Economic aspects of a national electronic reserve service (NERS) were explored using Ithink Analyst, a modelling software package. A model was developed and simulations were used to monitor the effect of variations in the values of key model elements. The model was based on developments within the UK HE community and primarily on Higher Education ON demand (HERON), a national service which is part‐funded by the UK HE funding councils. The two principal activities of HERON are rights clearance and digitisation but the service is also building a repository of digitised texts which are stored for future use to avoid duplication of effort. Model elements were manipulated to compare the cost per student of providing reserve materials using this service with the cost per student of a traditional print service. The level of overlap in materials required by different universities using the service was varied as was the copyright fee paid to rights holders for use of their texts. The results suggest that this service is extremely expensive for a library when compared with an equivalent print service. Furthermore, if the service operated within the library budget for reserve materials, the income generated for publishers would be a fraction of that generated from selling print copies to libraries at the current rate. The authors conclude that as a whole this service is inefficient. Specific elements of the service, e.g. the copyright clearance function, may be efficient in a different context.
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