Liaisons Connecting Users to the Collection: Comparing Curriculum-Based Textbooks with Library Holdings
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Adrianne Leonardelli, MLIS
Research & Education Librarian
Liaison to School of Nursing
Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives

Note: This project was originally presented as a poster at the 2013 Annual Conference of the Medical Library Association by: Adrianne Leonardelli, Brandi Tuttle, Leila Ledbetter, Elizabeth Berney, Barbara Dietsch, and Karen Grigg.


During the 2012-2013 academic year, librarians at Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives undertook a study comparing print and ebook holdings to textbooks required or recommended by three of its primary user groups, the School of Nursing (SON), and Physician Assistant (PA) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Programs.


SON, PA, and DPT course instructors often require or recommend their students purchase textbooks. Some of these students must buy multiple textbooks each semester, which can be costly. Duke University Medical Center Library & Archives makes collection development decisions independent of instructor textbook choices, but many of the required or recommended textbooks are core titles and may be included in the library’s collections. The SON, PA, and DPT library liaisons saw this as an opportunity to better serve their users by potentially reducing the number of textbooks students needed to buy while encouraging use of the collection.

Data Collection

SON, PA, and DPT library liaisons obtained textbook lists from their respective departments. This data was compared to the library’s print and e-book holdings. To determine patron use of available textbooks, librarians collected circulation or usage statistics.


In 2012-2013, the SON had 830 students and was the largest of the three programs. Not surprisingly, SON also had the most required or recommended textbooks with 159. The DPT program had 193 students and 40 textbook requirements or recommendations. Finally, the PA program, with 166 students, required or recommended just 9 textbooks.

Overall, the library had 65% of the required or recommended textbooks — 90% of the PA, 64% of the nursing, and 55% of the DPT titles. Despite a shift in recent years to purchase more ebooks, 85% of the textbooks the library had were in print format. The PA Program had the greatest availability of ebooks with 17.2%, followed by the SON with 10.1%, and the DPT Program with just 2.5%.


A major benefit of this project was that it increased the liaisons’ visibility within the respective departments while promoting the library’s growing ebook collections. For example, the SON library liaison made a list of all available textbooks and shared it with her faculty. If a title was not available in the collection, she identified comparable ebooks that faculty may want to recommend to students or consider using in future courses. Another benefit was that it fostered good will between the library and these academic programs. Pointing out available textbooks to students and faculty, especially when available electronically, made users aware of library resources that could save them time and money. This project also helped liaisons identify weaknesses in the library’s collection and justify future purchase recommendations.


This project uncovered various challenges related to print and ebooks. Typically, the library has just one or two copies of a print title, allowing only a few students to borrow it during a given semester. For this reason, library liaisons focused primarily on promoting ebook collections. However, ebooks come with their own set of limitations. For example, not all of the library’s ebooks allow unlimited simultaneous users. Some ebooks have just one seat, which could prove disastrous if such a title was unknowingly selected by a faculty member teaching a large class. An additional challenge of ebooks is the format. Some users still prefer print, are not yet accustomed to using ebooks, or find them difficult or cumbersome to use.

Future Directions

The format, functionality, and availability of ebooks continue to evolve. As the library grows its ebook collection, liaisons will need to update and educate faculty and students about new titles and platforms. Liaisons must also continually gather data from their respective academic programs to ensure the library collection meets the information needs of its primary users.

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  1. Jean Hillyer April 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing a great strategy for engaging with faculty! I wonder about the ethics of purchasing ebooks to replace print reserves to save students money? It’s one thing to have the title available, but purchasing multiple seats to provide multiple concurrent access causes me to wonder if this is appropriate?

    • Theresa Arndt May 16, 2014 at 3:26 pm

      I don’t think it is an ethical question for libraries. We exist to loan materials, and aren’t in the business of deciding that some uses of books are ok, but other uses are not (as a text for a course). It’s not our job to protect the market for the publisher, as long as we don’t violate copyright laws or our licenses. At our library we sometimes buy multiple print reserve copies on faculty request. I think it is more a matter of library policy and budget. We don’t routinely buy course “textbooks” simply because it would affect our ability to purchase a wider array of titles for all our users (due to budget limitations). But we end up buying books used as texts for courses because they are monographs we would want in our collection for general reading or reference, and this article makes me interested in doing a similar study on our collection.
      Also, faculty are becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the high cost of textbooks impacting students. I was at a conference where a faculty member stated that at their state university the high cost of textbooks was a major reason for students dropping out.

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