Library purchasing

Answers to some frequently asked questions.


Why doesn't the Library have the article or book I need?

The number of publications and information resources available globally increases every year and no library is able to physically hold or provide electronic access to all of them.

We focus on providing access to the essential and recommended titles on reading lists, plus a wide range of resources to support your academic needs and interests.

As your research becomes more specialised, you may need articles and books we don't hold in the Library. Don't worry - we can almost always still provide them for you. Please see the can't find it page for options.


How much does the Library spend each year?

The amount varies year-to-year but, as an example, in the 2020-21 academic year, the Library spent £1,867,424 on 'information resources'. Such resources include: print books, eBooks, eJournals, and subscriptions to databases.

The money the Library spends on information resources is known as the 'library grant'. More information on the library grant and how it is spent.


How does the Library decide what to buy?

To determine how funds are spent on new items (rather than recurring subscriptions), the Library monitors:

Where possible, we provide access to electronic resources (eResources) because you can use them both on and off-campus. There are different types of eResources - the most common are eBooks, eJournals, and databases. 


There are two questions the Library is often asked about eBooks:

  • Why don’t all of the Library’s eBooks work in the same way?
  • Why hasn’t the Library purchased an eBook version of a particular reading list title?

The answers to both are complex but have a similar root cause: In short, publishers impose more restrictions on eBooks bought by libraries than eBooks bought by individuals. These restrictions are described in the eBook's licence, and these licence restrictions have become increasingly complex in recent years.

These licence restrictions, and associated eBook pricing, have a big impact on how the Library allocates funds to eBooks.

eBook licence restrictions

We’d love to be able to provide you with all the eBooks you need on the same website platform. We'd prefer them to have the same read-online and download options, the same print and copy options, and for them to be available to all students at the same time. However, each publisher makes different decisions about which website platforms they will work with and how they allow their eBooks to be used. You may even find that the same publisher has different licensing restrictions for eBooks in different subject areas!

Some eBook licences permit unlimited, concurrent users and this means everyone can use the eBook at the same time.

Other licences permit a limited number of concurrent users, perhaps only 1 or 3 people.

Other licences set a maximum number of times the eBook can be used, and after the total is reached the title is no longer accessible.

eBook prices

As we explained in our eBook-themed Twitter thread, the prices libraries have to pay keep increasing. Sometimes by over 100% at a time! This can make it difficult to plan our spending over the year, and ensure all students get access to the titles they need.

eBooks not sold to Libraries

However, our biggest challenge is that there are publishers who won’t allow university libraries to buy eBook versions of some of the key titles that you need. This is because they are worried that students who use library eBooks won’t buy their own print or eBook copy, and that their income will be reduced.

The Library's approach to tackling these issues

So, what does the Library do to tackle these issues?

  • We work with teaching staff to understand the information needed to support your studies.
  • If the preferred title(s) aren’t available in a suitable format, or on licence terms that permit access to enough people, we:
    • Negotiate with our suppliers, and publishers, for the release of a suitable version and licence
    • Look for alternative, equivalent titles
    • Use a combination of titles in different formats to provide the information. This will be marked on your reading list, and you’ll be directed to either the print or eBook depending on which format you prefer
    • Where permitted, create a legal, accessible scan of key chapters, articles etc.
  • The Library works with regional and national organisations to campaign for fairer, financially sustainable, access to eResources, especially eBooks.

eJournals and databases

Sometimes we subscribe to an individual eJournal title, but more often we subscribe to databases containing hundreds or thousands of eJournal titles. The length of the subscription varies: for an individual eJournal, it will typically be for one year; for a database it may be 3 to 5 years.

Subscriptions, also known as recurrent costs, account for approx. 80% of the Library’s annual spending.

Therefore, we must evaluate the relative costs and benefits of each deal offered by the publisher. We consider many factors including:

  • actual demand (via usage statistics)
  • anticipated demand
  • cost 
  • licensing restrictions
  • the relative merits of purchasing individual titles or large packages of titles


Why aren't there more print copies?

The Library aims to provide essential and recommended reading list titles in both electronic and print versions so that you can choose either format according to your location and preference.

The number of print copies we buy depends on:

Monitoring usage

We monitor usage of both print and eBooks so we can quickly extend access if a title is in more demand than anticipated. This may mean buying more physical copies, or more eBook licences to allow more people to simultaneously use the eBook.

Student preference

Since 2015, borrowing of our physical books has declined by an incredible 80%, showing a growing preference for the convenience of eBooks.

eBooks have many advantages, including:

  • They can be used from anywhere in the world, day-or-night
  • They can often be used by many students at the same time
  • They can be used with accessibility tools (e.g. to change font size and colour)
  • They don't weigh anything in your backpack!

However, if you prefer print but only an eBook of a reading list title is available, suggest a purchase and we’ll see if it is possible to buy a physical copy.


How many people can use an eBook at the same time?

When you find an eBook in the Library Search, click on the More… symbol under the title to reveal more information about the eBook. Where possible, the Library has added licence information to the Copyright / Licence field.

Ideally it will say, "Online access for unlimited number of concurrent users" meaning everyone can access the eBook at the same time. In the worst case, it may say “Online access for 1 concurrent user” and this means the eBook can only be used by one person at the same time. 


I found the eBook at Amazon or Apple and it was really cheap. Why doesn’t the Library buy that?

Sadly, as highlighted above, the Library can only buy eBooks that have been licenced for use by Higher Education libraries. Neither Amazon nor Apple sell such eBooks. If you look at the small print on an Amazon eBook, you’ll see it is only for use by the person who buys it and they can’t lend it to anyone else. Therefore, we have to buy eBooks from specialist library suppliers who interpret the publishers’ licensing terms for libraries. This is why we frequently have to pay many times the price you see at Amazon.


My eBook/eJournal is available from lots of different providers. How do I know where to find the purchased copy?

The library search only lists eBooks and eJournals we have either purchased outright or bought a subscription to. It will also automatically log you in, on and off-campus. For these reasons it can be much easier and quicker than Google.


I can’t find the title I need in the Library, what can I do?

See our can’t find it webpage for several options, including links to suggest a purchase or request an inter-library loan.

In 2021-2022, we purchased or licensed over 200 books and eBooks in response to student purchase requests, spending approximately £16,000.


How do I contact the Library?

We're always keen to talk! If you want to discuss anything further with the Library, please contact us