Issues Surrounding eBook Collections in Law Libraries

by Jamie Baker

Going digital is the trend for law libraries today. In the latest iteration of this trend, we recently learned that Suffolk Law drastically cut its library budget by 50% and will favor a digital library, provided, in part, by the LexisNexis Digital Law Library. The LexisNexis Digital Law Library is the largest publisher of legal e-books. Suffolk University Law School Chooses LexisNexis Digital Library, NewswireToday (Sept. 9, 2015).

This is the new normal.

On the plus side, “through the implementation of Digital Library, Suffolk Law Library increased the number of volumes available, while simultaneously meeting budget challenges by purchasing fewer hard copy books and consolidating the library’s physical footprint from three floors to two.” Id. But as more and more law libraries transition to a mostly digital model, law librarians must be cognizant of the issues surrounding the use of e-books, including publisher constraints surrounding licensing and access rights.

Because libraries continue to increase their holdings, some library directors have decided to fight back against publisher constraints. For example, “library directors at 66 liberal arts colleges called for academic libraries to reject licensing agreements with publishers that impose restrictions on how e-books can be accessed and shared.” Carl Straumsheim, License and Loan, InsideHigherEd (March 31, 2015).

The library directors issued a statement that reads, in part:

[L]ibraries accept licensing agreements—and whatever restrictions that come with them—’at our peril.’ By signing agreements that limit how content may be shared, ‘we turn our backs on a great strength of the academy—the ability to build complementary collections and share them in good faith with researchers and the community of readers. Like physical books, ebooks should be made available for interlibrary loans ‘in a manner that is neither cumbersome nor awkward,’ and the content should be able to be transferred ‘efficiently and electronically.’

Id. As libraries continue to increase their e-book holdings, it’s important for libraries to continue to work with the publishers to make e-books as widely available as their print counterparts. This collective statement is a good start. The restrictive licensing agreements that prevent e-books from being shared among libraries the way hard copies pass through interlibrary loan has been called an “existential threat” to the “ecosystem of sharing.” Id.

In addition, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article that showcased the perils of relying on eBooks.

The Boston Library Consortium, which represents 17 academic libraries in New England, received an abrupt and unsettling phone call from ebrary, an e-book library owned by the aggregator ProQuest. A company representative said 11 academic publishers, including major players like Taylor & Francis and Oxford University Press, would be raising the cost of short-term e-book loans. In some cases the increase would be as much as 300 percent.

The publishers said that the [original] pricing model was in beta, and it was deemed to be unsustainable. At issue [was] a short-term loan model for e-book purchasing. It allows libraries to offer large catalogs but pay for only those books that are actually used—and not to pay full price until books have been used several times. What we call this patron-driven acquisitions.

How does it work? Each time a client checks out one of the e-books in these ‘demand-driven acquisition pools,’ the libraries pay a portion of the title’s list price—from 10 to 80 percent, depending on the length of the loan and the publisher’s rate. After a certain number of loans—publishers say the number can be as low as two, theoretically, or high as 25—the library automatically buys the title at full price.

Avi Wolfman-Arent, College Libraries Push Back as Publishers Raise Some E-Book Prices, Chronicle of Higher Education (June 16, 2014).

Generally, even though a library eventually pays full price for the book after a certain number of loans, the library never actually owns the title like a print book. The library merely licenses the title, so after the agreed upon number of checkouts is up, the library has to purchase the title again for future checkouts.

None of these issues are immediate concerns with the LexisNexis Digital Law Library in particular, but it will certainly be interesting to see what happens when we are mostly reliant on the various publishers for access to information. Will this mean unexpected spikes in price for electronic content? Hopefully the Suffolk agreement with LexisNexis allows for expansive access rights, and this will be a model we can all learn from.

For further reading see:

About Jamie Baker

Jamie Baker is the Associate Dean & Director of the Law Library at Texas Tech University School of Law. She teaches Intro to the Study of Law, Civil Trial Research, & Academic Legal Writing, as well as sessions in the Legal Practice program and Excellence in Legal Research program. She blogs at
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2 Responses to Issues Surrounding eBook Collections in Law Libraries

  1. Pingback: Are Library Maintenance Agreements Too Restrictive In Today’s e-World? | RIPS Law Librarian Blog

  2. Pingback: eBook Collections in Libraries | Miss Library Grrrl

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