Employing Usage Data to Plan for an E-Book Collection: Strategies and Considerations

By Link, Forrest; Tosaka, Yuji et al. | Library Resources & Technical Services, October 2012 | Go to article overview

Employing Usage Data to Plan for an E-Book Collection: Strategies and Considerations


Link, Forrest, Tosaka, Yuji, Weng, Cathy, Library Resources & Technical Services


The authors created a research method to identify local users' needs and explored how well currently available e-book content might meet those needs. Using circulation records, interlibrary loan (ILL) requests, and in-house use as a gauge of patron demand during a three-year period, the study compared these records' to e-book offerings from the major aggregators. The resulting data were analyzed by subject and publication date. The authors found that e-book content that might meet users' needs' was not uniformly distributed across disciplines and that more recent publications were more likely to have e-book equivalents. The highest percentage of e-book equivalents was for titles requested via ILL, suggesting that this might be the best place to begin e-book collecting. The results suggest that e-books may meet only a fraction of the demand for monographic scholarly output and that libraries cannot yet rely on e-book content to entirely supplant print, although e-book coverage is growing dramatically.

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Recently, libraries--particularly academic libraries--have been grappling with issues surrounding e-book acquisitions and collection development. Starting as bundled packages with rather restrictive lending models as first promoted by NetLibrary in the late 1990s, e-books have become more patron-friendly through flexible lending arrangements and have become more acquisitions-friendly through single-title offerings.

In contrast to their swift adoption of e-journals, academic libraries were slow to integrate e-books into the library collections. Barriers to e-book acceptance included libraries' and users' initial unfamiliarity with e-books, slow standardization of e-book technical platforms, lack of a sustainable e-book purchasing model, uncertain circulation policies, and limited discovery and delivery options. (1) Despite these hurdles, the development of e-book collections has emerged as a growing trend among libraries because the new medium provides "added functionality over print versions." (2) This added functionality includes constant availability, remote access, and full-text searching. E-books require no shelf space or reshelving. They can never be lost, stolen, damaged, or overdue. (3)

In the late 2000s, a breakthrough in creating a viable e-book purchase model became one important motivation for libraries to develop large-scale e-book collections. Print book vendors, working with publishers and e-books aggregators, began to incorporate e-books into their ordering databases. This was a considerable improvement over the previous practice of negotiating and managing separate licenses with individual e-book providers or publishers. (4)

More recently, publishers, aggregators, and vendors have moved to promote patron-driven acquisitions (PDA), also called demand-driven acquisitions, by capitalizing on their enhanced platform tools and on-demand availability. In this just-in-time model, which aims to serve as an alternative to the traditional just-in-case model, patrons can enjoy immediate gratification while librarians can continue to broadly shape their collections behind the scenes. Studies have shown that a large percentage of library print materials acquired through traditional means do not circulate. (5) According to Hodges, Preston, and Hamilton, the unused books collected using the just-in-case model are "viewed as waste because it costs to maintain and does not produce a product." (6) In contrast, studies have shown that materials procured based on user demand have higher post-purchase usage. (7) As a result, libraries adopting the PDA model should be able to obtain a better return on their investment in book expenditures as books purchased on demand are used more frequently and by more users.

As the perceived user-demand has led an increasing number of libraries to incorporate e-books into their collections, the issue of perpetual access of e-resources which has been widely discussed since e-journals were first introduced in the academic community-remains valid and an important consideration in e-books collection development. …

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