Academic libraries further embrace ebooks as demand increases during COVID-19 pandemic

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While academic libraries have been slower to adopt ebooks than their public library counterparts, more and more colleges and universities are turning to a variety of digital content to support their academic mission. And because of the distance learning requirements brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the adoption of ebooks has increased further. This is demonstrated in the results of Ebook Collection Development in Academic Libraries: Examining Preference, Management, and Purchasing Patterns, a newly released study written by Choice with support from OverDrive Professional. Get the full report here

Ebook Collection Development in Academic Libraries offers a comprehensive view of academic libraries’ attitudes toward ebooks and audiobooks—including both academic and curriculum-based materials as well as popular fiction and nonfiction—and how they implement the purchase of these titles into their collection development workflow. Based on survey results from academic librarians, this report shines a much-needed light on the ways academic libraries are responding to the increased demand for digital content.

Methodology and demographics 
The survey, conducted in March and April 2020, examined the state of ebooks in academic libraries both before COVID-19 and at the onset of the pandemic. Choice collected responses from 253 academic library professionals working in a variety of roles. Librarians from public and private institutions made up the bulk of survey respondents (97%). 

State of ebooks and audiobooks in academic libraries 
Overall, 98% of survey respondents reported providing ebooks at their college or university. Furthermore, ebooks make up an average of one-third of surveyed academic libraries’ monograph collections. Most librarians surveyed believe readers are “format agnostic,” and acquisition models focus on the content, not the format. As such, the monograph collections of surveyed librarians now reflect a mix of print and ebooks, with 43% of respondents saying their overarching acquisition model favors ebooks over print. 
In terms of content, the overwhelming majority of survey respondents (89%) cite academic titles as the type of ebook content they are purchasing and will continue to purchase. Popular subject categories surveyed librarians are purchasing in ebook form include social sciences, humanities, and physical sciences. This data point reflects academic libraries’ print collections, with 92% of librarians reporting that less than 10% of their print monograph collections is dedicated to popular fiction and pleasure reading. 

Benefits of ebooks in academic libraries 
Over 93% of survey respondents cited anytime, anywhere access as the key advantage to offering ebooks to students, faculty and staff. 
Other major benefits include:  

  • Multi-user access 
  • Enhancement of distance and online education 
  • Does not take up physical space in the library 
  • Meet patron demand 

Academic libraries’ ability to provide titles to their community regardless of a user’s location proved vital in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when access to the physical library may be limited or students are learning remotely. 

Budgeting for ebooks on college campuses 
While the breakdown of budget allocation varies, a vast majority (82%) of respondents noted their ebook spending has increased compared to what they were spending three years ago, and 61% of respondents indicated they plan to increase their ebook purchasing budget in the coming year. 

Data drives acquisition decisions
One advantage ebooks have over print is powerful data—such as circulation and average waiting time for holds—that librarians can leverage to make purchasing decisions. As noted in the Ebook Collection Development in Academic Libraries report, “With ebooks, libraries have the potential to harvest data about [title] usage at a granular level.”  

The preferred primary acquisition model for ebooks is title-by-title, with 81% of respondents indicating this is the most-widely used purchasing method. Combining title-by-title purchases with data-driven decisions, academic libraries can build an ebook collection that best meets the needs of their school. 

Ebook acquisition in response to the COVID-19 pandemic 
In a short follow-up survey conducted in June 2020, a smaller group of respondents was asked about how, if at all, their ebook acquisition model has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  
While the sample is small, their answers indicate a powerful shift toward ebook adoption in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of respondents (74%) reported they would be buying more ebooks due to the pandemic. When asked for the reason behind the increase in ebook purchasing, 95% of respondents said it would better support online teaching, while 85% attributed it to direct requests from faculty or students. 

The future of ebooks in academic libraries 
While ebooks were steadily gaining popularity in higher education prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the follow-up survey signals that the closing of physical campuses and libraries and resulting shift to online learning accelerated how academic libraries adopt and utilize digital collections. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, OverDrive had seen 20% annual growth in the academic market over the last few years because of the convenience, access, choice, cost, and flexibility that digital offers. This trend is sure to continue and should be compared to the accelerated marketing trajectory of Zoom, Apple, Salesforce, and Netflix. 

Get the full report here

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