A Librarianís View of Ebook Acquisitions
Maxim van Gisbergen, Elyse Profera, and Christine M. Stamison; Swets
[This column lets experts discuss the challenges in their industry niche. —Ed.]
Although they are a relatively small part of a library’s budget, ebooks are being adopted by librarians, providing an alternative source of information to end users. Research done by Swets shows that ebooks constitute approximately 9% of total book expenditures, and that number is expected to double within the next 3 years. While this figure shows current interest and potential growth for ebooks, it also reveals that print books are still necessary. Nevertheless, there are a number of libraries adopting an “e-first” approach for books.
Swets conducted a global customer online survey in February 2009. The survey went to 1,332 Swets customers; 221 of them completed the questionnaire. The majority of responses were received from England (27%), North America (22%), The Netherlands (13%), and Germany (12 %). Additionally, Swets conducted interviews with 20 customers from library market sectors in Europe and North America.
This research determined that librarians find the selection and acquisition processes most troublesome within the ebook cycle. This is the opposite of journals, where providing access and subscription management are the most challenging. Now the focus is on ebook challenges causing the most concern for librarians: the selection process, content format, purchase models, and order placement.
The ultimate decision maker for selecting books varies among institutions. In some organizations, librarians select titles, often following end users’ requests. At others, end users perform the selection. In cases where end users select titles, the main responsibilities of librarians include managing budgets, placing orders, providing access to end users, and avoiding duplication of resources.
Librarians remain informed of new book offerings in various ways. They review publisher brochures, read book reviews, set up alerting profiles with book suppliers, and actively browse the internet.
For books, impact factors do not exist to indicate the quality of a title as they do for journals. And librarians do not always have time to investigate the content of a title in detail. The core bibliographic information, preferably annotations and tables of contents, can provide sufficient information, but this data is not always available in systems used for title selection.
An alternative to individual title selection is the book approval plan. A book approval plan enables libraries to acquire all titles matching their customers’ interests and profiles. Currently, ebook approval plans are becoming prominent. According to Swets’ research, a formalized, integrated approval plan combining print and electronic books does not currently exist in the marketplace.
The advent of ebooks ushered in new ways of choosing titles. A relatively new selection method is patron-driven selection, which is offered by multiple ebook aggregators. This means a library allows its end users to have access to a range of titles that were limited by the library’s own criteria. Once a title is accessed a specified amount of times, it is automatically purchased by the library.
Content format is another issue concerning the library community. Typically, the desired title format has not been defined within the selection procedure. With journals, electronic format has become the default choice. For books, the opposite holds true for most organizations.
As libraries shift toward choosing electronic content over print, they are adopting an e-first policy, meaning that the preferred format is electronic. If not available in electronic format, the title is then purchased in print. Some customers have adopted an e-only policy: The book budget is spent completely on ebooks.
Exploring the right purchase model for your library can also be difficult. With print books, you can order titles from the publisher. With ebooks, more purchase models and vendor options are available.
A new supplier type has emerged for ebooks called an ebook aggregator. The aggregators’ value proposition is a single platform for librarians to acquire ebook titles from various publishers, governed by the same pricing model and license agreement. End users benefit from accessing and searching a broad range of titles through a single interface. Small- to medium-sized publishers work through aggregators because they cannot justify costs for developing and maintaining their own ebook platforms.
Titles from large publishers can be acquired directly from the publisher under different pricing models. Typically, these publishers offer discounted collections that are not available through aggregators, provide flexible digital rights management (DRM) restrictions, and have a minimal platform fee.
To complicate purchasing models, ebooks can be downloaded in different formats or made available on IP-authenticated platforms. Titles are sold in large bundles and individually. Concurrent access can be limited to a single user or multiple users, and titles can be offered under a subscription model or as an outright purchase. Vendors have their own license criteria indicating terms of usage, including downloading and printing content.
Most librarians indicated that they would like to use the workflow they have in place for ordering print books for also ordering electronic versions. The organizations that make use of integrated library systems would like to place ebook orders through these systems to gain more control over budgets and prevent additional staff training on other systems. In some cases, library systems are preloaded with MARC records; in other instances, MARC records are obtained through the book supplier and manually uploaded into the library system to place the order. The librarians surveyed predicted individual purchases will become the most popular way of buying ebooks in the future.
Future of Ebooks
Swets’ research determined that librarians want one platform with options to share, discover, and compare available vendors and ebook purchasing options. This would simplify the procurement process for libraries. Customer feedback suggests the information marketplace should create a web-based platform, enabling the procurement of ebooks from an array of vendors. This platform would present customers with a total overview of ebook offerings as well as enable libraries to use a single source for ebook purchasing and remain free to choose the preferred access route. This desired service does not yet exist. But as the ebook marketplace grows, it is within the information content industry’s best interest to resolve this challenge.