“The acquisition of e-books in the libraries of the Swedish higher education institutions”

The Library’s Martin Borg has co-authored an article on the purchase of e-books in university and college libraries in Sweden. The article was published in June this year and is available here. Lead author of the article is Elena Maceviciute of The Swedish School of Library and Information Science. The article examines the advantages and disadvantages of purchasing e-books at two Swedish university libraries.

The purchase of e-books in our library has been a deliberate strategy as we see many advantages with the format. But there are problems with the models that distributors of e-books offer today, the article reports that e-books often has some form of embargo so that new books should first be sold in their print version and the e-book version is issued a couple of months later. The e-book is also provided with digital rights management (DRM), meaning that different types of techniques is used to prevent the use of the material on the basis of copyright laws. The effect of DRM is, for example restrictions on how you can transfer media from PC to tablet, how much of the material users may print, and if you can download it for offline reading. Another implication for libraries is that interlibrary loan (ILL) is not allowed for e-books, which really should be one of the e-book’s major advantages. At the same time, we believe we know that the benefits to our patrons exceed the disadvantages.

Other factors that the authors consider are aspects of the acquisition budget which is complicated by the frequent subscription packages of e-books, and it is sometimes difficult to estimate what the cost will be. Studies has proven that e-books are often more expensive than their physical version although the e-book is cheaper to produce. The article continues with a description of the various business models for e-books, which entails subscription, patron-driven acquisitions (PDA), traditional purchase of titles or collections of e-books which are problematic if the title is abandoned by it’s publisher, then the library may lose the title in it’s collection.

Our library has today more e-books than what we have printed books, the latest figures show almost 114,000 printed books while the e-books amounts to a little over 137,000. The article however presents statistics from the National Library of Sweden, which shows that the printed books in Swedish university libraries far exceeds the e-book, but that 70% of all acquisitions in 2012 were e-books. The benefits of multiple users being able to borrow an e-book at the same time (although there are limits also for this in some cases) and accessing it at any time of the day from any location are very important from a user perspective. Even if libraries have problems with marketing e-books, and to catalogue them so that they become available in a simple way this has been partly solved through more and more libraries implementing discovery solutions to search for library materials.

Very few non-fiction books in swedish are published as e-books in relation to the number of non-fiction books that are published each year, this also affect the use of e-books and the ability for some to use them. E-books in the academic genre is still very rare in swedish as english is the language most researchers publish themselves in order to get as much publicity as possible.

According to the authors, the biggest challenge is to get the e-book to work with the library’s interest, but it’s clear that none of the business models used today put the library and its users in focus but is simply a way to maximize the sales of distributors.

Text: Lisa Carlson