Yesterday at the LJ/SLJ eBook Summit I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion of the acquisition models of eBooks for academic libraries.  We chatted about business models, workflow issues and their opportunities and challenges, the pros and cons of electronic access,and the future of eBooks.  I was pretty busy doing my moderating duties and didn’t get a chance to summarize the program, but luckily some folks at LJ did.  Here is what they had to say:

Academic libraries may be ahead of the curve with ebook adoption, but they’re still just beginning to push collection and acquisition models ahead of their print forebears. That was the conclusion of the lively Ebooks and Academic Libraries: Toward a New Best Practice, moderated by Sue Polanka, Head of Reference/Instruction at Wright State University Libraries and voice of the No Shelf Required blog.

The three-person panel brought together speakers from a variety of backgrounds, including Emily McElroy, Head of Collection Development & Scholarly Communication at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), who spoke about consortial concerns; Brett Rubinstein, manager of library sales for Springer, who gave the publishing perspective; and Michael Levine-Clark, Collections Librarian at the University of Denver’s Penrose Library, who championed patron-driven acquisition models for university collections.


With a patron-driven program, libraries have an unprecedented opportunity to base purchases on actual usage data and requests “instead of buying and hoping,” Levine-Clark said. Moreover, short-term loans and pay-per-use models like those offered by Ebook Library (EBL) offer vastly more flexibility to librarians and to users, as long as they’re able to discover the materials in the library’s catalog. On this point, he noted that many publisher-generated MARC records are of poor quality, but added that patron-driven purchasing “really gives publishers incentives to make books more discoverable,” since sales would be directly tied to search results returned to student and faculty.

According to McElroy, resource sharing is the number one concern of the Orbis-Cascade Alliance, currently deliberating on an alliance-wide ebook purchasing partnership. Publishing restrictions make it difficult if not impossible for individual libraries in the consortium to currently lend ebooks to one another. However, the Alliance now has “less fear than they did a year ago,” McElroy said, noting that progress was being made in terms of negotiating lending rights within the Alliance, though ILL with nonmember libraries will remain off-limits.

Taking a different tack, Rubinstein touted the potential cost-per-title savings of ebook bundles like those offered by Springer, and also said that the decoupling of chapters from within books might be one way to make access more useful and granular. He noted that ebook publishers would do well to look toward the successes in the ejournals market, where broad access to article-level content has proven to be a significant boon.

Regarding usage and accessibility, he said later that an increasing amount of ebook traffic is coming from sources other than catalogs and link resolvers, a category that’s down to 49% in 2009 from 63% in 2008. Traffic is now predominantly coming in from Google and other broad aggregators, he said, driving usage to levels he said publishers haven’t seen before. Springer offers ebooks without DRM, which Rubinstein admitted inevitably results in some unauthorized use. However, a decision was made “to prioritize ease of use over stymieing piracy,” he said.

Via Sue Polanka’s No Shelf Required blog


  1. I have to say I disagree with the suggestion that academic libraries are ahead of the curve. Many have large ebook collections, but in my experience they are through My Library and its archaic technology. Pages have to be viewed one at a time, in a browser, on a computer, with each page loading (slowly) as an individual image. It makes even reading on a computer impossible, and no other devices are supported. You can send to a printer (and therefore to PDF) a few pages at a time, with a daily limit that is less than the whole book. Time-limited DRM’d files in any format would be infinitely preferable. Unfortunately I think right now it is librarians and information technologists who are making the decisions and are in on the discussions rather than actual academics, which is to say people who actually read the books and use them for research. Incidentally the comment about basing buying on actual use further illustrates this. It sounds great to a non-academic ear, but it is antithetical to the proper spirit of academic libraries. The Journal of Theoretical Astrophysics is going to be read by one or two people per university, but it is nevertheless absolutely integral to the collection and to the university’s overall health as a research institution. A new Jonathan Franzen novel will get a lot more use, and is a lot cheaper, but has much less value to the institution. Academic libraries simply require a different way of understanding access than other libraries do, and it is a source of endless frustration when academic librarians don’t adequately understand their mission or dismiss it as esoteric or elitist.

  2. Ebook adoption rates are much higher in academic libraries than in public libraries or school libraries (the other major constituencies of the summit) in terms of of percentage of collections and in terms of percent of acquisition budgets spent. I think that puts them pretty squarely ahead of the [ebook adoption] curve.

    However, your point is well taken that cumbersome platforms remain, and and that’s hopefully where increased demand for ebooks will spur some innovation.

    Also, in terms of user-driven acquisitions, I don’t think the idea is to ignore anything the faculty doesn’t explicitly request. Rather, the idea is for a mixed model, with curated collections chosen by subject specialists supplemented by a dedicated budget for on-demand materials. That budget’s there to catch anything the librarians may not have been able to anticipate, not to replace the collection development librarians. At least, that’s what I’ve observed from the schools currently testing this kind of program.

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