E-books begin to show their paces - but there are hurdles that still need to be jumped ahead

Added by Sally Curry on 24 April 2009 10:35

E-books have taken a long time to arrive. I first went to a presentation on e-books at least eight or nine years ago but they have been ?bumping along the bottom? until about twelve months ago when I suddenly began hearing from all directions about libraries beginning to purchase e-books in serious numbers. I also began to hear about the problems librarians were encountering in managing the ingest of these resources and in making them available for their users.

The Knowledgespeak Newsletter from 13 April noted that US Scientific publisher CRC Press, had created its first Library Advisory Board which would meet annually.

The press release reported that, "The Board [would] spearhead discussion between librarians and CRC about the rapidly changing trends of the 21st century library" and stated that, "The outcome of these discussions will fuel the future development of digital products and specifically, the CRCnetBASE eBook Libraries."

Thinking about the problems with e-books and what is still a comparatively new medium, it would be interesting to know how many publishers have library advisory boards, how their members are selected and especially how useful to both partners find them.

Following rapidly on the heels of these thoughts, I found myself attending the STM e-Books event on 23 April in London which was effectively a different way of carrying out similar contacts betweeh publishers and librarians, though confined to STM publishing and specifically to e-books ? although other formats were not completely ignored. Three academic librarians from different background provided presentations on their experience of acquiring and providing access to e-books and on the responses to them from both student and academic users. Publishers gave updates on the range of activities and formats they are offering to improve the usefulness and uptake of the e-book packages.

Principal requests from the librarians were, for the management of e-books:  improvements in the discoverability of which e-books were available and improvements in the MARC records accompanying e-books to allow librarians to make those they had purchased, more discoverable through their catalogues. The librarians also put in a plea on behalf of the e-book users for publishers to abandon DRM restrictions on their e-book content which caused academics and students so much frustration. There was also emphasis on the importance of ?stuff? rather than specific titles which, being translated, means that the users did not really care whether they were finding a book or a journal, what they wanted was the relevant chapter or article and publishers should move from replicating a traditional book to utilising the opportunities that e-versions make possible to customise a book?s contents both in direct access to sub-sections and in imaginative development of as to how the content could be manipulated. 

There were useful questions, suggestions and discussions based on the presentations of both the librarians and the publishers and it would seem that perhaps an annual meeting of this nature would provide a significant number publishers with the equivalent of developing their own Library Advisory Board.

Some of these topics are also covered in the RIN?s new report Creating Catalogues, bibliographic records in a networked world which will be published imminently.

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