Fair use and interlibrary loan

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  • The latest issue of Journal of Academic Librarianship (July 04) has an editorial by Donald W. King that had some new ideas for me. Here’s a quote: “The journal price (and processing costs and any borrowing fees) dictates the breakeven point of use at which a library should subscribe (e.g., about ten uses for a US$100 journal up to thirty uses for a US$500 journal and sixty uses for a US$1,000 journal).â€? Is this widely accepted?
  • I have not heard of the breakdown you mention. Is the author
    the same guy who did that interlibrary loan research back in the

    Of course, this is a very interesting proposal if I understand you correctly. It's a complete rejection of the CONTU guidelines. I don't think libraries even think about conducting interlibrary loan outside of the CONTU process - a process that not only includes the CONTU guidelines but the way libraries have organized themselves to conduct ILL transactions. In other words, it's embedded in the culture.
  • Some context: Donald King’s editorial is actually on academic library collections. Here’s what comes just before what I’ve already quoted, and it’s under the heading “Are big deals good deals?â€?
    “I think that academic librarians should consider use or better yet the cost per use of their packages and, if cost per use is too high, portions of the packages for further negotiation. For decades, there have been studies showing that frequently used journals should be purchased and interlibrary borrowing or document delivery utilized for infrequently used journals. In fact, it is with this knowledge that librarians essentially finessed the interlibrary loan issue in the 1976 revision of the Copyright Law with the fair use provision which stated that the borrowing library is exempt from royalty payment if a journal has five or fewer loans. At that time, five uses was the breakeven point for most journals.�
    So while he’s talking in the context of “big deal�, he seems to be saying that fair use calculations might be calculated less on an absolute number and more on the concept of breakeven? And you’re right, it does seem counter to most current ILL practice—but maybe in a good way?
  • I think that libraries (or any organization) should always be thinking about doing things differently (much easier said than done). So King's idea might be good. What might be interesting is to have an economist look at it just in terms of costs.
    Who has data on permission costs for interlibrary loan and royalty costs for document delivery?
  • When I worked in ILL we occassionally looked at purchasing subscriptions with a similar equation, except we used the copyright fee as the "cost". (It's outright cost to the library we were interested in, ILL fees vs. journal subscription. Staff processing is a totally extra factor.) So, for instance, at that time most Elsevier journals had a per article copyright fee of $25 (I think it's $35 now?). How many articles could we pay for before getting into the ballpark of the subscription cost? A $100 journal will hit the break even point very quickly, a $10,000 journal would have to get a lot of use. I wonder if King is assuming an average cost of $10 for ILL--which wouldn't cover copyright fees in many cases, but sounds about right for an average delivery cost.

    Our calculations would, of course, have been outside of fair use ordering, since we were figuring what we would pay in copyright fees--after the CONTU guidelines limits were exceeded, etc.

    This would never be the key factor in deciding to subscribe, but it is a good financial overview to consider.

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