Friday, July 06, 2012

Summary of ALA panel on eBook collection development practices

Sue Polanka has published a summary of a panel at the American Library Association Conference on library eBook collection development practices, in which she was a panelist. Here's a summary:

Sue Polanka of the Wright State University Libraries spoke about the various eBook business models that libraries can choose from (or in some cases, where there are no alternative vendors, have to live with.) She said that libraries aren't just purchasing eBooks--they're purchasing the software, user interface and DRM that goes along with them. Polanka recommends that libraries first determine what kind of collection they want: 1) A comprehensive long-term collection, 2) Paying for just-in-time access to titles requested by patrons, or 3) A hybrid of the two approaches. (However, some titles and publishers may only be available under one model.) She displayed a chart of business models, ranging from free, all the way to short term loan/pay-per-use. As the models become more restrictive, the DRM burden increases, and the titles become more temporary than permanent.

Polanka spoke about the OhioLINK consortium's program for purchasing eBooks, which has three acquisition priorities: Shared access for all members, unlimited simultaneous use, and unlimited lifetime use. The consortium currently has about 41,000 titles, and generally acquires publishers' entire frontlists rather than cherry-picking titles. In the most recent fiscal year, 25,000 titles were added, and usage was very high (less than 4% of the titles were not used.)

Alene Moroni of the King County Library System, said that her libraries' eBook budget has increased by 60% in each of the last three years, although the overall library budget has been flat. To pay for the eBooks, they've diverted print reference collection funds. Initially, they assigned 10% of the materials budget to eBooks, then cut the subscription database budget in half and added the savings to eBook acquisition. To identify which databases to cut, they're monitoring usage by "clicks" to the databases from the library's own website, and are cancelling low-usage databases as they come up for renewal. (They found that vendor usage statistics were unreliable, so they're tracking usage themselves.) In addition, they surveyed the staff to identify the databases they used the most, and looked at the databases in terms of community need, to insure that they didn't cancel databases for which there was a need. The final determinant was cost-per-use.

Linda Di Biase of the University of Washington said that they ran three pilot projects to try to get finer-grained information about eBook usage and preferences:

In the first project, the ran a Patron-Driven Acquisition (PDA) test with ebrary from July 2010 to February 2011, focusing on Social Studies and Humanities titles published from 2005 to 2010. Ten activities, such as printing, copying, reading a set number of pages, or reading for a certain amount of time, triggered a purchase. Some information, such as who was using the titles, was unavailable, but they were were trying to determine if eBooks were being using, how they were being used and how eBook usage overlapped with print versions of the same titles. The conclusions:
  • 59% of the eBooks that were purchased were already owned in print versions, but 17% of those weren't available to be borrowed. 
  • 42% of the titles were owned as print and available, but borrowers preferred the eBook versions. 
  • Higher than average purchases of history, economics, sociology and political science titles. 
In the second project, which is still underway, they're using eBooks from Ebook Library (EBL) with demand-driven purchases. Publication dates are from 2007 to the present. Of $37,000 budgeted for the test, the library has spent approximately $25,000. Results so far are similar to the ebrary test.

In the third test, they participate in a 37-member consortia that has a contract with EBL. The bottom line of this test so far is the PDA titles get more use than titles purchased by libraries without patron input. 20% of the EBL titles that libraries purchased outright got used, vs. 100% of the titles purchased through the demand-driven model. In addition, they've learned that it's okay to purchase both print and eBook copies of the same title if the library can afford it; many patrons still prefer print, and using eBooks to discover titles may increase interest in print.

Anne Lee, Free Library of Philadelphia, said that the library's budget for materials was recently cut by 50%, so they have to be a lot more selective about what they buy. About 72% of the titles they purchase from OverDrive are fiction. They used to buy a print copy for every eBook copy, but now, some titles aren't available in print. The library uses bestseller lists and vendor information to discover titles to buy. They're also putting more effort into discovering self-published titles to acquire, using sources such as Kirkus Reviews. Lee asked some colleagues about their content development procedures for eBooks: One suggestion was to get familiar authors, hot topics and extra copies. Another suggested aiming for balance, especially since not everything is available as an eBook. Some libraries found that old titles were checked out as soon as they got them. Another found that poetry eBooks circulated right away. The Free Library is testing the Freading model, but they're finding that some publishers are pulling titles out of the program, but may put some of them back in at a later date.

Finally, she said that 40% of Philadelphia residents don't have internet access at home. They're trying to figure out how to respond to increased smartphone use, and they've returned to determining how to best purchase print, eBooks and databases to serve all patron types.

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