Several years ago, Ithaka S+R began developing a new methodology to gather data about library acquisition patterns. Today, we are excited to announce that we have received support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to expand this into a large-scale, national study.

The project, as it was originally conceived by Joseph Esposito, hoped to gain a better understanding of how distribution channels were changing. Our interest was piqued by the knowledge that libraries were often purchasing publications through Amazon rather than through traditional wholesalers, whose metrics university presses used to gauge their sales to academic libraries. This led to a sense that libraries were not making as many purchases as before, but what if, in reality, libraries were simply going through other vendors?

With this question in mind, we developed a data collection method in which libraries could generate a spreadsheet of standardized data through an integrated library system (ILS). We began in 2016 with a pilot group of institutions that were then using Ex Libris’ cloud-based platform Alma, through a process facilitated by the Alma Product Working Group and with a query facilitated by colleagues at the University of Minnesota. This initial study proved that detailed acquisitions data could be gathered in this way and that, while the small sample of schools meant that the results were not generalizable, the data could provide valuable insight into library acquisition patterns.

Today, Joe Esposito, Roger Schonfeld, and I are launching what we are calling the Library Acquisition Patterns project. Building off the analysis done in the pilot, we plan to not only take a closer look at which vendors sell the most to which academic disciplines, but to explore a number of other questions as well. Among them, how many monographs are libraries buying? What might account for any differences in purchases across libraries? How are the sales of these monographs and their distribution patterns changing over time, especially with the growing interest in digital scholarship and open access models? Beyond analyzing trends in vendors’ sales and libraries’ acquisitions of monographs, we also plan to investigate other forms of non-traditional acquisitions, as well as the costs of acquisitions and the distribution of non-U.S. and non-English language publications to U.S. research libraries.

We plan to gather data not only through libraries utilizing Alma, but also those utilizing a second cloud-based system—OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services (WMS). We are grateful for the interest that both Ex Libris and OCLC have shown in this work.

Over the next several months, we will invite U.S. academic libraries currently using these platforms to join the project. To participate, libraries need only run a pre-formulated query on their cloud-based platform and submit the resulting report to us for anonymous analysis. As a first stage, we will begin with a group of about 20 institutions in the early fall and expect to generate a preliminary analysis this winter. For the second stage, we hope to gather data from as many as 400 U.S. academic libraries to craft a final data set that will allow us to create as complete a picture as possible of library acquisition patterns. This data set will also link to information from ISBNs to assist in the standardization of each title’s publisher and location. We plan to have a full report based on the entire data set in the spring, with blog posts to share our progress along the way.

We are eager to hear your feedback about this project and encourage you to contact us directly. We will also be looking for the participation of all 415 Alma and WMS users at the baccalaureate to doctoral levels and would welcome your expressions of interest.