Last week, UC Press had the privilege of learning about emerging trends in e-book usage from Ivy Anderson, Interim Executive Director at the California Digital Library (CDL). At CDL, Ivy provides leadership to the library’s overall direction and management, strategizing how to best support the needs of the library and the faculty and students that use it.

To celebrate National Library Week, whose 2016 theme is #LibrariesTransform, we are pleased to share Ivy’s fascinating discussion on the future of print and e-books, and how the new digital landscape is transforming academic libraries.

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Ivy Anderson (far right), Interim Executive Director at the California Digital Library, visits UC Press.

What is an e-book anyway?

Ivy Anderson (IA): We think we know what an e-book is, but there is actually a lot of variance in what an e-book is and how it is used. The traditional consumer view is that e-books are a hand-held reader device, so users who come to the library with this expectation can be a little flummoxed when accessing other online content. From a library’s perspective, e-books are simply one facet of many different types of online content, with many different types of uses and searchability functions.

How many e-books do you have at CDL?

 IA: Believe it or not, we have so many e-books at CDL that the exact number is unknown! We have over 200,000 licensed volumes, but the number of UC digitized volumes is much higher—roughly 3.8 million, with 686,000 of those in the public domain.

What do you know about user preferences for print books versus e-books?

 IA: We have conducted a number of studies to determine the answer to this very question. The relationship of print books to e-books is complex and depends greatly on the discipline (humanities vs. sciences), end user (faculty, student, etc.), and many other factors.

For example, in one large-scale survey to faculty and students (conducted by CDL in 2011), 58% of respondents said that they have used e-books for academic work, but of those only 35% percent preferred e-books over print for their work. Interestingly, even while the majority of respondents preferred print over electronic, the relationship between the two formats was complementary, and many respondents commented that they often use e-books to quickly and conveniently look something up, or to determine if they need to check out the print book.

How does print versus e-book usage differ across disciplines?

 IA: A 2012 study by Ithaka indicates that digital monographs are well-used across all major disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, and sciences; however, e-books are significantly less valued than print in the humanities, while they are valued at par or higher than print in the sciences. These differences are even more marked in Ithaka’s recent (2015) update to that study. Research also indicates that substituting digital for print is gaining acceptance among scholars, but very slowly. Even with some variance in preference across the disciplines, it’s clear that what people want most is accessibility to both formats, given the unique yet complementary characteristics of print and digital. Print is preferred for sustained engagement, yet nearly all academic users consult e-books with increasing frequency—and their importance is growing.

How does this information influence a library’s decision to purchase print or electronic books, and what is the future for a library’s collection development?

 IA: There are many challenges and complexities to collection development, both within the library context and in the publishing industry as a whole. Print circulation appears to be declining even as student population grows. Moreover, there are real space constraints in libraries, with many print collections being forced to downsize or move elsewhere as shelf space shrinks. The trend (and challenge) we’re seeing today is to license more e-books, while still finding a place for print.

To this end, libraries have become creative in strategizing how to meet these needs. At CDL, we are piloting a license that includes one print copy of each book along with the electronic version, or possibly two—one for the northern UC campuses, and the other for the southern UC campuses. Through the interlibrary loan system, we hope to make print content available to those who need it, while conserving shelf space and budgets. We’re also interested in Open Access initiatives as a way to support sustainable, accessible content and new publishing initiatives within the industry.

Happy #NLW16! Be sure to visit your local library this week to celebrate #LibrariesTransform.