Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Charging for literature searches - from discussion lists

Another topic of interest covered in the discussion lists. This one was brilliantly summarised by Sarah Gardner of Kingsmill Hospital:

Thank you very much to all who replied to my query about charging for lit searching. A lot of people were interested to know what I found out, some had ideas or alternative systems; a few people had had experience of charging but no-one responded who currently does so. Opinions were expressed on the desirability or otherwise of charging. Here is an compilation rather than a true summary of the responses, so apologies for the length!:

"If charges are made by time taken to do the search, then it could be possible to charge people for very few results and a short search but with plenty of hits would be cheaper"
"There is the national work that is underway on costing library services Linda Ferguson and David Copsey are leading on this so this might enable you to actually cost each literature search"

"Our approach is to limit the number of databases searched or time spent searching, as well as to limit who does what search (see table below). This information is included on our request forms. However, we have found out that the majority of our searches are for patient care so they generally involve one of the 2 professional librarians ... which means they can easily spend a large proportion of their time searching. This is where we have come a little unstuck....!
Guidelines for searching
The extent of the literature search and the amount of time spent will be guided by the search purpose, and the number of references required by the user. It is not practical to lay down precise limits; however, the following guidelines should be used:
Searches to support college assignments will be limited to 1 database or 2 hours searching time, whichever is more appropriate;
Searches to support presentations/lectures or interviews will be limited to 3 hrs searching time.
If staff are looking for information to give to patients/relatives, searches will be limited to 1 or 2 good quality web sites, such as EQUIP ( or Patients UK (
Searches to support professional development will be limited to a maximum of 2 relevant databases.
Requests for information to support patient care, research and the production of guidelines and protocols require more detailed searches and will not be restricted to a limited number of sources. However, searches should only be allocated a reasonable length of time. The library does not have the staffing to carry out systematic reviews.

Search purpose Staff grade
Information for patient / relative Library assistant
College assignments Library assistant
Presentations/lectures/interviews Depends on complexity and urgency.
Usually Library assistant.
Professional development Depends on complexity.
Professional librarian or library assistant.
Patient care. Professional librarian
Guidelines/protocols Professional librarian
Research Professional librarian

"Currently we don’t charge for literature searching, though users are advised that they should be doing their own searching and we provide training and e-learning for this (the e-learning is open access and available at – everyone can just log on as a guest and you’re welcome to use this or send the link to your users too!). We do however provide a literature searching service for specific work related projects (the majority of our enquiries come from people doing something academic). These are discussed on a case by case basis with the individual or service for suitability for the programme and we do a ‘mini systematic review’ style search for them. This can often be quite in-depth and time consuming – hence the ‘screening’! It’s a possibility that at some point we will charge departments for these in the future so I would be very interested in the replies to your enquiry"
Opinions / experiences
" Oh, I'd charge, if I thought I'd get away with it! Apart from anything else, it might make some of our users more appreciative of what's involved. Like so much in life, people sometimes only appreciate what they pay for....."

"We do not at present charge for any searches, no matter who asks or for what reason. Our view is that literature searching is a core service of the library, whether for patient care, research or for educational purposes, since we still see this as part of staff development. We do not at present envisage changing this policy. We are in the fortunate position of having a dedicated training/research library post but even without this, the library has always seen search requests as part of our remit, regardless of the reason for the search. We always give clinical requests priority"
"We charged for a few years and then decided not to in order to encourage requests. But it has made little difference. So I’m happy not to in the interests of encouraging library use, and to keep things simple. This relates to staff use rather than for students. We charged £2, which was just to make people think about what they were asking; we did not expect to make money on it. We did not advertise the change. But as we were having more contact by phone and email rather than in person, it became more difficult to manage the charging. We haven't done hundreds of them each year".
"We used to years ago but were told to stop it at an accreditation assessment.... but maybe the economic climate has changed again! It was a system I inherited when I started this job about 13 years ago, and I didn't feel in a position to question it. I think we charged £10 a search but it may have been £20 I can't remember. We charged for all searches, and I have to say looking back that even so we did more searches then than we do now - people manage themselves more now. However it was perceived by the accreditation panel as being a barrier to the knowledge base, and I have to say I tend to agree. I was happy to stop charging - it reduces the admin too. I think it would be difficult to charge only for some sorts of searches, as how would you identify which searches fell into the 'charging' category? We now only charge external (non-NHS) customers, and as far as I can recall we have never been asked to do a search for one of them".

"We don't charge for searches at the moment but if we find ourselves subject to budget cuts this is one of the services we will have to get our users to pay for".

"This is something we were thinking about as well. However, because of the way the healthcare libraries are funded and structured in Northern Ireland, it was felt to be inappropriate at the time. Not much help I know. However, times are changing and it may well be something that needs to be revisited here given the ever decreasing amount of resources available to us".

1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting concept, I can't help but feel instinctively that we shouldn't charge for literature searches but that may not always be feasible in the future.