Tag Archives: libraries

Keeping up with the Joneses?


I recently attended Talis Insight 2015 and was particularly interested in a number of presentations from other university libraries discussing their own recent e-text initiatives. A central aim of our Books Right Here Right Now project is to gain a better understanding of how other institutions are tackling e-text provision, finding out about the scope and scale of their projects, the challenges they have faced and their future direction.

It was very interesting to see presentations from the University of East London, Plymouth University, Coventry University and Middlesex University and to realise that despite the similarity of factors driving the projects there are a variety of approaches being taken. Rather than summarising each presentation in detail, I have drawn the strands together into a few key observations:

  • Many of these initiatives have been university-led rather than library-led. The pilots at Coventry mostly closely reflect what we have been doing at Manchester but were a response to a wider university initiative to provide students with free texts. At Manchester, the Library is leading the project and we believe we are best placed in this case to influence its direction and negotiate better e-book deals.
  • Kortext has been the preferred supplier and negotiations with publishers tend to be via a third party such as Kortext or John Smith’s. At Manchester, we have been trialling VitalSource but we are very interested to learn about the reasons for the decisions other institutions have taken.
  • The biggest challenge for all institutions has been to work out which modules are running, who the module co-ordinators are, how many students are expected to take the module and which core text is required. As one presenter noted, “It shouldn’t be that hard!” but for various reasons getting hold of this information is less easy than expected.
  • Timely communication and ongoing technical support and advocacy are essential to ensure academic staff and students know when and where their e-texts are available, how to access them and how to download the texts to get the best functionality.
  • Further research is needed to really understand students’ (and academics’) reading behaviour and preferences.

So what did I learn? Firstly, it is not a case of “keeping up with the Joneses”. What we are doing at Manchester – although very much in line with other initiatives – is different in terms of looking beyond the provision of free textbooks to changing the model by which core texts are purchased and provided. Secondly, it is good to know that we were aware of the other initiatives and weren’t missing anything in terms of our project benchmarking. Finally, it is very reassuring to know that all institutions are facing the same challenges and are open to discussing and sharing experiences to find solutions.

Janette Watson, University of Manchester Library

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E-books and academic libraries: an American perspective


A student approached the Reference Desk last week asking about an e-book that she had found via our library’s catalog.  “Can I download it?” she asked, and gestured to her flash drive.  She wanted to download the e-book as a PDF so that she could read it later from home or on the subway, much the same way she does other documents, such as journal articles from the Library’s databases and course readings from Blackboard. Because this particular e-book was available via ebrary, however, this was not an option.

The Brooklyn College Library, like many other academic libraries across the United States, employs multiple e-book models.  But like most libraries at public institutions of higher education faced with increasing student enrollment and shrinking budgets, the majority of our e-books come from large subscription packages (ebrary, EBSCO) because they provide the biggest bang for the buck.  The content itself is unstable, however (think of the Netflix model in which movies appear and disappear), and digital rights management (or digital restrictions management, as it is also known) imposed by the vendors limit the options for how students access and download these e-books.

E-book collections created by publishers such as Springer and Palgrave are an improvement in that they allow students to easily download the entire book as a PDF, but we still have to purchase large collections with the understanding that only a few of these titles might be used by our students.

Patron driven acquisition (PDA) allows our students to choose which e-book titles they want, but access is limited to one student at a time.

Individual purchasing of e-books ensures that we only buy what we think our students will need, but the process is expensive, onerous, and again access is – in most cases – limited to one user at a time.

Given that academic libraries are rightly at the forefront of the movement to provide low-cost or free course materials to our students, how can we promote the use of our e-book collections when entire books might disappear at any given moment, the options to access and download the e-book are restricted, and certain e-books can only be used by one student at a time?

It is thus with great interest that we look to new e-book pilots such as those being conducted at the University of Manchester Library.  I believe the best way forward is for libraries to leverage their purchasing power and work directly with vendors and publishers.  Given the large sums of money academic libraries spend each year on e-book content, shouldn’t we – on behalf of our students – have a say in how that content is delivered?

Helen Georgas, Assistant Professor, Library, Brooklyn College

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Understanding publishers: a librarian’s perspective


Like many academic librarians involved in purchasing content for their libraries, I have had my share of lengthy negotiations with publishers over the years. As we attempt to launch e-book pilots and develop a new acquisition model as part of the Books Right Here Right Now project, it can sometimes feel that publishers are unwilling or unable to understand our needs and those of our students.

However, one outcome of spending so much time talking to publishers – in person and by email – is that I feel I now have a better understanding of their world. While librarians often bemoan the lack of understanding (whether real or perceived) from publishers, we may be equally guilty of not understanding the environment that publishers are operating in, or naive in our negotiating stance.

The following key points are worth keeping in mind:

Publishers need to return a profit and the margins they want or need to make will form the basis of their negotiations. Unlike libraries, they are not a service but a business and the bottom line is paramount. While there is always room for manoeuvre and sometimes librarians may not push hard enough, unrealistic pricing requests from libraries are doomed to failure.

Publishers have to balance a series of relationships, not just the one with the library. In the context of textbooks and e-books, academic libraries may be major customers but there are two other key relationships that have a bearing on negotiations –

  • Authors have expectations about the royalties from sales of their books -this can have an impact on the pricing of books and also on the granting of digital rights for particular titles.
  • Bookshops – particularly those on university campuses – work very closely with publishers to maximise the sales of textbooks. This symbiotic relationship between the publisher and the bookshop, while subject to other market pressures, can still have an influence on negotiated deals between publishers and libraries.

Seamless access to e-books is still some way off. Despite major advances in technology, the provision of e-books to large cohorts of students through a single, problem-free interface is not yet available. Publishers and intermediaries are working hard to find solutions but librarians need to be realistic in our expectations and understanding of what is currently possible.

Libraries and publishers need each other. While we come to the table with different aims, an understanding of each other’s perspectives and differences is vital to a successful outcome. Now, let the negotiations begin!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

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Libraries and e-book provision: the purchasing paradigm

As is probably the case with most academic libraries, the University of Manchester Library acquires e-books in three main ways:

  1. Buying individual e-book titles through intermediaries
  2. Purchasing bundled e-book packages from publishers
  3. Patron driven acquisition, in which our library users place direct orders for the e-books they need

We are finding that none of these models are entirely satisfactory for a variety of reasons.


Buying individual titles through intermediaries may sometimes be our only option but the process tends to be cumbersome and the pricing models are confusingly opaque. Even more frustrating is that publishers occasionally withdraw titles from their e-book portfolio so our users are again left without access to the books they need.

Purchasing large ‘bundles’ of e-books from publishers for a set fee or an annual subscription tends to mean that we are paying for a high quantity of titles that our students don’t want or need and which will rarely – if ever – be used. Of course, some of these titles will be of value to our researchers but too often we are paying for content in the manner of contestants on Baggage Battles, relying on luck and intuition when placing bids for unseen material.

Patron driven acquisition (PDA) is an approach many libraries are now using and the attraction is obvious – rather than trying to guess what our readers will want to access, we give them direct control by allowing them to choose and order items themselves and get instant access to the text. This works well when the books they require are available electronically, but having used PDA for a while we know that this is often not the case.

As librarians, we need to take on board what our users are telling us about core text provision. As customers, we need to be much better at challenging the status quo in the e-book market and be much more explicit about what we are willing to pay for.

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No future? The one-to-one pricing model


Without wanting to sound nihilistic, we feel that a publisher pricing model in which we pay for e-book access for every single student on a module has no long-term future.

Pricing is based on the idea that there will be 100% take-up of a recommended text on a reading list. Even when discounts are offered, the quote for a module with 500 registered students, with a typical discounted unit price of £25.99 (instead of £39.99), would still amount to £12,995 for a single year’s access to the text.

This raises some concerns for libraries.

The assumption that all students on a module access the core texts is not a true reflection of reality. We are paying an over-inflated price for our e-book subscriptions and while we do our best (as all librarians do) to ensure that every student has access to the resources they may need, the take-up of any given text ranges from 40% up to 75%, with variations across disciplines.

It is rare to see 100% attendance at lectures and we know from our print book loan records that far less students access the recommended texts than there are on a module, so to apply a one-to-one pricing model for e-books is unrealistic.

The longer term aim of publishers seems to be to make this pricing model the standard for all e-book provision, which will lead to library budgets being massively stretched while paying for resources that will never be used. We have already observed this on modules where all students are given a personal, printed copy of a core text, only to see copies being sold on within 24 hours.

We need to find a way of reaching a more realistic, sustainable pricing model for both libraries and publishers. There is a lot of work to be done but we are taking some first steps by starting this discussion with publishers and hope to see much greater progress in the future.

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