Creating E-book Subject Sets to Simplify Acquisitions and Meet Departmental Needs

Library Resources | Lauren Forsyth| February 15, 2018

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Curating subject set collections requires insight into understanding quality e-books, popular topic areas and library needs. Lauren Forsyth, MLIS, describes the process of building these unique collections.

Subject sets are some of EBSCO eBooks™ most popular collections and offer convenient, pre-packaged collections of frontlist e-books on popular, high-interest topics chosen specifically to meet the needs of libraries, faculty and researchers. We talk to one of our collection development librarians, Lauren Forsyth, MLIS, about the process of developing and building these biannual, ready-made collections that save librarians time while ensuring quality e-book content meets departmental requirements.

Where does your experience come from for selecting e-books for academic libraries?

All of the librarians on the collection development team have previously worked in a variety of different libraries, and many of us were responsible for selecting or recommending library purchases. I worked in a college in Boston that specializes in education and social work, so I created the education, special education, and social work subject sets using my previous experience. We all have different specialties from our education and work background and creating subject sets gives us a chance to source our experience and work on subjects for which we are personally passionate about.

As librarians, can you speak to the benefits and value that subject sets offer librarians?

As librarians trying to identify the best e-books in a field, we know it can be a struggle to find the right e-books. We know that academic librarians don’t have time to read each and every e-book they plan to purchase and while faculty recommendations are extremely helpful, librarians still need to make collection decisions to make sure that the needs of the entire library are addressed. With thousands of best-of and bestsellers lists available, it can be hard for selectors to identify trustworthy, quality e-books in a way that is easily accessible and fits into existing workflows. This is where subject sets come in; my teammates and I create these reputable collections that can be quickly viewed, easily purchased and accessible to students in minutes while assuring quality coverage of important subject areas.

Subject sets are my favorite type of collection to work on because I get the opportunity to spend a large amount of time on my favorite subjects.

How is the collection development process for subject sets different than putting other e-book collections together?

Subject sets are the most highly curated EBSCO eBook collections. While creating these collections, the team gets the chance to do extensive research on specific subjects, which gives us the opportunity to closely examine each e-book we include. We spend more time evaluating each individual e-book for subject sets than other types of collections.

We also apply specific rules for subject sets that aren’t required for other collections. E-books included in the subject sets may not appear in any previous subjects set, because we ensure no duplication of e-books across all of them. E-books must be frontlist, written in English (unless the subject set is entirely in another language) and priced at under $200 — unless the e-book is a seminal work or if the subject tends to have particularly high prices. These rules were created based on customer input, and they were written because the sets were originally created to be purchased as a whole, almost like an opening day collection. Since e-books have become more ubiquitous and many libraries are now adding incrementally to their collections rather than creating the collections from scratch, many customers now choose to select e-books from these collections rather than purchasing the entire collection. However, we have maintained these rules based on customer feedback as many customers return to buy their favorite subjects year after year.

With 1.2 million e-books and more than 200,000 frontlist e-books, how do you narrow it down to individual e-book selections for your sets?

We rely heavily on awards and reviews to choose e-books of the highest academic quality. We also leverage value-added metadata created by GOBI® bibliographers, particularly their Select Profiling status, which indicates audience level and whether an e-book is essential, recommended, specialized, or supplementary. Additionally, we have a wealth of internal metrics such as sales and usage statistics which help us determine the popularity of subject areas, and of individual e-books.

Are there certain subjects that tend to have the most usage?

The Nursing, Education, and Accounting and Finance subject sets top our list of most purchased and used topic collections, and we have numerous customers who anticipate the release of these subject sets each year. Based on a variety of criteria, I select the subjects for which we create collections. Typically, we repeat a core set of subjects that we know are in high demand and expected from our returning customers. I definitely take usage into consideration, as well as sales data, customer recommendations, and trending academic interests.

What is your favorite part of the process?

Subject sets are my favorite type of collection to work on because I get the opportunity to spend a large amount of time on my favorite subjects. My personal favorite to work on is the Hospitality and Tourism collection because I love to travel, so it’s interesting to me to learn about the study of travel and leisure and think about the perspectives of those who study the hospitality and tourism industry as a career.

Visit the EBSCO eBooks website for more information or to download the latest subject set title lists. 

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Lauren Forsyth
Collection Development Librarian, EBSCO eBooks

Lauren Forsyth is a Collection Development Librarian for EBSCO eBooks. Lauren has worked at EBSCO for more than three years, and she has previous experience in collection development, reference, and instruction in both academic and public libraries. She has an MLIS from Simmons College and a BA in Psychology from McGill University. She works on the team of collection development librarians who curate EBSCO eBooks into collections in order to support customers in the e-book acquisition process.

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