Blogger Abby Johnson

So What E-Books Do I Buy?

An e-reader displaying children's e-books on a shelf of books
Photo by Abby Johnson

Are you new to purchasing e-books? Or suddenly purchasing more digital material than ever before? You’re not alone! Purchasing e-books can be tricky, so how do you figure out which e-books to buy?

I’m not going to recommend specific titles here, but here’s what I’ve learned about purchasing e-books as a collection development librarian.

Get what your patrons want.

If you don’t know what they want, find out! Look at bestseller lists, look at your print circulation stats, and develop ways that patrons and staff can communicate with you to request titles. Once you start purchasing e-books, pay attention to how your e-books are circulating because e-book circulation is often different than print circulation.

In general, what do they want?

Your mileage may vary, but I’ve had success with graphic novels and manga. I make sure to get the most popular children’s series – the ones I have trouble keeping on the shelf. Teen fantasy (especially on audiobook) goes like crazy. Anything that has been turned into a movie or show tends to be popular. I think people leave the movie theater (or their couch nowadays) and grab their phones to request the book the movie was based on. (Confession: I have done this.)

Audiobooks are having a moment and kids’ audiobooks are no exception. When purchasing e-books, stock up on perennial classics, but newer family listens are a good bet, too. If you need a place to start, you can’t go wrong with the ALSC Children’s Notable Lists or YALSA’s Teen Top Ten. You can reach out to your reps, too. Many vendors employ collection development staff that can help make suggestions if you’re stuck. You don’t have to do it alone!

Inclusion is worth the investment.

As you’re purchasing e-books, remember to think about equity, diversity, and inclusion. Your collections, including your digital collections, should provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors. I never want to find myself lacking inclusive titles to put on display, booktalk, or promote with my patrons and that includes digital material. Take some time to evaluate your digital collection and make sure that it, too, demonstrates your respect for diversity and inclusion of cultural values, as set out by the ALSC Core Competencies.

Think about what kids can access.

In your youth population, who are the kids who actually have devices and can access your e-books? It may not be picture book readers, and if that’s the case you might want to concentrate on materials for older kids. Or you may find that your families are tech savvy and parents like to share e-books with their kids, especially while library buildings are closed or people are nervous about going out.

Are any of your schools providing devices for students? Do they have to give those devices back over the summer? Those factors are going to make a difference in your purchasing. If most of your students don’t have devices over the summer, it might make sense to save that budget money for when school starts back up. Or it may be just the opposite if busy kids suddenly have the time to browse for books on vacation.

Find out what the tech situation is in your community if you don’t already know – ask parents and teachers to share what they know about the community’s connectedness and plan your spending accordingly.

Pay attention to holds.

I have found that young readers, especially, are into instant gratification and pretty rarely place holds. So when I see a kids’ e-book title with a growing holds list, I pay attention! Purchase additional copies of the really popular stuff if you can to help that holds list go down a little faster.

Don’t wreck your budget – it’s a balancing act.

All publishers are not on equal footing when it comes to e-book pricing for libraries. It’s okay to keep a balanced budget by purchasing e-books from publishers who offer more fair e-book pricing. You may need to purchase some of the more expensive titles if they are titles you know your patrons are going to be looking for. But I’m more likely to take a chance on a debut or a title I’m not sure about if it’s priced at a lower price point. The same goes for holds: the higher the price, the higher I’ll let my holds ratio get before I purchase an additional copy. If patrons ask about it, let them know why and ask for their support for fair e-book pricing for libraries.

Manage requests; remember you’re serving your entire community.

If you allow patrons to suggest purchases, just remember that you’re serving your entire community with limited funds. If your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase all requests, you may consider waiting until you get two or three requests for a title before purchasing. That said, in my system I can tell which requests come from student cards and I really try to purchase anything that students are asking for.

Share your own knowledge!

Do you purchase children’s or teen e-books for your library? Please share any tips and tricks you have in the comments! I’d love to learn from you, too!


This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: IV. Knowledge, Curation, and Management of Materials

One comment

  1. Kuntal Bhandare

    Thank you for the article as a Librarian it is very useful for us before we make purchase for e resources

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.