Ebooks on the rise?

In Eresources on January 12, 2010 by africker Tagged: , ,

I have had something about exploring options for ebooks in my objectives for years.  Alongside that objective has been the risk assessment that the lack of a clear best solution has the potential to mean bad investments.

Some interesting recent blog posts considering the uptake of ebooks – firstly Dan D’Agostino guesting over on Teleread (a very vigorous ebook blog) with “The strange case of Academic Libraries and the ebooks nobody reads”.  The comments on this item are highly recommended.  He suggests how the monopoly position of publishers and the need for librarians to be “leading the way” may have influenced the way academic libraries have purchased these resources.   A follow on post looks at what might be done and how DRM embedded in the system could leave publishers with great control.

Responding to Dan and bringing matters closer to home is “Who is reading your ebooks?” from the Krafty Librarian.  She contends that the current purchasing and use made of medical books in a hospital setting is rather different.  The model for her is more one of purchasing specific titles that are used very much as reference items rather than for sustained reading.  An obvious UK example would be the various Oxford Textbooks, Harrisons Internal Medicine etc.  These are not books for loan they are quick look ups.  I would agree that online is definitely the way forward for these books.  Krafty is less sure on ebook devices and how these will fit.

From my perspective we have a mixed model locally.  There have been some bundles of ebooks bought (across NHS England) to address a perceived gap for mental health staff.  Working with colleagues across our part of town we have collaborated with further title by title purchases targeting high demand items and some of the “big book” type items.  More recently we have bought UpToDate which I would describe as an ebook. 

Generally uptake has been poor.  Reasons might be:

  • the wrong titles – some fairly mixed mental health stuff was chosen
  • unreliable systems – access through has been broken for some time now
  • lack of ready access to a PC at the time access was required
  • poor publicity – linking through to all the titles from our catalogue (NewhamCat) has been most effective
  • weak interfaces – one page a time being the norm, no easy printing etc
  • lack of desire on the part of the user – we do not often get asked for ebooks
  • problems getting in – Athens is confusing for users
  • or any combination of these and other factors?

The exception is UpToDate.  Avoiding the need for a login surely helps as does the way the content is served and ease of search.  But in the end a tailored interface is not going to be the solution for every product.

As previously mentioned there are increasing numbers of mobile devices in evidence around the hospital.  The medical students are nearly all in the iPhone club.  I think that some successor device to this is likely to be where we need to serve our content (ebook and other).  I cannot see the ebook devices standing alone in the face of device convergence.  The explosion in alternative devices that is underway seems likely to lead to mostly failures.

I’ll be looking to continue buying very specific titles to meet specific needs and aiming for as many of those big books to be electronic as possible.


8 Responses to “Ebooks on the rise?”

  1. Agree on the need to buy reference books in e-book format. Over and above I’d suggest for a medical school library psychosocial titles relevant to the taught curriculum. has the full text of the DSM IV and I’m interested to see this years usage stats because previously we’ve only had a couple of hard copies in the library. The publishers of UpToDate have an unsustainable increasing cost business model here in the US. When the company changes its business practices, we’ll consider buying it back again.

  2. We have this in our collection management policy – that we should favour the purchase of ebooks before printed but how to manage them even if we could find anything anyone wanted in electronic form…I looked at the NHS provided ones and they were very out of date.

  3. Depends on what you call out of date and what you call the NHS provided ones!

    Unless your employer has bought some extra ones you would just get the chunk of titles bought by the National Core Content some time ago (hence in part the age). These are mental health focussed for the most part and as such are less time sensitive than say a pharmacology related text. The aim was to give a general selection rather than just very recently published items. There were also a large number of WHO titles – this did include some older materials and locally we only included a selection of these in our systems. There have been some small changes over time to this initial collection with Oxford Handbooks in particular being updated.

    Many NHS Libraries have topped up the initial investment and bought more recent titles, stuff outside of mental health and stuff outside of MyiLibrary.

    I have had some contact from Athens about my “Athens is confusing for users” statement. I am still in conversation with them but I am happy to clarify that the statement should probably read “Authentication is confusing for users”. I’ll do a fresh post on it when I have concluded the off line discussion!

  4. Hi Dewey,

    Cheers for thoughts. Apologies for delay – just spotted your comment in the spam box.

    UpToDate are now owned by Ovid WK so it has to be hoped that they will change their way of doing business. That said – they seem to be doing OK finacially from it so maybe they won’t.

  5. Interesting. I read this from the perspective of someone in further education, where we launched a JISC/Learning & Skills Council funded bundle through ebrary, of 3000 titles.
    They’ve been very popular, and we have more content on the way. High relevance to the curriculum, we use federated access, so few log in problems once we had knocked federated access into shape. JISC are encouraging everyone to link to individual titles from reading lists in VLEs to boost use
    There have been a few minor issues about correct versions of Java in browsers so people could use the ebrary reader, and importing records into the different LMSs in use in the sector. More technologically advanced users want to download the titles onto an e-book reader, which you can;t yet do.
    The big questions are what will happen when the deal expires in 2014 and will we have the resources to keep the collection up to date? The deal simply gets us the current editions. It’s up to us to replace from our local budgets as newer editions are published. How feasible is this in this period of retrenchment?

    • Tom, interesting that FE is getting into Ebrary. We (academic medical library) are piggy backing off our main campus library’s subscription to ebrary and like you have it tied in to a federated search engine for discovery. The package has maybe 20,000 titles, probably only 1/6 are medically related, however we have incorporated it because it is proving useful when looking up psychosocial theory by med students and clinicians.

      Africker, I would have hoped the NHS Library would have added more to the core content ebooks introduced five or six years ago. It is encouraging libraries are taking the initiative by supplementing ebook offerings. It must be frustrating to be a medical student with a smartphone used throughout your time at University to look things up on your library’s collections, but then they go out on their postgraduate residencies to be faced with potentially limited access to what they’re used to using. Perhaps when faced with this disconnect but having seen what is possible the younger generation of medical professionals can be enticed to lobby for more e-books through NHS Library?

  6. I certainly hope they will lobby. Money as ever is the issue. Some lucky NHS libraries are able to piggy back in a similar way with the better funded academic services – we have no such luck. Obviously this is only at present – we asked our local lovely medical school library about this again the other day so you nver know (hint if you are out there!).

    It is hard to justify buying ebooks as the usage is very low. In some cases it would be cheaper to buy a pile of books and press one into the hand of each person who declares an interest.

    Dewey – do you have evidence within your stats of smartphone based usage?

  7. […] Tagged: athens, authentication, confusion, debate, eduserv, users A little while ago in a post on ebooks I mentioned that users found Athens confusing.  I then had an interesting email exchange with […]

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