“Several years ago, we set out to better understand how both library acquisition practices and the distribution patterns of publishers and vendors were evolving over time. Within the academic publishing community, there is a sense that academic libraries are acquiring fewer and fewer books and that university presses are struggling amid declining sales. The latter may certainly be true—a recent UK study found that between 2005 and 2014, retail sales of academic books dropped by 13 percent —but what if the academic libraries that constitute part of that market were in reality not making fewer purchases? As new vendors and acquisition methods disrupt customary means of acquiring books, Joseph Esposito, Ithaka S+R’s frequent collaborator and consultant, was inspired to ask whether book sales were actually depressed, or if they only appeared to be because academic libraries were bypassing the traditional wholesale vendors whose metrics are used by university presses to assess sales to libraries for companies like Amazon. To address this question, Ithaka S+R’s Roger Schonfeld and Liam Sweeney developed a data collection method that involved obtaining acquisitions data through an integrated library system (ILS). With the help of Betsy Friesen and Michael Johnson at the University of Minnesota, we created a canned report and query that academic institutions using Ex Libris’s Alma could easily implement to extract their data and supply us with a complete list of acquisitions by fiscal year. A pilot conducted with four academic libraries in 2016 proved that this method not only yielded viable data but was also scalable. Last year we received funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Library Acquisition Patterns (LAP) project was able to expand into a large-scale, national study that also incorporated data from OCLC’s WorldShare Management Services (WMS). This preliminary analysis examines book acquisitions from 54 libraries—ranging from small private liberal arts colleges to public research universities—that use WMS. We asked participants for data on their acquisitions between fiscal years 2013 to 2017.
Because start and end dates for fiscal years vary by institution, we coded fiscal years as the year when the fiscal period ends for the purpose of this analysis. While some institutions were able to provide data for all five years, most were not, and we were therefore unable to perform a meaningful longitudinal analysis of acquisition patterns in the aggregate and within sectors using WMS data alone. As a result we are focusing our findings on fiscal year 2017, the most recent year for which all participants were able to provide data on their acquisitions.”