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E-books: the future of the library?

Just two years ago, the staying power of the e-book was still in question and it was too early to tell if the Kindle would take-off (see our previous post, The future of the book). Now Amazon sells more e-books than paperbacks and the New York Public Library checked out a record-breaking 36,000 e-books last December. It's clear that e-books aren't a passing fad, but how do they fit into the academic world? Do students want to read e-textbooks? How do you cite a book with no page numbers? Do the current e-book business models work for academic libraries? Read on to find out more about these issues and share your opinion by taking the e-book survey.

e-bookDibner Library currently subscribes to a number of databases that provide thousands of books in the electronic format (see our E-books guide). As library space becomes a premium and the number of our remote users continues to grow, we aim to focus on increasing our e-book collection. E-books also tend to be less expensive to store and maintain (it's hard to damage an e-book by spilling coffee all over it!). Students appreciate their ability to search full text with ease and the fact that it's much easier to fit a dozen e-books in a backpack than a pile of print books. However, there are a few obstacles that currently prevent widespread adoption of e-books in academia:

Interoperability & Interfaces

Publishers use a variety of different formats for e-books. Some are available as PDFs, others as HTML, and there are those that are compatible with a particular type of device (iPad, kindle, etc). Depending on what you use to read the book, navigation can be extremely clunky or you might not be able to gain access to all. Assuming you can access the book, the lack of features in either the format or your reading device can make it difficult to support scholarly work (highlighting, adding notes, etc.). Not to mention how challenging it is to cite works with no fixed pages.

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Draconian DRM policies of many e-book vendors do not serve the needs of library users. Sometimes e-books may not be downloaded or only a small portion may be printed. How is a student commuting on the subway for an hour supposed to read the book offline? What about our distance learners who may have limited access to the Internet? Also, vendors who restrict concurrent use make it problematic to include materials in required course readings.

E-book business model

When Dibner Library buys a print book, we own that book. We can put it on display, place it on course reserve and lend it to other libraries via interlibrary loan. E-books are a bit different. Currently we pay a large sum of money each year to vendors for access to collections of e-books, but we don't own a thing. If we stop paying the annual fee, we have nothing. Depending on current deals with publishers, books may be added or taken away from a collection without any input from us. In addition,not many vendors allow  lending of e-books, a drastic blow to one of our most heavily used services - interlibrary loan.

Scarcity of Academic Titles

Although more and more academic books are becoming available, there are still many titles that are not available in electronic format.

Preference for Print Books

Last but certainly not least, many students and faculty simply prefer to hold paper bound books. According to a recent study by the Book Industry Study Group, 75% of college students prefer print textbooks over e-books. Some academic libraries that have made efforts to remove print books and focus on e-book collections have met resistance from outraged students and professors (for eg. Syracuse University Libraries).

Want more e-books? Take this brief survey

How do you feel about using e-books for academic work? Let us know your thoughts by taking this brief survey.