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This article describes an exploratory study examining one contentious aspect of the relationship between university presses and academic libraries: the trends in purchases of university press books by academic libraries. The study provides an empirical basis for evaluating the frequent claim that the declining fortunes of university presses can be blamed primarily on declines in monographic purchasing by academic libraries. Our analysis indicates that this relationship is not clear-cut for at least three reasons: first, to the extent that purchasing reductions have occurred, they have occurred much more recently than many accounts have suggested; second, purchasing trends vary significantly between different sizes of libraries; and third, purchasing trends for university press books are very different from those for monographs in general. These findings cast substantial doubt on the proposition that changes in university library purchasing behaviour dating to the 1990s ‘serials crisis’ are principally responsible for the current economic malaise of university presses.