As exams approach, it is not strange to find students in the library getting last minute work done and furiously finishing assignments and buckling down for exams. The DIT library service is indispensable to students, as it is the core source of reference materials for books, journals and online repositories. A news article ran in the Irish Independent about DIT and other Irish colleges’ subscription to a UK-based library subscription service (SWETS). DITSU News set out to obtain the facts.
Speaking with DIT’s Head of Public Affairs, Melda Slattery, I got some background to the subscription and challenges encountered.
“SWETS was one of just two large international providers of library services providing a consolidated range of online publications for university libraries across Europe and the USA. The parent Dutch company, SWETS BV, had a long history of serving the academic community since 1920. SWETSs UK was a subsidiary company, and DIT was a customer for 15 years. Given the size of the DIT library service, the advantage of a consolidated service is to streamline delivery of thousands of academic publications, offering bulk order discounts and a single supplier invoice. The universities in Ireland have access to a similar national electronic research library, IReL, which is publicly funded under PRTLI, the HEA and SFI. However, although DIT has requirements similar to that of the larger universities, we were not permitted to access IReL”, she stressed, adding that the procurement of the Swets service was completed in 2012 via the Education Procurement Service (EPS) /SWETS tender.
…Although DIT has requirements similar to that of the larger universities, we were not permitted to access IReL…
She also said that DIT availed of the EPS/SWETS tender in 2013 for the provision of journals for calendar years 2013 and 2014 respectively and service was delivered. DIT renewed its order for the calendar year 2015, but two months later, in September 2014, the parent company Swets BV filed for bankruptcy in Amsterdam.
“Initially it appeared that the subsidiary companies in other jurisdictions would not be affected. However, in October Swets UK went into administration and the US subsidiary followed suit. Subscriptions of varying amounts, paid by hundreds of universities, were lost. DIT was the largest subscriber in Ireland and had paid a subscription of €700k. Losses to other Institutes of Technology ranged from €500 to €50,000, depending on their size. The largest creditor institution in the UK was the University of Durham with a loss of £1.9 million, while in the USA the University of Colorado had just paid a subscription of $3 million when bankruptcy was declared”.
Ms. Slattery noted that due to the very important nature of the library resources, the immediate requirement was to place a new order with a different supplier and the loss, which was very substantial, had to be initially absorbed by reserves. She also said that in order for frontline services to students were protected, savings had to be made in other areas including the postponement of senior appointments. Going forward, consistent calls has been made by the DIT, requesting access to the nationally funded IReL over many years, and the HEA has now supported this request. She noted that the DIT is now pursuing access to the nationally funded IReL subscription as a priority and hopes that access will be granted very soon. This will reduce the institute’s dependence on external commercially provided services, although, given the diverse range of publications required, there will be a need to procure some library resource material outside of IReL.
the immediate requirement was to place a new order with a different supplier and the loss, which was very substantial, had to be initially absorbed by reserves
In the meantime, the DIT currently procure library service through another international provider, EBSCO, which provides more favourable terms of contract, including that payments are only made to EBSCO once they have paid the relevant publishers of journals.
DITSU news also had a brief interview with Boni Odoemene, the president of the DIT Student’s Union and obtained his thoughts on the issue. In his statement, he stated that although the union regretted the huge loss to the university, he had confirmation that none of the student library services were affected. He also said that DITSU is constantly engaged in grassroots meetings at least twice a semester where students, the library services and college officers work together to ensure students get the best from the library services. He reiterated that there has been no report by any student of having been affected by the switch in service providers.
With the reassurance from the DIT and the DITSU offices that frontline library services to students are not in any way affected, students across all DIT campuses can be rest assured of seamless access to library services.