SPEC Kit 313: E-book Collections  · 11
Executive Summary
“Still a relatively new format. Still mixing
individual purchases with collections. Still
trying to sort out appropriate mix of print vs
electronic. Stay tuned.”
The above quote from one of the survey responses
sums up the state of academic library e-book collec-
tions. The survey captures strong enthusiasm for e-
books tempered by frustration with publisher policies,
staff resistance to a changing model, and confusion
over multiple interfaces and platform access. Some li-
braries have purchased e-books in packages and on an
individual title basis while others are not yet engaged
in title-by-title selection. Even those libraries which
are furthest along acknowledge that the situation is
evolving, is subject to forces outside the institution,
and will continue to necessitate internal change at the
institution. The treatment of e-books in many ways
reflects the changing library landscape and points
to a new business model of acquisition and service
which, to succeed, must come to terms with the needs
of libraries, vendors, and clients.
The survey was distributed to the 123 ARL mem-
ber libraries in March 2009. Seventy-five libraries com-
pleted the survey by the deadline of May 8 for a 61%
response rate.
According to survey responses, most institutions
entered the e-book arena as part of a consortium
that purchased an e-book package. The earliest for-
ays occurred in the 1990s with a package purchase
like netLibrary. The majority of libraries (56 out of 65)
started e-book collections between 1999 and 2004 with
individual titles lagging a little behind (46 out of 62 li-
braries began acquiring single titles in that same time
period). Early adopters acknowledge that the reasons
for the original entry into the e-book field differ from
current drivers. While the 24/7 access remains a con-
stant, early entry was also driven by the opportunity
to pilot new and innovative technology and the access
provided by consortial agreements.
Purchasing at the collection level allowed libraries
to acquire a mass of titles with a common interface,
reducing some of the transition pains to the new for-
mat. Since most of the early collections contained
born-print titles, they offered direct comparisons to
their paper counterparts. The downside of collec-
tions is that libraries find they are often saddled with
titles they would not have selected in print; also, each
collection might have a different interface, adding to
user frustration. Having found that usage of online
titles tends to be higher than the same titles in print,
libraries are now eager to obtain new online content.
Certain subject areas have proved good candidates to
e-book transition for their reliance on current content
or books read in segments. These include reference
items, medicine, law, health sciences, engineering,
computer science, and many business areas. The
medical profession was an early adopter of e-books
which were downloaded to PDAs for easy and fre-
quent access.
Those libraries reporting success with individu-
ally selected e-book titles cope with additional sets of
problems; lag time between print and electronic pub-
lication (with electronic the lagging format), restrictive
digital rights management, loss of access by ILL, and
limited printing top the list of concerns. However,
responses indicate a preference for title-by-title selec-
tion as a more efficient use of funds.
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