDA fulfills a member need. At the time of writing this report, we have seen members as far north as the Shetlands and 50% of England users coming from outside of London. As we continue to develop the PDA collection, we look forward to reporting again after a full year.

PDA has been a huge success for the RCN library and we have continued to offer PDA to our membership in 2017. Since launch, members have added 368 eBooks to our collection and we have enabled 2,047 loans, all of which would not have been possible before. Our advice to libraries considering PDA is to overestimate the budget, you’ll need it!

Since submission of this article, the author has left the Royal College of Nursing and is now Librarian Specialist at NHS Wales Informatics Service. For correspondence please contact Diane McCourt, Collection Development Manager,

%d bloggers like this: