How are academic libraries evaluating streaming media for their collections?

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Dive Brief:

  • Academic librarians are far more interested in streaming media’s effect on instruction than they are in relationships with companies providing the content, according to new survey data that gauges how libraries are approaching resources like documentaries, films, music and podcasts — and how they anticipate spending on streaming materials in the future.
  • Almost all respondents, 96%, said the impact on instruction was important when purchasing or renewing streaming licenses, found a survey released Thursday by educational research nonprofit Ithaka S+R. That was slightly more than the portion who labeled as important annual cost, 94%, and content quality, 90%. At the other end of the spectrum, just 27% said long-term relationships with a content provider were important, and only 26% said flexible payment models were important.
  • College libraries say streaming media has grown more critical for meeting student needs since the pandemic first prompted college campuses to send students home. Two-thirds of polled librarians said streaming media has become more important in meeting student needs since March of 2020, and 42% said demand for streaming media has increased since then.

Dive Insight:

The survey comes at a time when the proliferation of streaming media is opening up educational and research possibilities but also stressing budgets, said Makala Skinner, senior surveys analyst at Ithaka S+R and co-author of a report the nonprofit published on the survey results.

“The demand for this content is growing, but it’s challenging for libraries to meet that demand in a financially sustainable way,” Skinner said.

Researchers could find little data available on the topic. So at the end of last year, Ithaka S+R surveyed library employees in the U.S. and Canada who are in charge of purchasing streaming media licenses. It received a total of 309 responses from public and private institutions of different sizes, most of which were in the U.S.

The job title of the employee in charge of purchasing varied by library. Sometimes it was a collections librarian, Skinner said. In other cases, it was the library’s director.

Most respondents, about two-thirds, said their libraries spent between 1% and 6% of their materials budget on streaming media in 2021-22. About one in 10 spent over 10%.

Baccalaureate institutions currently spend 5% of their materials budgets on streaming media, on average. Master’s institutions average 5.5%, and doctoral universities spent 2%. But doctoral institutions tend to have much larger overall materials budgets than smaller colleges, meaning they could still spend more in dollar amounts.

All types of institutions are expecting to spend increasing shares of their materials budgets on streaming. Baccalaureate and master’s colleges expect to roughly double spending share to 10% of their budgets in five years. Doctoral institutions anticipate spending 5%.

But this doesn’t necessarily translate into vastly more dollars available for streaming media. Just 35% of respondents expected their materials budgets to increase over that time. Another 35% expected it to decrease.

“Does that doubling actually mean more dollars?” Skinner said. “Or is it a bigger piece of an existing pie that’s shrinking? I think there’s some nuance there.”

Decreases have already been felt at some libraries. About half of respondents, 49%, said their materials budget decreased since March 2020. However, 56% of respondents said their budget for streaming media rose at least somewhat in that time.

Two streaming media providers dominate the market, according to the survey results: Kanopy and Alexander Street. Each service was used by about eight in 10 survey respondents.

The two dominant players in the market likely mean feature films and documentaries are considered the most important category of streaming media for instruction, the report said. And Ithaka S+R saw little reason the market for these types of media would be shaken up by new entrants, unless mainstream media companies become more open to licensing to educational institutions.

The report suggested startups and other vendors looking to grow in the academic streaming market should ask a few questions about their products: What pedagogical value do they provide? How are their streaming media materials different from textbooks, where the student-driven market is being rocked by a movement pushing open educational resources and low-cost textbooks?

For librarians, it recommends taking steps to show the value of streaming media. They include tracking its use, evaluating pedagogical needs as they change and working with instructors who could use the materials.

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