e-Book Acquisitions: e-Forum Summary

The e-forum discussion focused on a variety of topics related to issues of e-book acquisitions, such as: options for obtaining and providing access to e-books for academic libraries, lease vs. ownership, internal workflows, acquisition models, and usage statistics. There were sixty-three individual contributors to the discussion; fifty-nine from academic libraries; and fifteen from public, school, and special libraries. Noted here are the questions posed and summation of contributor responses.

What is your institution doing to acquire e-books?

The discussion started with a general topic about what institutions are currently doing to acquire e-books. Most of the respondents indicated that their institutions acquire e-books by a variety of methods but most place firm orders, either in conjunction with their approval plan vendor or directly with an aggregator or publisher. Some libraries are implementing e-preferred for firm and approval orders. Many are also simultaneously managing patron- or demand-driven acquisitions (PDA or DDA) and e-book package subscriptions. Some libraries also acquire e-books via consortia memberships. The Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, are purchasing e-books for the consortium based on short-term loans turning into purchases on the fourth use. Some discussion touched on how libraries to code MARC records for e-books in subscription packages, DDA discovery records for the purpose of identification for owned content and record maintenance. UNC Chapel Hill shared portions of eBooks Platforms Recommendations & eBooks Collections Strategy, a wiki page that provides useful information for librarians and selectors.

PDA: Getting started and getting buy-in

Many respondents shared information about their PDA acquisitions methods. One contributor used selector-mediated purchases based on short-term loans use. PDA initiatives are managed in large part by collection management librarians who enlist a team consisting of technical services librarians to execute the program. Many institutions began with a pilot or limited-subject PDA that later became part of the acquisition norm. Most respondents mentioned providing communication and education opportunities for librarians in advance of the PDA initiation. PDA programs are funded in a number of ways but most libraries used funds gleaned from monograph allocations and many indicated that future funding would likely be distributed based on subject area through historical analysis of triggered e-book purchases.

Use of Adobe Digital Editions on public computers

There was some interest regarding the use of Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) for downloading e-books on public computers and concern over the technical implications of users authorizing personal Adobe IDs on public computers. One librarian understood that the library was restricted to four ADE accounts on any one public computer so they elected not to put it on their public computers. Another installed Adobe Digital Editions on a number of workstations over the last couple of years, however, found that the software is rarely used. One respondent noted that he did not think Adobe Digital Editions on public computers is necessary since users cannot save files to the public computers, so there is no incentive to download. The Read Online options work well and users need only download if they want to read the book on their laptop where there is no Internet access.

Publicizing e-books and platform differences

Most respondents stated that the primary access point for e-book discovery is the catalog. Some have a scoping mechanism within the catalog so that our users can narrow their search to just e-books. Some add a public note to explain restrictions on the number of simultaneous users that can access an e-book.

Discovery may be problematic for subscription package titles that are not added to the catalog, although access is provided via other e-resource services. Some use a LibGuide to promote e-book collection and provide instruction on the various platform and download protocols, or guidelines for using e-books for course reserves. Others noted that the library loans Kindles and iPads and that there is increasing interest in downloading to personal mobile device.

Children’s e-books

There was some inquiry into library orders for children’s literature in e-book format. One participant indicated that they knew of Tumblebooks and their library ordered some nonfiction curriculum materials from EBSCO. A public library respondent stated that they order a large amount of children’s e-materials through OverDrive. The other major general vendors such as Axis 360 and the 3M Cloud Library also provide children’s content. A K–12 school librarian ordered more than six hundred e-books from Follett and Gale. Other vendors mentioned were Mackin, Bearport, and Rosen.

E-books and usage statistics

Many gather statistics on regular schedule and some as needed when conducting evaluation of specific package subscription or conducting funding analysis. Statistics are useful to inform for bibliographers regarding selection and for developing future weeding criteria. One contributor commented that they see most of their library use is in the humanities, English, and career-related. Another noted purchasing activity for electronic copies of textbooks which has prompted reconsideration of the textbook policy. There was some frustration over nonstandard reports provided by vendors making it difficult to compare one source with another. It was also noted that usage data help evaluate and adjust the approval plan to better serve user demand. One respondent use statistics to identify and promotes underutilized e-books to library clients who may not know that the ebooks are available or how to access them.

E-books and popular reading

Discussion indicated that most academic libraries are not providing access to popular reading ebooks. They may refer people seeking more leisure reading material to public libraries. One librarian looked into OverDrive, but the cost for the academic market was prohibitive. Baker and Taylor has a program called Axis360 that looks promising, but one contributor thought at the time of the e-Forum that IP recognition wasn’t available. One uses OverDrive for their audio book collection.

Weeding e-books

One librarian noted that their library withdraws e-books when newer editions (either in print or electronic) are available, but they don’t have planned weeding workflow like they do for the print books. Another weeded the old Netlibrary collection, which amounted more than fourteen thousand titles that had zero checkouts. Netlibrary calls them “dusty titles.” One library weeds prior editions of medical books when a new edition is purchased or licensed.

Collection development policy, selection, and selectors

University of Wyoming purchased approximately 75 percent of orders (both monographic and serial) in e-format. They anticipate that the percentage will go up with the implementation of e-Approval trial next year. They selected subject areas starting with scientific and support materials for our outreach students. The current selection process allows the bibliographer to choose the format if available for any title. They do not duplicate formats unless specifically requested by the bibliographer. At UNC Chapel Hill, e-books have affected monographic collections in four major ways:

  • shifting book budget from print monograph spending to e-books,
  • increased purchase of e-book collections both locally and via consortia,
  • implementation of the PDA, and
  • selectively moving print approval plans to e-preferred format.

UNC states that these transformations have not met with selectors’ resistance by providing flexible acquisitions, involving selectors in setting DDA subject parameters and allowing selectors to buy duplicate print copies when the library has an e-version.


The first question of day two focused on workflows, with respondents providing details related to ordering and cataloging workflows as well as selecting ebooks. Karen Harker, Collection Assessment Librarian at the University of North Texas Libraries, wrote “DDA takes much more time to manage and monitor than simple packages….” How have e-book acquisitions changed the workflow in technical services at your library? What are the major hurdles and how do the workflows differ from one e-book acquisition method to another?

One librarian stated that e-books do not make a major change in acquisitions workflow other than adding a couple different vendors for ordering. Identifying what books are e-books and through which vendor, and a cost comparison to the paper version, takes the most time. Another stated that checking for availability as DDA has been incorporated into the monograph acquisitions workflow. On the other hand there are major changes in cataloging because they receive orders immediately for cataloging. Cataloging takes about the same time as for paper items, but the e-books are catalogued more quickly. There is time savings after cataloging because there is no physical processing. The advantage for users is that titles are available via the e-book vendor very quickly. She also wonders if in the future cataloging e-books will be necessary as more paper book purchasing declines and federated searching becomes more pervasive.


Participants also discussed institutional priorities for licensing. License terms such as perpetual access, unlimited access level for high-demand resources, as well as the issue of archival access or ability to download for archival hosting were of greatest concern. Some prefer single-user, perpetual access license with a clause for downloading for archiving if vendor stops archiving. They upgrade to multiuser perpetual access if an instructor will be using it in her course. There was some frustration expressed regarding the small number of e-textbooks that have multiuser license and the difficulty of explaining such unavailability to users. Regarding ILL, one librarian commented that the e-book packages they purchased directly from publishers (rather than through ebrary and others) have no digital rights management (DRM) restrictions and freely allow them to fill ILL requests with the e-books to which they have perpetual access. Springer was cited as amenable in that regard.

E-book provider changes

Issues discussed included use of links and call numbers, and the issue of changing vendor name in MARC record fields when provider changes or mergers occur. Questions raised related to provider changes included possibility that products might be more expensive, that platform advantages might be lost, and the loss of competition as a driver to negotiating favorable offers or orders. Fewer providers could mean that ordering and processing becomes easier, but a concern was raised related to the possibility that a publisher could pull holdings from one collection to go to a more expensive collection.

MARC records

The processing of e-book MARC records was also discussed, including examples of where sets come from and the use of MarcEdit to add or remove fields as per institutional requirements. A variety of methods to receive records and receive notification of records was mentioned as well as possibility of specific browsers required to access records. In addition to MarcEdit, MARC Report and the Script Wizard in MarcEdit were mentioned as tools for MARC records processing. JIRA was mentioned as a tool to track information related to expectations for MARC records and as a way to manage sets and workflow.

The moderators would like to thank those who contributed observations, questions and responses that made for an excellent discussion. To see specific messages from this e-book e-Forum, please visit: http://lists.ala.org/sympa/arc/alcts-eforum/2013-02/thrd1.html.

This e-Forum was held February 27 and 28, 2013, and was moderated by Andrea M. Langhurst, University of Notre Dame, and Kay Downey, Kent State University.

ALCTS e-Forums are two-day, moderated, electronic discussion forums that provide an opportunity for librarians to discuss matters of interest on an ALCTS discussion list. These discussions are free-of-charge and available to anyone who wishes to subscribe to the list.

ALCTS News publishes wrap-ups of e-forums in each issue. To see the schedule of upcoming forums and to sign up to participate, visit www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/upcoming/e-forum. Previous sessions are archived at www.ala.org/alcts/confevents/past/e-forum.

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