the care and feeding of ebooks

Ebooks are the current thorn in my paw.  I love the idea of ebooks for an academic audience. I love them personally, as well, but for an academic audience they just make sense — so many of our users need one section of one chapter of a book, and its likely that they need it from their dorm room at a time when it’s not going to be easy to come to the library.  Add in our large population of commuting graduate students, and they become even more appealing.   Toss in the ability to do things like search the full-text of econtent, mix well, and serve with a lovely garnish.  I’m a happy librarian.  Since we’re ramping up our collections for a new distance-ed initiative, this happy librarian is playing with ebooks.

But ebooks aren’t always easy.  There are cost issues.  There’s the browsability question.  There are always functionality expectations to be managed.  And then there’s the issue I should have anticipated, but didn’t, for some reason:  Process.  How does the library manage econtent in conjunction with management of print content?  We’ve mastered this with journals, but books present us a new set of issues.  A few questions currently on my plate, without definitive local answers:

  1. If a book is published and sold only as a downloadable .pdf, is it still a ‘monograph’ as defined by our collection development policy, and therefore within our scope for purchase?
  2. If a book is published and sold only as a downloadable .pdf, and is a ‘monograph’ as defined by our collection development policy, and we buy it, should we catalog it with a live url?
  3. If a book is published and sold only as a downloadable .pdf, and is a ‘monograph’ as defined by our collection development policy, and we buy it, should we download a local copy?
  4. If a book is published and sold only as a downloadable .pdf, and is a ‘monograph’ as defined by our collection development policy, and we buy it, should we print a copy?
  5. If we print a copy, should we bind it?
  6. If we don’t catalog it, how else do we make it accessible?

The questions just cascade off each other, each one leading to another, each intruding into slightly different but related policies and procedures — collection development becomes acquisitions becomes cataloging becomes access becomes reference.  Some of them are easier for me to answer than others, based on my own beliefs and the history and mission of our institution and our policies.  Some are harder. Some, I just don’t know quite what to do about.

I had a similar series of questions earlier today about traditional ebooks (Ha! Who knew we’d get to a point where there were ‘traditional’ and ‘nontraditional’ ebooks?), which went something like,

  1. If we buy an ebook through Vendor X, what interface company does it come through?
  2. Are that company’s ebooks cataloged, with records available through OCLC?
  3. If not, where can I get MARC for that vendor’s ebooks?
  4. If I cannot get ready-to-use MARC for those ebooks, how will we make them accessible?

I don’t have any local answers to any of these yet — there are lots of folks for me to talk to, brains to pick clean, angles to explore, before we define a local policy and practice.  But we’re considering the questions, and one thing that’s been extremely helpful is to see how others are managing their e-content projects, like the Nebraska Library Commission’s foray into Creative Commons ebooks.  Each library is going to come to a different place about nontraditionally published monographic e-content, but I’m hoping to find brilliance in the decisions others are making… and then blatantly steal the ideas that will work here to help make our own processes equally brilliant.

Who else is doing cool stuff with e-books — traditional and nontraditional — that I should know about?

Listening to: Moby – Southside


  1. I Am Not A Librarian. As a mass consumer of e-books it would be my recommendation to download, catalog, and provide electronically the e-books the library “owns”. Three reasons:

    1) Vendor URLS change, then you have to farm the dead links… Like herding cats… And not the lazy ragdoll cats… The hyper ones.

    2) Vendors come and go. Just because bites the bullet, doesn’t mean the content you legally own should go with it.

    3) It’s just cool. Having a local e-book repo with bazillions of e-books available locally, without the drama of other websites, etc. Major Cool Points.

    I would urge you away from printing ANYTHING, especially an e-book. If a technologically-challenged patron required the material, perhaps print-on-demand – but not as the general rule. Our print server is named TreeKiller because we hate printing. HATE.

    My $0.02.


  2. I’m at a largish academic university in the collection development department. We are just beginning our foray into ebooks and over the past year have really been ramping up our reference ebook collection. We just went with EBL and are now starting to “collect” there. I purchase monographs and these fall within the budgets for my assigned areas, so we consider them monographs. We also catalog them and provide the URL. I can’t imagine not providing a record in the catalog.

    I’ve not done much with downloadable PDF’s. For a variety of reasons at this and my previous job, my preference is for the title to be hosted by the vendor. Usually, for the search capability and indexing features offered by the vendor. Mind you, even with a purchase, you are looking at ongoing fees for “hosting,” though some, like NetLibrary, build that fee into the purchase price, so once you buy, you own it. Most provide the ability to download a back-up copy or get it on CD which is our insurance if they go away.

    I also wouldn’t advocate printing a copy. It somewhat negates the reason for getting the ebook.


  3. Matt, I completely agree with you in principle re: vendors, URLs, locally-housed conten, and the Cool Factor, but… wanna give me a server and someone to manage it, so I can do those things? 😉

    Kewl, I’m not thinking about printing ebooks from traditional ebook vendors, but more about the “research reports” published by Random NonProfit A who’s doing great work in a niche field and is only putting the research out as a .pdf. I think my ideal answer is to get the aforementioned server space from Matt, host a local copy, catalog it and point to both the local and remote copies, and also have a print copy. Our students still rely quite heavily on the ability to browse the shelves for related materials, and I’m still leery of removing that option.

    But that’s the “ideal”. What I’ll do once reality intrudes is still up in the air.


  4. I think you worked up a proposal of what you would need, and handed to relevant people in CTS (READ: Andy), you would not be turned down for hosting on-campus.


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