Outstanding policy decisions NHS library resource sharing: market review and options appraisal

Also covers technical issues and financial uncertainties

Returnables and non-returnables 

At the beginning of this project, HEE’s steer was that the priority for a national resource-sharing solution should be non-returnables (journal articles) and not returnables (books). There is a strong rationale for this. Nationally the volume of inter-library supplied journal articles is far higher than that of inter-library book loans, and NHS investment in journal subscriptions, being relatively much more expensive, is significantly higher than investment in books. Journal articles can be supplied without incurring shipping costs and on a national ‘non rival’ basis18 i.e.  without depriving the supplying library of the resource. Some library services are cautious about lending books to others, especially libraries outside their own region. Regionally shared LMSs, which HEE plans for the whole country, are able to manage intra-regional lending of books, and HEE had suggested that this was the level within the system at which to optimise sharing of books.  

There is however a counter argument that being able to source NHS-owned books from across the country to fulfil user requests is important. With book and journal data held differently, and the emerging resource sharing solutions clearly focussing on returnables and/or non-returnables, HEE needs to be very clear about the scope of the business case for investment.  

Mechanism(s) for harvesting holdings data 

A fundamental issue is how any NHD would ingest holdings data. Current methods are uploading holdings data (including print books, print journal and e-journals and ebooks) from the local LMSs in batch mode or online via OAI-PMH harvesting.19 Uploading holdings from local LMSs already presents problems in terms of the current regional infrastructure. It will become easier as libraries move to more functional shared regional LMSs with easy/automatic holdings data export functions. However this will not be achievable in the near term. The potential to upload (KBART) data including journals and potentially ebooks20 from the knowledgebase used for EDS could be an effective way forward. Ex Libris (RapidILL) and OCLC (Tipasa) have been positive about uploading holding from KBART files though with some qualifications. 

Integration with ILL functions of LMS 

Integration between the NHD and local LMSs would be essential to facilitate smooth workflows. Key integration points are shown in Appendix 1. As noted earlier not all LMS are integrated with resource sharing solutions. This requirement will be included in the forthcoming Invitation To Tender (ITT) for the East of England and Kent, Surrey and Sussex regional LMS. It should also be factored into other regional LMS developments. 

Resources that cannot be supplied within the NHS in England 

Not all journal articles requests can be met from libraries within NHS and options such as the British Library and Reprints Desk 21 will continue to be important. In addition, some of the regional NHS collaboratives and subscription-based schemes, such as the Psychiatric Libraries Cooperative Scheme (PLCS) 22 include non-NHS libraries such as academic libraries and the libraires of royal college and professional bodies, NHS libraries in Scotland and Wales, and healthcare libraries in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Although the numbers of copies and books shared with these partners may be relatively low, these partnership sharing arrangements are regarded as being mutually beneficial. 

It is significant that Tipasa is the only option analysed that could potentially manage requests from external sources.  

Open access 

The growth of open access (OA) publishing is changing the landscape. Library system vendor SirsiDynix provides the summary below.23  

Graph showing growth in open access publishing
Graph showing projected growth in open access publishing of articles

A number of tools have emerged to better enable the discovery and access of OA resources. These include InstantILL,24 Openaccessbutton, 25 Unpaywall 26 CORE27 and BASE 28. These are positioned as resources for end users as well as libraries. Unpaywall is integrated with discovery services like EDS. 29  

SirsiDynix has recently launched its Cloudsource OA service which they describe as a ‘vetted collection’ of over 40 million peer reviewed articles and non-fiction books. They matched current NHS journal subscriptions against CloudSource OA and reported that at least 50% of recently published articles are available via CloudSource OA.   

Although the prevalence of open access journals will no doubt change the ILDS landscape over time, in our judgement it will not replace the need for a more efficient NHS ILDS infrastructure in the near to medium term. The path to open access has a number of uncertainties and, in the main, does not cover articles already published under non OA arrangements. It is unclear therefore when a ‘tipping point’ will happen to justify managing subscription journals as an minor element of the content landscape. The current processes are very frustrating for staff and end users and to ask them to wait for an indeterminate time before addressing this, when potential solutions are available, is hard to justify in our view  


Whichever approach is taken will require investment and incur development and maintenance costs. Unfortunately, EBSCO, Ex Libris and OCLC have not yet been able to provide indicative costs, and Project ReShare is not in a position to do this at the moment as it remains in development. 

We recommend that HEE calculates the current level of NHS investment in ILDS infrastructure, and the potential savings and efficiencies which could be delivered via an efficient, streamlined solution, to develop a clearer idea of the amount which could reasonably be invested.  

The elements of a business case – indicative summary

The business case for developing a NHD is predicated on the following:

  • It will reduce inefficiencies and save staff time and costs in managing this ILDS function
  • It will reduce the turnaround time and increase user satisfaction
  • A NHD will be able to provide reports and analytics to better judge the performance of the service
  • A genuine national approach, supported by analytics, will deliver a better return on investment (ROI) on the mix of locally and nationally licensed resources
  • It will increase the effectiveness and value for money of the national discovery service and therefore drive more traffic to it
  •  Integration between the NHD and LMSs will increase the effectiveness of the developing infrastructure of regional LMSs


[18] “Non-rivalry means that consumption of a good by one person does not reduce the amount available for others”. https://www.tutor2u.net/economics/topics/non-rival

[19] Ex Libris Knowledge base https://knowledge.exlibrisgroup.com/RapidILL/Product_Documentation/RapidILL_Tools/Holding_Upload

[20] It is not clear to what extent ebook collections are recorded in the Knowledegbase

[21] Research Solution Reprints Desk  https://info.reprintsdesk.com/

[22] https://www.plcs.nhs.uk/login.asp?ref=/Default.asp

[23] Open access toady. SirsiDynix video 2020? https://www.cloudsourceoa.com/cloudsource-oa-academic/

[24] “InstantILL instantly delivers papers your patrons need from your holdings, Open Access and simplifies your ILL process to save you and your patrons money and time. It’s free, open source, community owned” https://instantill.org/

[25] https://openaccessbutton.org/about

[26] “An open database of 28,905,947 free scholarly articles.” https://unpaywall.org/

[27] “The world’s largest collection of open access research papers” https://core.ac.uk/

[28] BASE (Bielefeld Academic Search Engine) https://www.base-search.net/

[29] Unpaywall integrations. https://unpaywall.org/integrations. See also EBSCO apps. https://cloud.ebsco.com/apps/unpaywall