Home 9 Against the Grain 9 v28 #2 Strengthening the Story: Library Influence on the Academic Book Business

v28 #2 Strengthening the Story: Library Influence on the Academic Book Business

by | Jun 28, 2016 | 0 comments

by Stephanie Church  (Acquisitions and Metadata Services Librarian, Case Western Reserve

The academic book business has many moving parts and libraries are one of them.  To hypothesize on the future, I want to examine how libraries influence the market today.  Delving into what I see as a librarian might help to give context to the larger discussion.

One major trend that has emerged and will continue to gain traction in the world libraries occupy is assessment.  Assessment is no longer a buzzword.  More and more Assessment Librarian positions are appearing in academia.  Librarians, in all areas of the organization, are encouraged to contribute to a culture of evidence-based application, where strategic objectives are defined and higher-level decisions influenced by specific, measurable outcomes.  Today, libraries need to demonstrate their relevance, viability, and value.  These are no longer assumed on campus.  Assessment is essential for libraries to make their case.

Libraries must prove and promote their impact and their value to the greater academic community.  User-driven business models are very attractive to libraries for these reasons.  Considering the push for use analysis and justification of purchases, it is no wonder Demand-Driven Acquisition (DDA) and evidence-based initiatives have been so widely accepted.  By design, DDA allows the library to focus purchasing on repeatedly used content or titles requested by our constituency at point of need, ensuring usage.  DDA permits libraries to offer a breadth of scholarly material to faculty and students in a highly cost-effective way.

In my position at Case Western Reserve University’s Kelvin Smith Library, I conducted a usage-based analysis of our first foray into DDA.  One of the most influential findings demonstrated that DDA eBooks were eight times more likely to be used than firm-ordered eBooks.1  Cost-per-use data showed that we were spending roughly $14 per DDA eBook but over $100 for firm-ordered eBooks.  A staggering 73% of firm-ordered eBooks had zero usage.  This examination has since folded into an analysis of aggregated platforms and DDA models.  We are looking to expand our current contribution to DDA and I expect to have higher-level discussions on firm order practices and CWRU user preferences.

Discoveries like this truly aid in strategic decisions, by facilitating the discussion that informs those decisions.  This is a significant way libraries can demonstrate fiscal responsibility and build their case to administration, showing why the institution should not only continue its support, but increase investment in the library.

Aside from widening the amount of content available to our users, the less time subject specialists spend on selecting individual titles, the more time they can spend on faculty outreach and research assistance.  I expect the DDA trend to continue and grow, with libraries dedicating larger portions of their budget towards user-selected content.

Recent research is suggesting a trend in general library budget growth.  However this reportedly modest increase is not necessarily translating into addition funds for materials.2  With flat or in some cases decreasing materials budgets, librarians have a responsibility to make conscientious collection management decisions.

Collection development policies may be another area of future growth and change.  If libraries have not reviewed these policies recently, this is a perfect time to revisit what we collect and why we collect.  On a macro and micro level, there are so many questions to answer.  Is our library collecting for posterity?  What format do we purchase and why?  Do we have a preferred aggregated eBook platform?  How much funding should go towards user-driven initiatives?  Will these decisions affect our consortia?  Do we fulfill faculty format requests if that means duplicating content?  The list goes on and on, and I foresee libraries making even more of an effort to focus purchasing of monographic content in ways that align with strategic goals.  Revisiting the collection policy, with the greater library community’s assistance, will only help to strengthen the story a library tells to administration.

When it comes to the format discussion, the physical book is here to stay.  With studies published on exhaustive reading, the correlation between screens and reduced retention,3 and the often expressed tactile joys of using a physical book, it is impossible for me to see a future entirely empty of them.  There is still very much a need and desire for academic book use in its physical form, particularly in the Humanities.

Even so, without question, purchasing of physical scholarly monographs has declined over the past several decades.  Studies and surveys4 have indicated this for quite some time.  Anyone using OCLC Connexion Client can see this purchasing shift in action.  Institutional holdings indicate that eBook titles are on the rise and often surpassing physical book holdings, sometimes by a factor of six over the print.  While consortial-level buying data may inflate these numbers (KSL does not add holdings for shared purchases), this is nonetheless an important purchasing movement that warrants more discussion.

In physical books, one of my pain points in acquisitions is obtaining out-of-print and hard-to-find material.  I expect that buying physical copies of titles published decades ago will be challenging.  But in this day and age, why should it be just as hard to buy a book from five years ago?  I am not well versed in the expense and gamble publishers take on titles and their print runs, or the business side of what it would take, but I do hope to see more print-on-demand content available.  While there is a case to be made regarding general appearance and the integrity of the physical book in its original form, what our users and researchers are truly after is content.  They want to absorb that content and synthesize ideas into their own work.  Libraries want to provide their users with exactly what they need.  Content is a huge driver in what libraries purchase.  Sometimes librarians have a say in which format is best for constituents, but not always, since monographs are not necessarily available in the preferred format.

In the past few years, publishers have experimented with eBook pricing and they continue to test the market.  Successful business models have emerged that seem sustainable for both publishers and libraries.  We are starting to see more of a trend with publisher platforms offering content with less restrictive or even no DRM, and with unlimited user access.  Journals have offered unrestrictive article downloads and other user-friendly options for years and it is refreshing to see these practices rolled into the world of eBooks.  It is what our faculty and students are accustomed to and they have a reasonable expectation to want equitable access in eBooks.  Some publishers even go as far as to offer capabilities and assistance with text and data mining projects.  These are incredible strides in our industry.  Unfortunately these instances, so far, are the exception and not the rule.

In the future, I hope to see more publishers on aggregated platforms allowing for DRM-free chapter downloads, unlimited printing, and simultaneous usage.  Is this too much to ask?  Maybe.  But we are starting to see discussion that open access “may no longer be a pressure point on commercial publishing”5 on the periodical front.  With continued discussion and collaboration, I am optimistic that this could have a residual effect on eBooks.

Why am I optimistic?  Because successful open access initiatives are emerging.  One such enterprise is Knowledge Unlatched (KU).  Established by Frances Pinter and first introduced at the Charleston Conference in 2010,6 KU harnesses buying power on a global level.  It is a way for libraries, publishers, authors, and readers to join forces for the greater good of scholarly achievement through open access.  Hundreds of universities in 24 countries participated in the initial pilot, sharing the cost to make 28 frontlist titles from 13 publishers universally available.  Pilot assessment findings indicated that titles were downloaded worldwide on average over 1,000 times per week.7  KU has a truly global impact, with library buy-in and interest growing.

There are other ways librarians try to influence the world of academic book buying.  There was a discussion on the SERIALIST listserv recently on electronic resources and how libraries handle platforms that require an additional user login beyond IP authentication.  When the choice is available, librarians are actively avoiding platforms and providers that require additional hoops for users to jump though.  While additional steps may not stop serious researchers, it is a huge deterrent for undergraduates who could easily confuse the extra steps as restricted access.  This is a lose-lose-lose-lose situation for the reader, author, publisher, and library.

Librarians don’t want to create adversarial relationships with publishers and vendors, but we are aware that our purchases are powerful.  Our purchases speak for library user needs as well as for philosophical beliefs.  We will continue to navigate the changing landscapes of technology and economics by developing successful strategies driven by measurable evidence.

Librarians are speaking up in a way that is new to the profession.  We are telling our story on an administrative level by demonstrating fiscal responsibility and by a concrete, measurable commitment to the university’s goals.  We share our stories with other librarians and colleagues, building upon best practices, forming partnerships, and making our story stronger.  We also want to share our stories with publishers, vendors, and aggregators, explaining the “why” behind individual purchasing decisions and larger purchasing patterns.  With continued discussion and collaboration and mutual listening as a first step, together we can build a future that works for everyone in the business of academic books.


  1. Church, Stephanie. “Assessing DDA: Measuring Success for Strategic Objectives.”  Case Western Reserve University.  Kelvin Smith Library, October 2015.  Web.
  2. Peet, Lisa. “Gaining Ground Unevenly.”  Library Journal 141.2 (2016): 28.  Web.
  3. Jabr, Ferris. “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: the Science of Paper versus Screens.”  Scientific American (4 April 2013).  Web.
  4. Academic Library Book Purchasing Trends.” Proquest December 2015.  Web.
  5. Bosch, Stephen, and Kittie Henderson. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ on.”  Library Journal 140.7 (2015): 30-5.  Web.
  6. Knowledge Unlatched.Wikipedia, 25 February 2016, Web.
  7. Montgomery, Lucy. “Knowledge Unlatched: A Global Library Consortium Model for Funding Open Access Scholarly Books.”  Cultural Science Journal 7.2 (2014): 1–66.



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