Collections Strategies for Electronic Books: Demand for E-Books Is Growing Faster Than Librarians and Publishers Had Foreseen, but License and Digital Rights Management Restrictions Are Not Keeping Pace with Users' Needs

By Newman, Michael L. | Information Outlook, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Collections Strategies for Electronic Books: Demand for E-Books Is Growing Faster Than Librarians and Publishers Had Foreseen, but License and Digital Rights Management Restrictions Are Not Keeping Pace with Users' Needs


Newman, Michael L., Information Outlook


After a slow start, users are becoming interested in digital books, and library e-book collections are growing rapidly. Suddenly, libraries have entire collections of e-books rather than just a few titles, and because of this they need to develop collections strategies.

At Stanford University, our libraries are somewhat decentralized, and some of them are aggressively pursuing digital collections while others are not. We have not elected to develop e-book collections in specific subject areas; instead, each bibliographer is free to purchase e-books in his or her subject area in response to demand and depending on availability. More digital books are available in science, technology and medicine (STM) than in the humanities, and in our experience, interest among users is strongest in disciplines where the greatest number of e-books is available. Thus, our e-book collection in STM is much stronger than in other subject areas, although even within the scientific and technical fields there is variation in both interest and availability.

To Duplicate or Not?

We have purchased digital books that duplicate some of our most heavily used printed items, and we have purchased others as substitutes for core titles that we would have purchased in print in the past. In a few cases, we have filled gaps in our collection by purchasing e-books that we never would have purchased in print. All three strategies have been successful.

Ideally, the library would purchase its most heavily used titles in both printed and digital formats to allow for individual reader preferences and to provide continuous access. We offer duplicate copies to our users for a few titles, but we do not offer them routinely because of the expense. The cost of the digital version is usually higher than the cost of the printed version, and our collection development budget cannot support this level of duplication.

In the sciences and engineering we are moving toward a digital-only collection of monographs, and Stanford's Lane Medical Library is moving much more rapidly in this direction. We now typically purchase only the digital version of core monographs that formerly we would have purchased in print. Perhaps the budget problems of the past two years have prepared users to expect a reduced library collection of printed materials, or perhaps users are more ready to move to digital formats than we think they are, but we receive few requests from users to purchase a printed copy of a book if they know it is available digitally.

We have purchased book packages from a few large publishers because the cost per book can be well below the total cost of all the individual books in the package. If we selected titles individually we would not select all of the titles contained in a given package, but in many cases packages are a good value for us. One benefit of these packages is that they often address subject areas in which Stanford has no programs and in which, therefore, the library does not acquire many materials. An example is agriculture, in which there are no programs at Stanford. However, agriculture is related to economics, development, ecology, and other subject areas that are studied at Stanford, and we are finding surprising patterns of use among titles we would not have selected had we not purchased any packages.

Collections Considerations

Our digital book collections strategy is influenced by reader demand, availability, price, and the license terms offered by e-book providers. In early 2009, a survey of users of our science and engineering libraries found that 16 percent of participants preferred using books in electronic format most or all of the time, while 22 percent reported that electronic books are very important sources of information for their work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the number of users who prefer e-books has grown rapidly since that time. Availability is increasing to meet that demand. …

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Collections Strategies for Electronic Books: Demand for E-Books Is Growing Faster Than Librarians and Publishers Had Foreseen, but License and Digital Rights Management Restrictions Are Not Keeping Pace with Users' Needs
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