Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Almost Half of University Library Books Never Used

Interesting article today from the Publishers Weekly daily news update:

At the recent annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses in Salt Lake City, "publishers experienced shock and awe at a session on demand-driven library acquisitions. Michael Levine-Clark,collections librarian at the University of Denver, reported that 47% of books acquired from 2000 to 2009 were never checked out, a phenomenon echoed by Stephen Bosch, in charge of budgets and procurement at the University of Arizona library, where over the past decade $19 million has been spent on books that were never used. Facing both budget and space pressures (Denver was required to give up 20,000 square feet of shelf space to student use), both libraries have joined a usage-based purchase program with YBP Library Services in which an e-book can now be rented when requested by a library user; and after a certain number of requests demonstrate the book’s likely continued use, the e-book is then acquired at the hardcover list price."

No wonder college tuition is so high! Someone has to pay for all those library books that students never use. Goodbye heavy, expensive textbooks and reference books. This further drives the path towards e-books and e-readers taking over the university market.


Tim McGeary said...

Book circulation statistics do not show the whole story because books are often used internally and re-shelved. Some libraries have a mechanism for logging this type of use, but many don't because it is tedious, manual, and produces unreliable data.

Academic libraries also don't carry books that circulate frequently like public libraries. They are for reference, reflect scholarship and literature of specific subjects that support current research and academic programs, or (maybe most importantly) are cited by faculty to be crucial to their own research or teaching. Also, book purchases, in general, represent much less than half of total library resource expenditures. The vast majority of cost is in purchasing (print) or licensing (electronic) journals and databases. This is where the real cost is, and also the majority of usage, especially in the business, science, and engineering programs.

E-books for some resources are good, though I personally doubt the rental model will succeed unless it becomes closer to a license, like an e-journal. But users are resistant, if not downright dismissive, of being told they have to use an e-book like a real book, i.e. only one simultaneous access per copy. If it is electronic, they say, give us perpetual access (again like e-journals).

As for the comment on tuition, the library acquisition budgets are often the first to get cut and last to receive increases, and are far from being the major impact on college tuition increases.

Rob Eagar said...


Thanks for providing a fuller picture on this Publishers Weekly article.

The rumors I hear with the advent of the iPad is that students will use those devices to replace carrying around textbooks. I would expect that this will put price pressure on this academic market, just like Amazon did to trade books with their low $9.99 price point.

This would also impact inventory in libraries, since students would prefer to look at text books or reference books anywhere, anytime online.

Since you're on the Library Technology Team at LeHigh, what do you see happening in this area?

Rob Eagar

Tim McGeary said...

At Lehigh, the e-book transition is quite slow, mostly from a usability standpoint, rather than lack-of-convenience or cost.

Also book readers are not popular among students, yet. Faculty and staff are getting them, but it has not been the technology choice of the student generation. From my reading of the landscape, the college/universities that provide them to the students are the main examples of good usage.

For libraries in particular, until e-books can be "borrowed" like a print book, they will not easily replace the collection. That's a digital rights management issue, and a very complex one. My vision of a successful implementation of a circulating e-book collection would be a download station to one's iPad or book reader of their choice, that had a certain usage period, could be renewed X amount of times, and then was automatically deleted from their reader at the end. Nice ideal, but complicated solution.

As for textbooks, Lehigh's bookstore is run by Barnes and Nobles. At a seminar last year about e-books here on campus, a representative from our college bookstore stated that demand for e-textbooks is very low and publishers have indicated it is not of value to pursue. Keep in mind that, in large percentages, students don't keep textbooks. They return them for cash, and by up used textbooks whenever possible. The online market of used textbooks is quite stable.

Unlike the Amazon example, I am skeptical that a textbook publisher would be willing to sell a $150 engineering textbook for $10 electronically. What is the price point that would benefit both publisher and student/user? Honestly, I don't know, or that it could even be defined within a close range for both parties.