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2 Questions for Academic Librarians
January 6, 2010 - 8:57pm

Dear Academic Librarians…...

Please take these questions as those from someone who loves academic libraries and has the ultimate respect and admiration or the academic librarians that make these institutions so indispensable for teaching and learning.

Question 1: Do you foresee a future in which academic libraries will transition from a command and control model of book/journal buying to a demand based, market driven approach to just-in-time acquisitions?

It is hard to understand, from a non-librarian perspective, why our academic libraries continue to buy and house so many paper books and journals. Librarians decide ahead of time which books and journals the community may want to read, buy this content, and then have it sit on the shelves waiting for the patron to come along and find it. (I know that this is not quite true, that many books and journals are requested by departments, faculty or staff - what I don't know is the proportions….)

At what point will "just in time" requests replace a model of book/journal purchasing and subsequent lending? In the consumer space, if I desire a book or DVD I can order from Amazon or Netflix and have it delivered to me in two days. The fidelity of the experience comes both from the user interface (and community features) of the Web sites, and the vast catalogue of content to choose from.

Investing resources in both shared purchasing consortiums and digital search/browse/interaction tools, as opposed to growing and storing collections, may be closer to the academic users needs. Instant printing of books could solve issues of needing the physical copy faster than 48 hours. Would it be any more expensive to give everyone at the institution a Netflix account, allowing them to instantly stream movies and get the DVD in the mail, than it is to purchase, store and manage library media holdings? Same question for digital academic databases? What would be the cost trade-off for giving all patrons a budget to buy 10 books a year from Amazon (which would then become part of the consortium holdings), versus buying and storing books in advance?

Question 2: Will academic libraries be able to transition to delivering their book holdings beyond the paper copy to e-books and audiobooks?

Your constituents (students, faculty, staff, etc.) want our books in multiple formats. We may want to read the same book in hardcover, as an e-book, and in audio format. We want to be able to switch back and forth, and have freedom and flexibility on the platform we use to read. I understand that the market has not matured to allow academic libraries to offer digital books (e-books and audiobooks) to their customers. But it seems to me that this is an opportunity for academic librarians to exert some significant leadership.

What would happen if academic libraries collaborated to pool acquisition budgets, bringing their aggregated purchasing power to demand a digital book library lending option? If academic libraries decided, as a group, that they would only do business with publishers and vendors if books were available in print and digital formats, I'm sure a market to serve this demand would arise. It may not be possible at present to mimic Amazon in offering books in paper, e-book, or audio - but shouldn't this be the goal?

I look forward to the discussion....


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