Access of Digitized Print Originals in U.S. and U.K. Higher Education Libraries Combined with Print Circulation Indicates Increased Usage of Traditional Forms of Reading Materials

Kurt Blythe

Abstract


A Review of:
Joint, Nicholas. “Is Digitisation the New Circulation?: Borrowing Trends, Digitisation and the nature of reading in US and UK Libraries.” Library Review 57.2 (2008): 87-95.

Objective – To discern the statistical accuracy of reports that print circulation is in decline in libraries, particularly higher education libraries in the United States (U.S.) and United Kingdom (U.K.), and to determine if circulation patterns reflect a changing dynamic in patron reading habits.

Design – Comparative statistical analysis.

Setting – Library circulation statistics from as early as 1982 to as recent as 2006, culled from various sources with specific references to statistics gathered by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Library and Information Statistics Unit (LISU), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).

Subjects – Higher education institutions in the United States and United Kingdom, along with public libraries to a lesser extent.

Methods – This study consists of an analysis of print circulation statistics in public and higher education libraries in the U.S. and U.K., combined with data on multimedia circulation in public libraries and instances of digital access in university libraries. Specifically, NEA statistics provided data on print readership levels in the U.S. from 1982 to 2002; LISU statistics were analyzed for circulation figures and gate counts in U.K. public libraries; ARL statistics from 1996 to 2006 provided circulation data for large North American research libraries; NCES statistics from 1990 to 2004 contributed data on circulation in “tertiary level” U.S. higher education libraries; and ACRL statistics were analyzed for more circulation numbers for U.S. post-secondary education libraries. The study further includes data on U.K. trends in print readership and circulation in U.K. higher education libraries, and trends in U.S. public library circulation of non-print materials.

Main Results – Analysis of the data indicates that print circulation is down in U.S. and U.K. public libraries and in ARL-member libraries, while it is up in the non-ARL higher education libraries represented and in UK higher education libraries. However, audio book circulation in U.S. public libraries supplements print circulation to the point where overall circulation of book materials is increasing, and the access of digital literature supplements print circulation in ARL-member libraries (although the statistics are difficult to measure and meld with print circulation statistics). Essentially, the circulation of book material is increasing in most institutions when all formats are considered. According to the author, library patrons are reading more than ever; the materials patrons are accessing are traditional in content regardless of the means by which the materials are accessed.

Conclusion – The author contends that print circulation is in decline only where digitization efforts are extensive, such as in ARL-member libraries; when digital content is factored into the equation the access of book-type materials is up in most libraries. The author speculates that whether library patrons use print or digital materials, the content of those materials is largely traditional in nature, thereby resulting in the act of “literary” reading remaining a focal point of library usage. Modes of reading and learning have not changed, at least insofar as these things may be inferred from studying circulation statistics. The author asserts that digital access is favourable to patrons and that libraries should attempt to follow the ARL model of engaging in large-scale digitization projects in order to provide better service to their patrons; the author goes on to argue that U.K. institutions with comparable funding to ARLs will have greater success in this endeavour if U.K. copyright laws are relaxed.

Keywords


circulation; digitization; copyright

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