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Where Did All the E-Books Go?
A LAP Blog Post

The Library Acquisition Patterns: Preliminary Findings report published in July was the culmination of several years’ worth of work to build a data infrastructure, gather the data, and begin analysis of patterns in U.S. academic libraries’ acquisitions. Although just a stepping stone to publishing a final analysis later this year, we decided to release this preliminary report with a few goals in mind. First, we wanted to update our many dozens of participants on the project’s progress and to provide them with a view of how their data was being utilized. And second, we wanted to give ourselves time to reflect on these findings and, if necessary, to conceptualize alternate ways to conduct the analysis that would ensure accurate and meaningful results. We are thrilled at the level of engagement we have seen so far, and the many comments we have received are helping to guide our research.  

One of the most surprising findings of the preliminary report was that, for the sample of libraries represented, 96 percent of the books acquired were in print format. The issue is that a substantial share of electronic books are not purchased as individual titles, but rather as titles bundled into e-book packages. Additionally, they are sometimes obtained through models that are closer to subscriptions than firm purchases. In acquisitions records maintained through OCLC’s and Ex Libris’s integrated library systems, libraries record each of these packages as one acquired item instead of the many hundreds or thousands of titles within them.

This limitation of the data presents a challenge to analyzing the title count of electronic books.  We are grateful to readers who helped us identify this challenge. In our final report, we still plan to examine the differences in print versus electronic acquisitions and how acquisitions in either format are changing over time. We are continuing to examine opportunities to provide a firm count on the number of e-books that were acquired by participating libraries, but if this is not possible, at minimum we will examine these package records in a way that accurately captures their share of libraries’ acquisitions expenditures. As we move into the final stages of this project, we will consider how best to approach conceptualizing these records to ensure accurate results.

The final report will be published later this fall, and until then we encourage you to leave any comments or feedback in the comments section below, or email me at katherine.daniel@ithaka.org

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