Insights From the Data: The 2015 SLAV Schools eBook Survey Print E-mail
By David Feighan   
Between August and October 2015, SLAV ran the first comprehensive survey of eBook use in Victorian school libraries. This paper outlines the scope of the survey as well as the findings. School libraries operate in an environment where more and more students and teachers expect quick, simple, and 24/7 Google-like access to information. They also expect access from whatever device, or devices, they happen to use. As a result, it is important for school libraries to develop eBook collections that deliver best value for their school. This includes supporting literacy, broader reading, and the curriculum within a 24/7 learning environment.
The Australian Government’s Standing Council on School Education and Early childhood supports this, in principal:
Teachers and students require systems that are user friendly and meet current pedagogy. It is highly desirable that the system that enables teachers to plan lessons or units of work online also enables them to seamlessly discover resources from a local educational repository or from school library collections (MCEETYA, 2003, p. 21).
In addition, the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has implemented a national eBook and eLending advocacy program (ALIA eBook and eLending Program) that focuses on, amongst other things, lobbying publishers for library friendly eBook pricing and terms of use. However, compared to public and university libraries, school libraries support smaller populations and work with smaller budgets. There is the risk that any future standard Australian library eBook pricing may work for universities and public libraries but may not work for schools. To effectively lobby for the best outcome it is critical school libraries have access to accurate data relating to the use of eBooks across the sector.
The underlining purpose of the 2015 SLAV eBook survey was:
  • For the findings to be shared with SLAV members so we can better understand and identify what is best practice in relation to collecting and managing eBooks. Sharing the survey findings should help school libraries build, and make available, eBook collections in the most efficient and effective way possible.
  • For the findings to be used as an empirical foundation for negotiations and lobbying with government, school principals and other key stakeholders for better resourcing.
  • For a summary of the findings to be shared with the ALIA Book Industry and eLending Advisory Committee so the use of eBooks in schools is better understood at a national level. This should ensure the needs of schools are understood and recognised in any ALIA negotiations with the book industry, particularly in relation to pricing as well as usage terms and conditions.
This paper also explores what enhancements should be considered for future surveys. This will ensure school libraries are well placed to respond to the opportunities and challenges of delivering eContent, and specifically eBooks, in a contemporary learning environment. It should also help school libraries lobby with a more consistent, informed, and effective voice.

Developing the survey questions

The survey was developed using Survey Monkey and aimed to explore the following:
  • What percentage of school libraries offered eBooks?
  • Was there differences between government, Catholic and independent schools, as well as between primary and secondary schools and K to 12 schools?
  • What was the average size of fiction and non-fiction eBook collections compared to the average size of the physical collections?
  • How did schools make their eBook collections available, and in particular how many schools integrated their eBook collections into their catalogues?
  • What type of pricing and access models were schools using to ensure they delivered eBooks in the most effective and efficient way possible?
  • Are eBook collections being used?
  • What blocked a school from introducing eBooks?
  • Where schools offered eBooks what were the biggest challenges to building and delivering eBook collections?
  • Did budgets and or the number of staff in the library play a role in whether a school library offered eBooks and the size of their eBook collections?
For details see the survey questionnaire in the appendix.
Survey Monkey was used as the platform as there is already a high level of exposure to Survey Monkey within the library sector. A series of questions were developed and piloted among a small group of school libraries before being distributed via the SLAV contact list. As this was the first survey of its type it was recognised that feedback from the 2015 survey would be used to further refine and strengthen and improve the 2016 survey. For the school library survey findings to feed into the ALIA eBook and eLending advocacy program, and indeed any other Australian wide school library lobbying and advocacy program, it has also been recognised that a core set of common questions need to be developed. It is expected that a core set of common questions will be developed in time for the 2016 survey.

Survey Findings


This was the first time SLAV had surveyed school libraries about their eBook collections and usage, so to ensure the survey was as inclusive as possible, and to maximise its impact, the questionnaire was distributed to all individuals listed in the SLAV contact database, even though this meant there were examples of the survey being distributed to more than one person in some schools. Figure 1 outlines the demographics of all respondents while Figure 2 shows the demographics of the responses once incomplete responses and multiple responses from the same school had been de-duped and verified.
It is gratifying that so many schools responded, and as a result there is now a meaningful set of data that Victorian school libraries can use for benchmarking, and that SLAV can use to support lobbying and advocacy programs. However it is worth noting that:
  1. Most of the incomplete responses involved responders filling in their details but not answering whether their library did, or did not, offer eBooks. In these instances, there was no useful data to include or analyse so the responses were removed;
  2. Where there were multiple respondents from the same school there was often contradictory responses. This included directly opposing responses to whether the library did, or did not, offer eBooks, and whether the library budget had increased or decreased in the previous twelve months. In some cases these different responses appeared to be driven by different situations and experiences at different campuses of the same school. However, there were a number of schools where the responses differed so much, and where the response were so contradictory, that it appeared there was general confusion, or ignorance, among the library staff as to what the library actually offered when it came to eBooks. The responses from these schools were removed from the survey, as it was impossible to determine what the library actually offered. 


  • Unless specified otherwise, all the following findings relate to the de-duped results outlined in table 2.
  • While there was a large enough sample of some school types, this was not the case for others. As a result, the survey focused on the school types where there was more meaningful data: primary and secondary schools in the government sector, Catholic secondary schools, and Independent K-12 schools. It is hoped that in 2016 there will a better response rate from some of the underrepresented schools. This will give SLAV, and the broader library community, better data to use for lobbying and identifying best practice.

School library staffing

Capturing insights into the number and type of staff in a school library proved problematic in 2015. In the time available, it was difficult to format the survey to capture the head count and staffing FTE by employment type, especially given the prevalence of part time workers. As a result, the staffing information provided by the survey was of limited use and could not be included in these findings. Anecdotally, there did appear to be a correlation between the number of staff, and especially the number of qualified teacher- librarians and librarians, and whether a school provided eBooks. The 2016 SLAV eBook survey will focus on addressing how more meaningful staffing information can be captured and presented in future findings.

eBooks by School Type

Figure 3 shows which school libraries offer eBook by sector. Overall 87 or 52% of the schools in the survey provide eBooks. This compares to 99% of Australian public libraries (ALIA 2015) and 100% of Australian university libraries (CAUL, 2014) and demonstrates that school libraries continue to lag behind other types of libraries in offering eBooks.


. . . school libraries continue to lag behind other types of libraries in offering eBooks.

In figure 3 the percentage of schools offering eBooks is shown if the survey sample size was large enough to be meaningful. While 52% of all schools surveyed provide eBooks, for some school types the sample size was too low to provide any meaningful insight. This said, secondary school libraries, and libraries in the independent and Catholic sectors, were more likely to provide eBooks than government schools. SLAV has already started to use this information to lobby government and ensure libraries in state schools are not left behind.



School population

Where there was a meaningful sample by school type it would appear there is a correlation between the size of the school’s student population and whether the library offers eBooks. Larger schools were more likely to offer eBooks than smaller schools. In figure 4 results that are struck out indicate there was a low number of schools responding so the data from this group was not meaningful. It is hoped that in 2016 more schools from these sectors will respond so their details can be added to the SLAV findings.


Library budgets

To maximise the number of responses in 2015 schools were not asked to disclose their total collection budget but they were asked to identify what percentage of their budget they dedicated to the purchase of eBooks. This information is outlined in figure 5. Schools were also asked to identify if their budget had decreased, increased, or stated the same year-on-year. This information is outlined in figure 6.


. . . just over half of all respondents spending less than 8% on eBooks . . .

Overall expenditure on eBooks represents a small part of most school library budgets with just over half of all respondents spending less than 8% on eBooks and a quarter of respondents spending less than 3% of their budget on eBooks. (See figure 5 for details). 18% of respondents spent at least 25% of their budget on eBooks with two schools spending half of their budget on eBooks. The low level of expenditure could be the result of eBooks being relatively new for many schools, tight budgets, or there could be some other factor at work. 



There seems to be less of a correlation between changes in year-on-year budget and whether the library offers eBooks. See figure 6 for details. For example, 55% or 20 of the 65 government secondary schools in the survey had the same budget as the previous year but did not offer eBooks, and 12% of the government secondary schools surveyed did offer eBooks even though their collection budget had been cut. However, it is recognised that year-on-year changes in budget is not the same as having enough money in the budget in the first place. Providing adequate budgets to support print AND online collections is important as it ultimately impacts on what a school library can deliver. As a result, the 2016 survey will explore how more detailed budget information can be gathered and reported back to the SLAV membership.


eBook Discoverability

Most of the libraries that offer eBooks said that they include access to eBooks via their catalogue as well as the vendor’s native interface. However, not all of the libraries that offer eBooks responded to this question so these findings may be slightly over stated. Adding eBooks into the catalogue enables the library to offer patrons the ability to do a single search across the entire print and online collections. Not including the eBook metadata into the catalogue may comprise the patron’s ability to quickly search and find what they are looking for. Though not part of the scope of this survey, the experience of school libraries using next generation cloud based catalogues that can be linked into Google Books and sites such as Good Reads is also having a positive impact on the discoverability of eBook collections.


Print versus eBooks

The SLAV survey spent considerable effort exploring what type of eBooks schools were purchasing and making available to their School’s students and staff. Given the amount of money schools spend on eBooks (see figure 5), eBook collections remain a small part of most school libraries overall collections. However, independent K-12 schools and one Catholic K to 8 school offer approximately 10% of their fiction collection as eBooks.


When looking at non-fiction it is worth noting that five independent schools (17% of the independent schools surveyed that provide eBooks and 3% of the overall sample) use eBook datasets and / or PDA DDA (see following for more information on PDA) purchase models. As a result, these school libraries offer significantly larger eBook collections. In fact, the size of these five school’s nonfiction eBook collections is so much larger than the rest of the sample they skewed the data. Not counting these five schools, the average size of eBook collections in independent schools falls dramatically from 41,299 nonfiction eBook titles on average to 2,109 nonfiction eBook titles on average. While 2,109 nonfiction eBooks among the remaining independent K to 12 schools is still higher than the average figure reported in government and Catholic schools, it clearly demonstrates that by adopting a more strategic and multifaceted eBook purchase and pricing models schools can dramatically enhance and enrich their collections.


Purchase models

As demonstrated in the previous section school libraries that use a strategic and multifaceted eBook purchase and pricing model can dramatically enhance and enrich their eBook collections without incurring anything like the cost of purchasing titles outright one by one. Given the budget pressure so many schools face it is remarkable that more schools do not take advantage of leasing eBook datasets and or lease to own PDA/DDA models. It is worth noting that in the ALIA 2015 Comparison of eBooks and eLending in Australian Public Libraries 62% of public libraries stated that ‘Most or all of the library team are conversant with ebooks and ereaders’ while 38% stated that ‘Some or a couple of members of the library team are conversant with ebooks and ereaders’. Given 51 (56%) out of the 91 libraries in the SLAV survey that answered this question use one vendor for for their eBooks, and only 6 (7%) use PDA it would appear that the level of familiarity with eBook purchase options needs to be considerably enhanced. It is also worth noting, that what each eBook platform can offer, and the pricing that is available, depends on individual publishers. Some of the more common options are outlined in figure 9, while figure 10 provides an overview of the responses from the SLAV 2015 survey.



# PDA (Patron Driven Acquisitions), also known as Demand Driven Acquisitions or DDA. This option allows libraries to make titles available and only pay for a title if it is used. Usually a library sets up a PDA profile based against a fund code that has a dollar amount allocated against it. The library controls the access and trigger points. A common option is for three loans to trigger a purchase. This enables libraries to offer many more titles than would be possible under a single copy outright purchase model.



Note: No one publisher offers all the print resources a school library needs, so it comes as no surprise that no one eBook provider can offer all the eBook titles a library needs. Other than the libraries that use one vendor, the libraries in the survey that used a more flexible mix and matched approach to eBook purchases are more likely to deliver better value for their school as well as a deeper and richer collection. However, managing more than one supplier adds an extra level of complexity.

Blocks to purchasing eBooks or purchasing more eBooks

In the last part of the survey the participants were asked to indicate what they saw as the blocks to implementing eBooks. If they already offered eBooks they were asked what they saw as the blocks to introducing more eBooks. While there was a relatively even distribution of responses, most libraries cited the following for the reasons:

  • Lack of budget
  • Not enough of the right titles
  • Disinterested students

Within the government sector the lack of budget and issues with the School’s Internet access and firewalls was cited as the main reasons these libraries had not introduced eBooks. Figure 11 provides an outline of responses by school sector. Other common reasons cited for holding off introducing eBooks included:


  • Current library management system cannot handle eBooks
  • Lack of Australian content
  • We would rather students read hard copy



Pricing models on offer to libraries are indeed problematic, and there are major campaigns such as the Fair Pricing for Libraries campaign coming out of Canada, but more work needs to be done. In Australia ALIA is lobbying publishers to get better pricing for Australian libraries. Better insight to current practice helps support this lobbying. If more school libraries participate in the 2016 SLAV eBook survey there is better data that can be used to get better outcomes for school libraries.


The finds of the 2015 SLAV survey suggests that:

  • School libraries still lag behind other types of libraries when it comes to eBook collections, and school libraries are yet to capitalise on the different ways they can supply eBooks to their schools.
  • That there were completely different responses from a number of schools suggest there is a level of uncertainty and confusion in some schools.
  • eBooks are still relatively new for many schools, and the library staff are still learning what options are available in order to deliver the best value.
  • The size of the eBook collections in many schools remains quite small. Though not identified as such in the survey, the lack of depth and breadth of the small collections may be one reason for the low take up among some students and staff. This could be explored in more detail in the 2016 survey.
  • It is interesting to note that while many libraries identify a lack of budget for not introducing eBooks or building up their eBook collections, this survey also shows there is a low take up of eBook pricing options that give libraries better pricing and allow them to build and develop eBook collections at a reasonably low cost. There is a small group of schools that are using more strategic and multifaceted eBook purchase models, and the impact of their approach is so great it skewed the rest of the survey data. It will be interesting to see over time how the experience of these libraries differs from the other schools.
  • A few schools have started to adopt a strategic and flexible approach to eBooks but most have only adopted a simple purchase outright model from one vendor
  • School libraries have tended to focus on fiction eBooks over nonfiction eBooks. This, together with the expectation of education policy organisations such as the Australian Government’s Standing Council on School Education and Early childhood that school libraries have online collections to support learning may mean school libraries need to change their focus and purchase nonfiction rather than fiction.
  • School libraries should continue to collect data on usage so they can ensure national conversations with publisher bodies’ work to the advantage of schools.

The 2016 Survey recommendations

The following recommendations are being considered for the 2016 SLAV eBook survey:

  • Get each school to nominate a person to respond to the 2016 survey so there is a more consistent and uniform response.
  • Ensure there is a higher response from some of the underreported school types in the 2015 survey. This will enable SLAV to lobby even more effectively on behalf of all school libraries.
  • Introduce a core set of questions based on discussions with the higher education and public library sectors. This enables Australian libraries to have a core set of data that can be used to lobby publishers nationally for better pricing.
  • Explore how the survey can gather more up-to-date data on library staffing that SLAV can use for advocacy and lobbying purposes.
  • Explore how the survey can gather more detailed information on library collection budgets and how much is spent on ebooks. This information can be used when lobbying publishers for better pricing and access licenses.


The response to the 2015 survey exceeded expectations, and it is hoped that this paper provides valuable insights into how eBooks are being used in school libraries.


ALIA (2015) Comparison of eBooks and eLending in Australian Public Libraries, Accessed at:


ALIA eBooks and elending Advocacy Program, Accessed at: 


CAUL Council of Australian University Librarians Statistics, Accessed at: 


Harker K. & Sassen C. (2015) ‘Enhancing Access to E-books’ in Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP),
Accessed at:


MCEETYA, (2003) Learning Architecture Framework: Learning in an Online World, Accessed at: 


Thomas J., Racine H. & Shouse, D. (2013) ‘eBooks and Efficiencies in Acquisitions Expenditures and Workflows’ in Against the Grain, April, 25 (2),
Accessed at: 



David Feighan is the Information and Library Services Manager at Mentone Girls' Grammar School. David has twenty five years’ experience as a librarian within the corporate, government and school sectors. David is active within the profession, he has written numerous articles, presented at conferences and has ran workshops. He is a past VALA President, and was the VALA2010 Conference Program Chair and the VALA2016 Joint Program Chair. David ran the inaugural SLAV eBook survey in 2015 and is on the ALIA eBook and eLending Advisory Committee.


Survey questions

Section 1: Demographics

By participating in this survey you help Australian school libraries gain valuable insights into how eBooks are being used in this region so we can provide even better eBook collections to our schools. Individual school data remains confidential. The aggregate findings will be made available to participants of SLAV's eBooks workshop on Thursday 29 October and published in FYI Magazine. For details contact SLAV directly. 


Q 1. Contact details. This information remains confidential and will only be used to get back in contact if we need to clarify any responses.

Your Name

School Name

Email Address

Phone Number


Q 2. Australian State

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory


South Australia



Western Australia


Q 3. Which of the following best describes your School (Choose one) 

Government School

Catholic School

Independent School


Q 4. Type of School (choose one) 




Other (please specify)


Q 5. How many students attend your school? 


Q 6. Full Time Equivalent (FTE) library staff numbers rounded to the closest number e.g. 1.6 and higher FTE becomes 2 and 1.5 and lower FTE becomes 1.

Teacher Librarian/s





Section 2: Print collection overview

Q 7. Budget: compared to last year, has your collection budget: 



stayed the same


Q 8. Print collection overview (enter a number for each type of book). Count picture books with fiction.

Number of unique fiction book titles in your print collections

Number of unique nonfiction book titles in your print collections


Q 9. eBooks (please choose one option) 

We provide access to eBooks from our school library

We DO NOT provide access to eBooks from our school library
(Schools who do not offer ebooks were directed straight to question 21 which explored the blocks to purchasing ebooks.)


Section 3: eBook collection overview

Q 10. eBook collection overview (enter a number for each type of book, enter 0 if applicable). Count picture books with fiction. 

Number of unique fiction book titles in your eBook collections

Number of unique nonfiction book titles in your eBook collections


Q 11. What percentage of your collection budget do you spend on ebooks? Enter the % as a number between 1 and 100


Section 4: Access and vendors

Q 12 Do you make your eBooks available to students and staff via your catalogue? Y / N


Q 13. Do you make your eBooks available to students and staff 24/7 off campus as well as on campus? Y / N


Q 14. List the name of your eBook vendor/s (choose as many as applicable) 









Other (please specify)


Q 15. Which of the following statements applies to your library? (Choose as many as required)

We only use one eBook provider and / or do not have a process of choosing which vendor will supply a title.

We compare the price and price structure between vendors before making a purchase decision.

We choose between multiple vendors based on collection e.g. vendor X for non fiction, vendor Y for fiction.

Use some other method (please specify)


Q 16. Do you know if you have the option to migrate your existing eBook collection/* s to another vendor? Y / N


Section 5: eBook purchase models

Q 17. Which of the following eBook purchase models do you use? (Choose as many as required) 

eBooks purchased outright with ongoing permanent access

eBooks purchased outright with circulation / time limited access e.g. 26 loans for a two year period

PDA (Patron Driven Acquisitions) / DDA (Demand Driven Acquisitions) purchase options

Other (please specify)


Q 18. Which PDA/DDA purchase models do you use? (choose as many as applicable) 

PDA/DDA includes a platform fee and x loans trigger a purchase

PDA/DDA does NOT include a platform fee and x loans trigger a purchase

PDA/DDA service has been set up so only Heads of Department or other key stakeholders can select eBooks for purchase

PDA/DDA service has been set up so any student or staff can select eBooks for purchase

We do not use PDA/DDA eBook purchase models

Other (please specify)


Q 19. Open access eBooks (choose as many as applicable) 

You offer out of copyright (e.g. Project Guttenberg) open access eBooks in your collection

You offer in copyright open access eBooks in your collection

Don't know


Q 20. What do you see as the biggest block to purchasing more eBooks for your school? (Choose as many as applicable) 

Lack of budget

Not enough of the right titles available as eBooks

Publishers do not offer usable eBook pricing or license options

Lack of skills among library staff to select and manage eBook collections

Issues with the School network allowing accessing eBooks

Disinterest of teaching staff

Disinterest of students

Other (please specify)


Section 6 Blocks to implementing eBooks for Schools who DO NOT offer eBooks

Q. 21. For school libraries who do not offer eBooks: What do you see as the biggest blocks to purchasing eBooks for your school? (Choose as many as applicable) 

Lack of budget

Not enough of the right titles available as eBooks

Publishers do not offer usable eBook pricing or license options

Lack of skills among library staff to select and manage eBook collections

Issues with the School network allowing accessing eBooks

Disinterest of teaching staff

Disinterest of students

Other (please specify)


Section 7: General comments


Q 22. Thank you for completing the SLAV 2015 eBook survey. Use the following if you wish to add any other comments about how you purchase (or do not purchase) eBooks, as well as any feedback you might have about this survey.