Acquisitions in Lockdown – moving from print books to eBooks

Since the start of lockdown on 23rd March the way we all buy items has changed. From following social distancing rules in the supermarket, trying to find an online delivery slot or not being able to buy products we used to buy regularly. We are all adapting to this new shopping experience and this is no different for libraries and how they buy and provide access to books.

Having worked in acquisitions for 15 years I know print books have been a major part of the acquisitions team’s work. From placing orders to opening the boxes when they are delivered and seeing them all shiny and new waiting to be catalogued and processed ready for the shelves.

New books before lockdown

Last academic year (2018/19) the library ordered 10,443 new titles across the various library sites. The breakdown between print and eBook was approx. 70% print and 30% eBook. This may be surprising to hear especially when the market for journals is predominately electronic. Reasons why we get a print book or an eBook vary and we have to look at several factors:

  • availability; a single title might be available from multiple vendors. Or it may only be available as an ebook for an individual – no use for an university library!
  • accessibility; what options does the ebook offer for those with differing access needs?
  • type of license available; unlimited users, a limit on concurrent users (e.g. only 1, 3 or 5 people can have the book open or downloaded at a time)
  • reason for request; a research monograph is likely to see less demand than a core undergraduate textbook on a module with 300 students!
  • price; until someone finds that magic money tree…

At the start of lockdown, as our book suppliers paused their delivery services and we had to close our buildings, we had to pause the ordering of further print books. With this in mind, the acquisitions team focussed on shifting services to eBook provision only.

Although we have been ordering eBooks for many years it was a major change to go from 30% eBook purchases to 100% almost overnight and doing this working from home. We had to pause ordering with some long standing suppliers who only provide print and only place orders with those that could provide eBooks.


When ordering eBooks there are more variables to consider which can prove challenging. The first is that not all books are available as an eBook for the library to purchase. Currently approx. 40% of requests are not purchased and the main reason is no eBook available. Publishers may list titles on their webpages or you may see the title listed on Kindle (other devices/platforms are available) but unfortunately they are not always available for libraries to purchase. We can only buy eBooks that have licenses for libraries. These restrictions are set by the publisher. This is just as frustrated for us as it is for you.

We have provided academics information about how to search for eBook availability from our book suppliers to help them see which resources are available to buy. Your Faculty Librarian can also offer advice on using and searching electronic resources.


Even when we can buy an eBook there are a further range of licenses we have to choose from. EBook licenses can vary hugely across publishers ranging from 1 user to unlimited user. Where possible we buy an unlimited user but sometimes a 1 user license is the only option and more than one license may need to be purchased.

The titles we have purchased recently range from a small amount of fiction (an area previously we have struggled to purchase electronically) including the latest by Hilary Mantel ‘The Mirror and the Light’ , wellbeing books such as ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ and topical books such as ‘The Anthropology of Epidemics’ and ‘The Online Teaching Survival Guide’ .

As well as individual title purchases the library has gained access to a large number of trials to various online packages. We have also purchased subscriptions to publishers such as De Gruyter, Cambridge University Press, Oxford Scholarship Online and Sage.

So what next. We will continue to order eBooks as a first choice where we can. If there is a book we don’t have in our collections you can suggest a purchase through the library MORE Books service.  This isn’t the end of print. Print books continue to be a major part of our collections and when both the Library and our book suppliers are able to safely supply print again we will. We look forward to this day and experiencing the joy of unpacking those new books again. What the ratio will be though remains to be seen.


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