Libraries

Digital Dominates in College Libraries

laptop computer with books on screen

For the second year running, library collections in higher education now contain more digital items than physical. According to preliminary numbers issued by the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, of the 2.5 billion items in colleges and universities in 2017, 59 percent were digital — books, databases, media and serials — and 41 percent were physical. That's a boost on the virtual side from 53 percent in 2016 for the digital collection.

It's also a reversal from the two years prior. In 2014, for example, more than two-thirds of the collections (69 percent) were physical compared to 31 percent that were digital. And in 2015, electronic library collections made up 39 percent of the entirety compared to 61 percent of physical elements. Between 2014 and 2017, digital components nearly doubled their share of the total library collection, even as the total items within library collections grew year over year.

The annual report is based on Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data collected from every institution participating in Title IV federal student financial aid programs (such as Federal Pell Grants or Direct Stafford Loans) during that academic year.

physical vs electronic library collections

Sources: "Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 20XX"; and "Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 20XX," from the National Center for Education Statistics.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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