With book budgets being chipped away by price increases for serial subscriptions, and ebook budgets feeling the squeeze from journals, librarians are spending more time seeking ways to relieve this financial pressure. But a model of fiscal efficiency does exist—Down Under.
“Australian libraries have been sort of the canary in the coal mine when it comes to digital adoption,” says Kari Paulson, ProQuest’s VP of market development, Ebooks. “I think Australians were earlier in seeing digital as a way of bringing in efficiency, which has helped them deal with budget problems created by the dollar falling 30% in one year.”
Because of the country’s remoteness, making the cost of shipping books more expensive, Australians’ early digital adoption encouraged widespread fluency in reporting metrics and analyzing them. “They’re ahead of the game in using the analysis for justification of budget spend,” says Paulson, who founded EBL (Ebook Library) before it was acquired by ProQuest. “I think that sophistication in reporting developed out of their need for a deeper level of feedback, to tap their data to help analyze their expenditure and to determine how valuable the resources are that they’re getting from that expenditure.”
The perception of Australian librarians as early adopters is hardly anecdotal. They were a large testing bed for Alma, and among its earliest adopters. When polled about what percentage of their budget goes to ebooks, Australian librarians typically report figures of 70% or higher—in some cases as high as 95%. By comparison, in the United States, librarians report that the amount earmarked for ebooks is 20-30%.
“Definitely one thing we see in Australia is a strong justification for expanding their book budget through the analysis they are doing,” says Paulson. “They adopted DDA [demand-driven acquisition] in a really big way, and were putting large collections of titles out to their users. But what they found was the demand was much higher than what they anticipated. And because there was so much demand they were able to justify a greater spend. So as a result they’ve been able to shore up their ebook budgets from some of the pressures all libraries are facing.”
While citing the Australian example as a success story of how the reporting feature works in LibCentral, a part of ProQuest’s recently launched the Ebook Central platform, Paulson says it’s not limited to Down Under. “We’ve had similar stories in the UK and the U.S., where they were able to quantify how a particular way they were using a book caused their IRL [Interlibrary Loan Budget] to go down, and they were able to make a case to use a portion of their IRL budget for their ebook spend.”
Paulson says that for all libraries facing budgetary pressures—only 17% of budgets are increasing, according to a recent ProQuest survey of academic library book purchasing trends—scenarios do exist where that trend can reverse itself. “One of the biggest drivers of an increased budget is an increase in demand,” she says. “If a library can quantify budget dollars to outcomes, that’s especially critical for books, where they’re in competition with funds from journals, which have long been more easily argued for.”
Indeed, driving that data for outcomes—whether it be usage or other metrics—is one of the biggest factors in growing or defending book budgets.
“I think discovery as to what’s available and demand go hand in hand,” says Paulson. “If we want to talk about the future of book budgets, if dollars become more precious, there’s pressure on the library budget overall, so it becomes increasingly important to have good evidence as to where you spend that money. If we’re not able to build that, I think we’ll see budgets continually under pressure.”
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