Print ordering

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, September 2018


See also Brandon-Hill and Doody's Lists | Collection development | Reference collections | Top Information Sources in Biomedical Reference Services

Print ordering, or ordering print materials, is an important activity in academic health and hospital libraries despite the pressures of online access, consortial licensing and the rise of e-books and other online (and often free) digital information. While providing e-access to monographs and reference materials is in some sense inevitable, a high proportion of library users express strong clear preferences for print for parts of their study and research work. In medicine, for example, which is a very visual profession, the best texts and photographs of slides and other visual materials are essential. Human anatomy, dermatology, pathology and surgery are a few examples in the practice of medicine that require (and in some cases demand) print. Moves to consolidate e-access for library materials must be considered in the context of barriers that can preclude online access. In many health care environments, especially within hospital networks, there are too few computers to access materials in the local hospital library and remotely there may be firewalls that block access. The most troublesome barriers, in some senses, are old computers and browsers; using IE6, for example, which is still widely-available on hospital ward computers puts those users at a disadvantage when IE8 is often needed.

Academic health librarians do not rely on selection aids to the same extent that they did in the print era. For decades, hospital and health librarians consulted the Brandon-Hill and Doody's Lists because they have been the key selection tools, especially the former list. Although health librarians refer to BH today they do so to evaluate their monographic collections, but use it in conjunction with other tools, collections experience and knowledge. The Medical Library Association (MLA) in the United States maintains a number of excellent collection tools for health librarians. In Canada, there is the Canadian Health Libraries Association but no concomitant collections interest group.

Providing online access to library collections beyond regular opening hours is a challenge due to technical issues but also due to the costs that are associated with licensing and networking of resources. The literature increasingly mentions the importance of teaching library users how to use e-resources which is, in part, why health librarians see requests for their teaching increase considerably after the acquisition of e-content. Different resources, platforms and access methods are all potential technical areas that can confound users. LibQUAL is a standard technique for assessing the quality of libraries according to users' satisfaction. Physical spaces, information control and staffing are three critical areas. In several quality assessment studies, students mention that they are not as concerned about collections as they are about the physical surroundings of their libraries and the creation of social spaces.

In 2014, SAGE published a The State of Reference Collections white paper that analyzes the state of reference resources. The white paper presents information on how reference resources are being collected and used in today’s academic, public, and special libraries (including legal, governmental, hospital, and corporate libraries) around the world. See also Lavoie B, et al. Print management at "mega-scale": a regional perspective on print book collections in North America. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research.

Canadian context

In Canada, a majority of health and hospital-based librarians order print through distributors such as Login Canada, YBP Library Services (Cobi) (formerly Yankee Book Peddlar) and Coutts. Most academic libraries are exploring different just-in-time acquisition models that provide cost-effective ways to purchase monographs with guaranteed usage. The Ebrary platform offers patron-driven acquisitions; YBP the so-called DDA (Demand Driven Acquisitions). Both of these projects allow academic libraries to experiment with purchasing materials at point of need. With these and other timely services now provided by vendors such as and other suppliers, the alternatives for ordering books are plentiful.

As far as health librarians are concerned, the evaluation and selection of print materials are critical activities and use iterative models of collection development. Local solutions are commonly used; in fact, some health libraries create detailed collection policies and subject profiles by call numbers to guide print ordering. Health librarians in smaller hospital libraries work on their collection development by using a variety of methods, including the consultation of publishers' catalogues, various selection tools and through recommendations from their user groups. Of course, the biggest challenge for health librarians is to manage their book funds effectively, and within the context of overall budgeting, while transitioning print to the online for aspects of their collections.

Key websites

Studies print vs. ebooks

  • librarians in the Health Sciences Library, University of Pittsburgh, explored the possibility of developing an electronic reference collection that would replace the print reference collection, providing access to valuable materials to a dispersed user population; they evaluated print reference items against standard lists as potential benchmarks for an e-collection, and determined which books were available online. The low availability of electronic versions of titles in each benchmark group rendered the creation of an electronic reference collection using either benchmark impractical.
  • article examines the literature from 2005 to present and best practices for acquiring, cataloguing, maintaining and promoting e-books; academic library practices include implementing trials, considering institutional requirements, providing e-books in library catalogues, monitoring usage and utilizing the library web site for promotion
  • Library Journal’s 2011 survey testifies to e-books’ popularity in academic libraries
  • e-books are popular for quick lookup; deep reading remains “print focused”
  • students using e-books suggest that libraries are engaging in a “forced adoption”
  • surveys at University of Illinois reveal students prefer print but see advantages of e; College of Mount St. Joseph indicates more than half (50%) opt for print when available (Gregory 2008)
  • other research confirms strong preference for print for “reading whole book or extensive sections” (Foote& Rupp-Serrano 2010) due to a “lack of e-book ease of use; incompatibilty; unrealistic pricing, restrictive access; limited discovery; interlibrary lending options”
  • Ithaka faculty survey concluded a majority of 3,000+ respondents (faculty, students) did not use e-books for research or teaching (Schonfeld and Housewright 2010, 23)
  • " remains essential librarians adopt best practices in acquiring, cataloging, maintaining, and promoting e-books to foster their integration and use in library collections. Librarians should also seek to enhance the attraction of these resources to users by lobbying e-book providers for changes in the design and delivery of these resources..."
  • many researchers concluded that e-books would not replace print books but would offer new research tools for the academic environment


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