e-Books: Why Bother

I had a great idea.  Or at least I thought it was a great idea.  However making it a reality makes me think that maybe my idea might just stay in the realm of ideas.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I swear a boat load of people got iPads or smartphones for Christmas because the calls for help about resources, ebooks, network access, etc. have really taken off. Some things like network access or knowing how much data they might consume if they are doing 3G are a little bit out of our control.  But ebooks and library resources, well hell, I thought I could help with that in a relatively easy way.  (Just hit me over the head if I ever think something is going to be easy.)

We are in process of re-designing our website so we did a survey of our users.  We learned that 53% surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that a website for mobile use of library resources is important.  We learned that our users want a website with; better organization, streamlined function, easy for tech un-savvy, and fewer clicks to get to resources.  They want a simple way to find books and ebooks.  (Clearly the catalog isn’t what they consider simple.) They want an easier way to login to resources from home, and to login once.   Not only do our users want simple easy ways to access online resources from the website and their mobile devices but they want simple (few clicks, easy one login) to ebooks from home. 

Ok, now we’re cooking. We know what our users want, so let’s get going. Somebody is working on the regular website and I thought I could help get things mobile.  I approached it on two fronts, the mobile resources and easier access to ebooks.

Lots of librarians shared their lists on iMedicalApps.com Medical Librarian Forum and we have been compiling a list of mobile friendly resources.  Not only would we have a list of mobile friendly sites and apps the library subscribed to but we would have our own mobile site linking to the mobile friendly library resources.  Additionally we came up with a few ideas on how to increase the visibility (and hopefully the usage) of our ebooks. 

I was feeling pretty confident that these things could make finding ebooks easier and also help current and future mobile users get to our resources.  Remember, I said I thought it would be easy? Just start hitting me on the head now…

The problem is the mobile site of vendors.  Many vendors like Elsevier (MDConsult and First Consult), McGraw Hill (Access database) direct smartphones immediately to their mobile site.  While this is nice, their mobile sites require users to login  using their personal login they created.  So a library user would have to have a personal login to each database: MDConsult, First Consult, and all of the Access databases we subscribe to.  If somebody is accessing our resources off campus these personal logins are needed in addition to our proxy login that our users already use to access library resources from home. 

See the problem?  People who are just browsing our resources on their smartphone on campus have to create multiple logins in order to use our online resources from their phone.  We link to our ebooks through the catalog and we are thinking about adding QR code browsing of ebooks in the stacks, but this won’t work on smartphones.  Why? Because when the person scans on the code or clicks the link in our catalog the vendor’s mobile site demands a personal login.  So there is no direct link to the ebook, they have to have a personal login.  Most users don’t think of our ebooks according to vendors, they just click on the title and they EXPECT the book to show up, they don’t expect to be asked for another login.  This method assumes our users have created a personal login with that vendor prior to clicking on the book.  Most people aren’t thinking, “Oh I want to look in Harrison’s Online, I should get a MyAccess login before I click on the title.”

The problem gets even more compounded when our users are off campus.  Our users have been trained to login to our resources using our proxy server.  This is what they have been doing for years, it is a standard for accessing resources remotely, and this is what most users want.  In fact respondents to our recent user survey said they want one login! Well, we can’t provide that if the vendors are creating an extra login! 

So even if I want to provide easy access to ebooks, I can’t.  I have remind people that they have to create a personal login with each vendor.  How do I do that?  That is a heck of mess to write in the online catalog record for each title.  “Click here for access. If you are using a smartphone you must login with your personal login.”  Great then I get more calls about how to create a personal login, to reset their personal login, or that they are using their personal login and can’t get in (but they are using their proxy login). 

Not only do I have the problem in the catalog, I would have the same communication problem on the mobile library site. As anybody who has a smartphone knows, mobile optimized sites are easier to view than the full website.  So the design is a little different than a regular website.  For example if you are linking to resources, you probably don’t want  a whole lot words explaining things.  People on a mobile library website really kind of want the links to go to the resources they need not a whole bunch of instructions about unique login procedures for each resource.

As somebody mentioned to me users don’t have to have a personal login they just tap on the link to Full Site and they can access the resources.  Um doesn’t that kill the whole point of having mobile optimized resources?  Searching th full site of MDConsult or AccessMedicine on a smartphone involves a lot of screen expanding and pinching.  Aren’t we trying to get our users to use our ebooks?  Aren’t we asking/demanding vendors that our ebooks also become mobile optimized?! 

Locking ebooks behind personal logins or forcing people to use the Full Site is not getting people to use the ebooks or online resources. It is a barrier!  Why have vendors created this artificial barrier?!  Why can’t an institutional user access an online resource or ebook without having a personal login?!

In addition to the user access problems I have with personal logins, I have two other questions/problems…

  • Usage stats – Are we getting usage stats each time somebody from our institution is using their personal login? If no, that is very bad. If yes, that is good but we can get without personal logins. You already have our IP ranges and proxy info.
  • Concurrent users – If you don’t have an site license then people can easily come as visitors create a personal login and then use that personal login to access your material looooong after they have left your institution.  These unauthorized unaffiliated users are taking up your concurrent user license spot(s).  We maintain our authorized users list.  We enter the expiration date of visitors, students, contractors, techs, etc. into our system.  When their badge expires they can’t access our resources via proxy.  Therefore we are in agreement with our license agreements AND they are taking up a concurrent user spot.

It is possible to have the mobile site work using institutional proxy, Thompson Reuters Web of Science is mobile optimized.  I click on the link to WoS and I am directed to the mobile site. I am not asked for a personal login.  Off campus I am asked to login to my library account then I am directed to mobile site.  Easy squeazey and MAKES SENSE!

What started out as an easy (yes keep hitting me on the head) project of providing a simple list of mobile optimized resources and linking directly to the books turned into a giant mess.  How can I recommend these mobile resources to smartphone users or the ebooks when I know it will confuse them and frustrate them.  Hell, it confused and frustrated me and I am a librarian who is FAMILIAR with this stuff.  Our users aren’t going to use this stuff the way it is set up right now and unfortunately I can’t make it easier for them because this personal login thing is out of my control.  Why should I bother setting up links to mobile resources and ebooks when it is going to cause more problems and questions then it is worth and serve as another reason to bypass the library for stuff.  No wonder people get their ebooks from Amazon….it is EASY!  Easy is what the users want, medical library ebooks in their current state are not easy, they are a royal pain. 

Why bother?!  We try to make things easily available and barriers keep getting thrown up.  It is enough to drive you batty.  According to ReadWriteWeb, mobile Internet usage has doubled every year since 2009….so this problem isn’t going away.   Hopefully in the near future I won’t be asking why bother with the mess of ebooks.

Turning Online Books on Their Ear

If books had ears then Inkling, a company that makes textbooks interactive for the iPad, would be turning them on their ear.  Currently most of us are familiar with ebooks through AccessMedicine, MDConsult, StatRef, and even Unbound Medicine.  These types of ebooks tend to be a little bit more than the book in a readable (often PDF) style that can be easily read online.  Sometimes there are more graphics, links to online resources, movies or sound files that are embedded in the text, but they pretty much still function like the text. 

Recently iMedicalApps posted about Inkling’s webinar on their ebooks. I have included the Inkline webinar in this blog post, please note you may have to watch it at home like I did if your hospital blocks Vimeo.  

 Inkling Medical Webinar from Inkling on Vimeo.

The webinar goes into a rather long history of how traditional textbooks are boring, printed, linear, and not interactive.  But hey that was the best technology we had at the time…I can only imaging the conversations when we moved from scrolls to books. I found the most interesting parts to be the demo of Inkling books.  They looked at Harrison’s and Netter’s and showed the difference between their books and regular online books.  Some of the difference are the ability to take and share notes with others globally, removing labels for medical images, and linking to multimedia.  My explanation is not doing it justice so it is best if you watch the webinar.  Librarian, Nadine Dexter, also discussed how her institution is using Inkling books for the new medical school. 

Inkling books are available for individual sale as well as institutional sales.  They also will sell just the chapters to books.  So if your medical school curriculum only needs students to read a couple of chapters within a book, they (or the institution) only have to buy those chapters which is cheaper than the entire book.  They already have relationships with McGraw Hill, Wolters Kluwer, Elsevier, etc. so it isn’t like iBooks where we are waiting for something medical to happen.

The webinar is only 30 minutes and they did a good job of answering the questions people had but  it was directed to a lot of different health care people (not just librarians), so some questions that librarians often think about weren’t asked or answered during that time.  Some of the questions that I thought of while watching the webinar were about perpetual access, licensing, how does it work with Blackboard and other course management systems.  If a library bought a book what is the best way for them to distribute it their institutional employees.   In terms of library purchases, is it something that is “check-out-able” and is unavailable while somebody is using it (similar to public library Kindle books) or can any number of institutional users use it at any time? 

I have been saving up to purchase an iPad 3 when they come out and I am looking forward to testing all sorts of online books (Inkling included) to see how they measure up.  I am just glad I found this webinar because it looks like Inkling is nice addition to the already small field of medical ebooks and even small field of those willing to work with institutions.

What’s Happening With E-Books

Apple announced today the release of iBooks 2 which is supposed to revolutionize the etextbook market. 

The area of ebooks is very tumultuous in general but then add specialty books like medical texts, volume usage (libraries buy one book for many to use), license agreements, platforms, and easy discoverability and accessibility and it becomes a giant quagmire.  Additionally, I think major medical publishers have been v-e-r-y slow to get into the ebook market.  Oh yeah they had ebooks for a while, but those were produced similar to ejournals.  They were available online and accessible usually by desk top or laptop.  The Kindle started the movement but the iPad just turn things on its ear. 

Many of the ebooks medical libraries have bought are from established publishers like the AccessMedicine books through McGraw Hill, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins books through Ovid, or multiple different publisher titles through Rittenhouse or STATRef.  The one problem is that while most of these books are online, they are really only accessible via regular computer. The vast majority have not been formatted for the iPad or other platforms. (Interesting since Apple just announced they are partnering with McGraw Hill to make textbooks on the iPad, but it seems like they haven’t really done that with the Access textbooks.)  Now for some books not being optimized isn’t a big deal because they display alright using the iPad browser.  However even if they display correctly the publishers’ sites make it MISERABLE to access the book.  This was a major problem BEFORE mobile readers.  Librarians world wide for years bemoaned the difficulty their users had at finding and accessing their ebook packages.  The silos that publishers host their ebooks makes it difficult for library users to access titles. The problem hasn’t changed now that we have tablets, it has just gotten worse. 

The one saving grace prior to tablets was that many accepted that ebooks were accessible by traditional computers. But when smartphones came out people starting accessing the web using their phones.  They were beginning to access online resources via the phone when they weren’t near a computer.  Instead of walking down the hall they whipped out their phone.  The iPad just continued to ween people off traditional computers.  Instead of using smartphones doctors were using iPads and they were using them so much at work that the traditional lab coat got a make over to include an iPad size pocket.  People not walking to a computer to access the web, they have the web with them and they want their online texts.

In the past when I would talk to various publishers and library vendors about accessing their texts via mobile device (pre iPad and Kindle) they would smile and gently say that nobody wants to read a book on a phone.  Well I disagreed.  What do you think Unbound Medicine or Skyscape did?  They made texts (and other medical programs) available for handheld devices.  Originally they did that with PDAs now they have transitioned to smartphones.  Heck they have some of the major publishers, McGraw Hill, Elsevier, LWW, etc. on their site all ready to be used on a smartphone or the iPad (they don’t have Kindle or Nook stuff).  Yet the publishers, while trying to push their own silo suite of online books, have been slow to adapt to technology and user demands.  The writing was on the wall folks.

Medical librarians are left trying to figure things out.  We have the silos of ebooks that were difficult to find and access prior to mobile devices and now we are getting more users asking us for ebooks.  What do we say or do?  Do we tell them we have ebooks…sort of?  Yeah you can access it online but no it isn’t optimized for the tablet or smartphone so it may or may not be readable.  We have quickly moved from ebooks as simply online books on the computer to a portable information resource that can be accessed anywhere without lugging around a computer.


It seems a lot is being discussed about e-books and e-readers lately.  Sigh… e-books what a tangle web you weave. 

I think Mark Funk said it best in the recent 2011 Medical eBook Publishing Trends Webcast, ebooks are at the beginning stages of their evolution, somewhat similar to what ejournals were like when they started.  There are differences between ebooks and ejournals but in general ebooks are in their infancy.  Just like with human infants there is a lot of rapid growth, communication isn’t always clear, and stress and confusion can always pop up. 

There was brief discussion on MEDLIB-l about the worry/feeling the publishers are cutting libraries out of the process of lending ebooks.  This seems to have stemmed from Amazon.com recent announcementthat it allows you to rent ebooks from them for a fee.  Sony (Reader) and Barnes and Noble (Nook) allow people with their ereaders to borrow books, but they have partnered through public libraries.  From what I can tell Amazon.com currently doesn’t allow people to borrow ebooks through libraries.  However an article from The New York Times from April 20, 2011, mentions that Amazon will allow Kindle users to borrow books from libraries later this year. I don’t know if Amazon is still planning to do that.

However, I am still unmoved by the goings on with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony and their ereaders. Why?  Because their readers are really just one trick ponies, you read books on it.   Yes you can get the web on B&N’s Nook color, but who (besides my husband) is looking at the Nook color as a cheap alternative to an iPad?  The Nook color has apps. (It has Angry Birds what other apps are needed!?)  What I see are more and more doctors carrying iPads.  Specifically because the iPad is multi functional device. You can load Kindle and Nook apps on your iPad to read Amazon and B&N ebooks.  There are a lot of great medical apps available for the iPad and depending on the hospital IT department, the EMR can be accessible through the iPad.  Hospital IT departments are resistant enough to change, I think I have a better chance of winning the lottery than the likelihood that a lot of hospital IT departments will allow Nooks to access the EMR. 

Because of the iPad and a few simple reader apps, the ereader wars between Amazon, B&N, and Sony are just background noise to me.  I also don’t think much about the idea of checking out ebooks. Perhaps it is because we have a site license for almost all of our ebooks, we don’t have many ebooks that you “check out” for a period of time. So it is difficult for me to think of “checking out” ebooks. In my mind you just hop on the Intranet and click on the link to the book and read it.  Perhaps if I was a public librarian dealing more with NetLibrary my mind would be thinking more in the manner of checking out an ebook.

People on Medlib-l mentioned the frustration they were having with the bundling of titles and how it makes the prices of said bundles cost prohibitive causing them to go buy the print of the book.  Well that just stinks for anyone in that situation, kind of counter productive to the whole electronic movement.  However, bundling isn’t new, it happened with journals and it is probably no surprise that it is happening with books.    I can understand the pros and cons to bundling from both the publisher and the librarian perspective.  Bundling can be very good if done well by the publisher.  Nobody benefits from bad bundling.  Hopefully as ebooks grow in demand and in popularity, more of the titles in the bundles will be more relevant to the purchasing librarians.

What seems to be a more pressing issue is lack of medical books available electronically, the inconsistencies between ebooks and the printed books, and digital rights/licensing. 

I think more and more titles will eventually become ebooks.  We had the same problem with ejournals. We got new carpeting in the library so we had to empty everything out of our desks and file cabinets so they could move furniture to put the carpet down.  My co-worker ran across a 1999 memo exclaiming that we had over 100 journals available online.  We have access to more than 100 times that amount.  In time we will probably say the same of ebooks.

I recently got an email from somebody telling me that since their ebooks were web based they work very well on the iPad and other tablet devices.  I got one word for you, Flash.  Guess what is not on the iPad? Flash….AHHHH (Sorry still hearing Freddy Mercury singing the Flash Gordon theme song, damn you Blackberry for making sure I can’t forget your commerical.)  Even though some of the texts on their site say download to handheld, McGraw Hill’s Access books don’t seem to work for iPads.  We had a doctor try and access a McGraw Hill book on one of their Access sites and it didn’t work.  When we called their help desk (even though this book is readable on the web with computers) we were told it wasn’t available and wouldn’t work on the iPad. I know that many things in McGraw Hill’s Access sites use Flash, I don’t know if this was a factor with their books.  Optimizing ebooks so that more than just people on desktops or laptops can use them needs to be a priority of publishers. 

One of the biggest pet peeves I have with both ejournals and ebooks are the inconsistencies between print and electronic. Maybe it is just me but it appears that ejournals are getting better with dealing with the inconsistencies, although the damn epub ahead of print still causes me to pull out my hair. Of course maybe I just expect the unexpected a big more with ejournals and I am more savvy to their inconsistencies and don’t see them as inconsistencies anymore.  However, ebooks are still messy.  There are some books that have more information in the ebook than the print.  There are some publishers like Elsevier who sell printed books but only allow access to the online book and extra material through StudentConsult which isn’t for libraires.  I know there were several times where we bought a printed book and whole chapters were missing and we were told it was available online but we couldn’t access the online because it was on StudentConsult or it was tied to an individual code.  That is maddening.

Of course that leads me to the digital rights and licensing.  Academic librarians must deal with issue of ebooks and Blakboard and course reserves.  All librarians must deal with ILL issues and ebooks. We are so used to copying a page or chapter for ILL or sending a whole book to another library, but with ebooks ILL becomes a mess.  Basically, you can’t ILL a whole book which I understand.  But a library should be able to ILL some pages or chapters to the ebook.  Just look at the example where the necessary chapter of a library books is available online but the library doesn’t have online access.  The student or researcher needs that information but is it available through ILL?  Depends on the publisher.  That is just a basic (but big) example of how digital rights and licensing is maddening to librarians, patrons, and normal people.  There is a lot of work to be done in this area.  Unfortunately I think this might take a fairly long time to shake out, because only recently are journal publishers beginning to really work in ILL agreements into electronic journal license agreements. 

Are ebooks perfect? Oh far from it, but ejournals aren’t perfect either yet look how far we have come with them.  Perhaps when ten years from now when we will trip across another memo about our ebooks and sit back and laugh at how far we have come.

When Reading Becomes Social

I stumbed across an interesting post from the MARquee which described a Small Projects Award which studied the use of e-readers and nursing students.  Nursing informatics students sampled e-readers to see if they could be used effectively as tools to reduce the cosst of nursing textbooks and their utilization in classroom setting.  What was interesting was their was a surprising unanticipated benefit of using e-readers, notes and highlights of texts could be shared via Twitter and Facebook.  It turns out sharing this information made for “highly interactive sharing of readings. The social networking tools provided an added value above text cost savings for those considering using e-readers.”

Huh… I never would have thought of that.  I don’t have an e-reader, and while I have heard people talking about sharing notes on ebooks it has been mostly in theory.  At conferences people (mostly ebook vendors) talk about how you can take notes and then share these notes.  I think this is the first time I have actually read where it has happened in the real world with real students.  I would like to read more of about this type of thing, when reading a book becomes social.

2011 Medical eBook Publishing Trends Webcast

Yesterday I viewed the 2011 Medical eBook Publishing Trends Webcast hosted by Ovid and it was very interesting.  If you missed it the webcast will be available to watch in the archives in a few days. (As of 7/12/2011 the archive of the webcast is http://event.on24.com/r.htm?e=314699&s=1&k=5EFAD6B3E1DBFBB4865CD1939032BF8B)

Here are just some of the things I could piece together from my furious scribbling notes and memory:

While the media and Amazon have really raised awareness about ebooks, ereaders aren’t as much of an influence in the medical and medical library world.  However, that doesn’t mean our users don’t want ebooks. On the contrary, people are showing use their preferences are moving more and more to the electronic environment.

Mark Funk mentioned that digitization has happened in waves within the library.  The first wave was abstracts and indexes going online. The second wave was reference tools. The third wave is/was ejournals.  The fourth wave is ebooks.  He describes that this fourth wave is harder to implement than the electronic journals wave.  This primarily due to the differences in the delivered product.  A book is much larger, costlier, and complicated to put online than the regular STM journal article.  Unlike ejournal articles ebooks have authors that must be paid, require more editing, have more illustrating, and have individual sales, all of which make the cost of publishing an ebook more expensive than a journal article.

Mark stated (and please if I my notes are wrong and misquoting Mark please let me know), “Unlike ejournals most STM book publishers don’t want their items downloaded, printed, or put on multiple devices.”   This is different from ejournal articles and that those differences help make surfing the fourth wave a little more difficult than the third wave.

Deb Blecic  then described the various options for selection of ebooks and multiple methods for purchasing them.  Both publishers and aggregators are in the business of ebooks and each group has different options.   Both have package offerings but aggregators have offerings that might be from different publishers and therefore may have more variety.  However, digital rights tend to be better through publishers.

Not only are there different ways to select ebooks, there are different ways to “buy” them.  Depending on the publisher or aggregator libraries can rent or purchase outright.  In the past buying a book was a one time purchase, now with ebooks “purchasing” books becomes yearly online subscription somewhat similar to ejournals and databases. 

Deb listed a few things that librarians would like as ebooks move forward. These are:

  • The ability to search full text ALL of the library’s ebooks together (regardless of publisher, aggregator or platform)
  • No missing content. Still there are ebooks that are missing pictures and other content.  (Personally, I have seen this operate in the other direction too.  I see a lot print books that are missing information where images, videos, and whole chapters are sometimes online online.  I see this most often with Elsevier books and the frustrating Expert Consult).
  • Reasonable purchase models
  • DRM that maximizes the value to patrons and allows for use on mobile devices
  • Guaranteed perpetual access for purchased e-books (An interesting comment was made at the end of the webcast that during depositions and legal matters healthcare providers must show that they were providing what was considered the standard of care at that time.  If they what that information is in a ebook textbook. Tha online edition may be well be long gone by the time of the legal event to be used as proof. So there needs to be some consideration for preservation.)
  • ILL and preservation options, perhaps Portico or LOCKSS.

 Liz Lorbeer talked about the implementation of a Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) pilot program at Lister Hill Library.  PDA can be unmediated and mediated. It appears that Liz created a sort of mixture of a unmediated and mediated PDA program.  She preselected a batch of nursing titles and books that were $175 or less could be selected and purchased by patrons.  If a patron selects a book that is more expensive than $175 then that generates a purchase request to be sent to the librarian for consideration. 

Liz mentioned Patron Driven Acquisition is another component of collection development NOT a replacement of the subject.  This statement really resonated with me.  Librarians have always solicited opinions from their patrons, this is just a streamlined electronic version of that process.  Librarians worried about patrons going wild, selecting books to purchase all willy nilly can do a lot to prevent the possible spending spree by preselecting possible books to purchase and set a price limit. 

I was speaking to a colleague yesterday after they webcast and she told me that she learned at the NOTSL Spring 2011 meeting on patron driven acquisition that 40% of the circulating collection of academic libraries doesn’t circulate.  Wow what a large number and a huge waste of money.  It was so shocking that it caused my colleage to run the numbers at our library to find out how much of our circulation collection didn’t circulate.  Wouldn’t you want a collection your people use?  Patron driven acquisition helps with that.

Jennie Stewart spoke about ebooks from the publisher’s perspective.  Publishers are faced with trying to deal with users demands that ebooks do everything that print does and more so, including portability.  According to her not all books are prime to be ebooks.  Publishers have to look whether the book should be an ebook, what platform, and what type of user (individual, institutional, or both). 

While understood what Jennie was saying, it was hard for me to grasp the concept  that not all books can/should be ebooks (perhaps somebody has a good example) and why you would not make all books available to individuals also available to institutions.  Those to concepts are difficult for me to process because I am not in the publishing world.

Finally Dan Doody presented a snapshot of of ebooks in libraries.  He had several interesting statistics about the ebooks available and librarian vendor choices. 

In 2010, 1326 of the 2213 books were available electronically.  Of the books available electronically 36% had a 2009 copyright, 32% had a 2010 copyright and 23% had a 2011 copyright.  Dan said he expected these numbers to increase because as embargo periods end more books with 2010 and 2011 copyrights will become available.

I have to admit embargo periods on ebooks was a bit of a surprise to me.  I am so used to them for journal articles I had never thought that publishers were waiting to make their books available electronically after a period of time. 

Overall, the webcast was very good.  There was a lot of information and they moved very quickly through it, so I know I am missing information.  If you attended it and you want to add to my notes here, correct an error please feel free to comment.  I look forward to when the webcast is available on the archive and I can fill in the holes in my notes.

Free Webcast: 2011 Medical eBook Publishing Trends

Ovid is hosting a free webcast on medical ebook publishing trends Tuesday June 28, 2011 12:00pm EST. 

Former President of MLA, Medical Librarian at Weill Cornell Medical College, Mark Funk will be moderating a “lively conversation” with panelists about the rapid emergence of medical ebook publishing. 

The panelists are:

  • Liz Lorbeer
    Associate Director for Content Management at the Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Deb Blecic
    Bibliographer for the Life and Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
  • Jennie Stewart
    Director of Marketing for the (global) Health Sciences Business Unit of Wiley Blackwell
  • Dan Doody
    President, Doody’s Review Services

The panelists will be discussing the state of medical e-book publishing, trends driving collection development in 2011, views from the publish side of things, and trends for 2012.

If you are interested, it’s FREE so go here to register to attend it.

I am looking forward to the webinar, ebooks are squirrely look guys right now and I am interested in seeing what makes them tick, how to get a handle on them, and what experts think will be the future for them.

The Mobile Web Is Not An Alternative

Wednesday’s post on medinfo alerted me to this interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “As the Web Goes Mobile, Colleges Fail to Keep Up.”  The article states that more and more college students access the web using the mobile devices.  From the graph in the article, in 2010 43% of college students use mobile devices daily to access the Internet compared to 10.2% in 2008.  That is a huge jump in mobile web usage.  Yet according to the article many colleges “treat their mobile web sites as low-stakes experiments.” 

Of course right away my mind is thinking, “If colleges are treating the mobile web as a low stake experiment, what are the libraries doing?”  Depending on the library’s relationship with the college, it may beholden to the college IT department or it may have its own IT department.  That relationship will help drive a lot of the mobile web direction.  However, what is also driving the libraries’ mobile web direction are the library resource vendors.  How many ILS systems have GOOD mobile web platforms?  In the days of shrinking budgets (state and institutional) how affordable is it to add these ILS companies’ mobile platform to the library’s system?  How can a library justify that extra cost when it is faced with a flat or shrinking budget and may have to cut journals, books, hours, staff, etc? 

How many databases and online books are available/optimized for mobile devices?  Let’s ignore the Nook and Kindle like devices, students ARE NOT using them as mobile devices.  They aren’t carrying them around all the time like they are their smart phones.  They are going to use their smart phones to order Chipotle, text a friend about meeting up or an upcoming test, then they are using it to do research (usually on Google) to find a title/resource and read it.  So how many online medical text books are smart phone optimized?  Not many.

Libraries are beholden to not only their institution’s response to the mobile web but also to their own profession’s resource vendors’ response.  I remember talking to one rather high ranking sales rep for a major medical database/journal/online book provider.  I asked him if his company had created an mobile optimized version of their search database and whether there were plans to gradually optimize their many online books and journals.  He said that quite frankly that he couldn’t see why anybody would want to search that way or read an article or book chapter that way.  He didn’t see as important.  That was about a year ago.  I was gracious and said that I don’t think that way of searching and reading is for everyone but I see it as a large growth area and I know we would eventually get people asking about it.  

Well guess what Mr. Sales rep, the college students of today are my residents and staff physicians of tomorrow.  They are also the current users of your products in college libraries NOW.  Their mobile web usage has jumped tremendously and you along with the libraries are missing out.  If my users don’t usage statistics on your resources drop below a certain line, guess what we drop your resources.  If people aren’t accessing your resources that I subscribe to because they aren’t mobile friendly and they are using the mobile devices, your usage statistics will drop.  How far?  Is it below that magic dropping line?  I don’t know but usage won’t grow, and you and I both want usage to grow.

Just to be fair, NLM’s PubMed smart phone app isn’t burning up the 3G networks either.  Just today, Wouter Stomp MD and Nick Genes MD, PhD who reviewed the 6 of best PubMed apps for iPhone and iPad for iMedicalApps.com said, “Although Pubmed has a mobile version of its website, it looks outdated and is not the easiest to use.”  So just because a library or vendor creates an app or mobile interface doesn’t mean that rest easy.  They need to find out how users use it and what other competitors or libraries are doing to improve their product. 

Are we starting to feel that we are missing the users?  I don’t know, I would guess it depends on your users and your library technology.  But I don’t think this mobile web access is a passing fad.  I think librarians, libraries, and library resource providers are behind the curve on this.

Ebooks and Usage

Recently I have been writing a series of posts on ebooks.  The blog posts didn’t start out as a series.  It all started from an update post about our video from the MLA webinar where I added a few things that we wanted to say on the video but didn’t due to time constraints and where I answered a few questions from the #mlaebooks Twitter discussion.  Then I followed it up with another post on ebooks for small libraries because I realized I accidentally missed a question from the Twitter discussion and it was easier to blog the answer than to write a really long comment.  By then my brain was thinking ebooks and the next two posts Ebooks: The Library Catalog and Federated Searching Part 1  and Ebooks: The Library Catalog and Federated Searching Part 2  looked at some of the things I think we (librarians) need to help manage our ebooks and make them more findable for patrons.

It seems the MLA webinar has definitely inspired some discussion about ebooks, because I am starting to notice a little more chatter regarding promoting ebook usage among library patrons. 

Promoting is very important and I think there is no one size fits all method to promote your library’s ebook collection.  Some librarians report their patrons respond well to emailed alerts, others report their patrons get so much email that anything sent to a large group is often deleted.  Some librarians have good results with brown bag lunch and learns, while others can’t get anybody to attend even if they fed them. Promotion methods vary and all I can say is that we should all be sharing our ideas, what worked, what didn’t, and possible reasons for success or failure.  The larger the idea pool, the more ideas others can draw upon. 

Usage statistics are a key way to determine whether your promotion efforts are working and people are using your ebooks.  I have a few things to say about ebook usage statistics that librarians just entering the ebook fray should think about.

Don’t compare your ebook usage stats with your ejournal usage stats.  We are familiar with ejournals and we use their usage statistics to help guide our collection development decisions.  So naturally we would do the same with books and in a way it is hard (maybe I just find it hard) to not look at the overall ebook usage and compare it to overall ejournal usage.  That is like comparing apples to oranges.  They may be fruit but they are not the same.  Ejournals publish new articles weekly, monthly or quarterly.  Ebooks do not have nearly that type of publishing pattern.  Most books are published every few years.  Traditional books that have new updates added to the ebook version are updated as frequently but not usually as often as ejournal gets new articles.  Content is constantly changing within an ejournal.  New information is added many many times through out the year.  This is not the same with ebooks.  For example, you have people who subscribe to the TOC of journals to see if there is an article they may want.  I don’t know of the same type of interest in the TOC’s for ebooks. 

So not only does the constantly changing content in ejournals drive more people to their sites, but it is a lot easier to find journal articles than it is to find book chapters.  Let’s face it MEDLINE is way more robust at finding information on a topic than LocatorPlus.  That is because MEDLINE has articles that are indexed individually.  Unfortunatley there is no MEDLINE for books.  The best we can do is have the TOC for books.  While that is helpful, that is not giving books and book chapters the same methods of findability as journal articles have. 

Those two things alone are most likely going to drive your ejournal usage higher than that of your ebooks. 

Personally I would look at your ebooks by title and begin to break down how much your ebook costs you per download or chapter view.  If you have a ebook that costs you $500 for a single user license and it was accessed five times that year, it cost you $100 per use.  The goal is to get the cost per use down as low as possible.  It is up to you determine what appropriate cost per use is.  If it is an ebook that you happen to have in print then look at your circulation statistics. Look how often the book was checked out and compare it to an ebook’s cost per use .  This may prove to be helpful.  If it is reference book, look at how often you are reshelving the book instead of circ stats. 

The usage of ebook packages are little more difficult to evaluate.  For example MDConsult has multiple books and you really can’t cherry pick among the books.  If you can get usage statistics per title that is great.  But instead of being frustrated about the books that don’t get usage in that package look at the ones that get the most usage.  Their usuage has to be better than if they were available ala carte because they are carrying the cost of the under utilized books.  Not every book in your package is going to be a home run.  The key is making sure that you have more books in your package carrying the usage burden than those that are in the package but may be out of scope for your institution. 

The last thing to remember, acceptance, adoption, and usage of ebooks will take time.  It took time with ejournals, but I think we sometimes tend to forget that.  We assume our users are already savvy to online literature because they are using ejournals, ebooks are different.  They may be literature but they are different and it takes time for people and things to become common place.

Ebooks: The Library Catalog and Federated Searching Part 1

After participating and watching the MLA ebooks webinar two things became very apparent to me. 

  1. Patrons do not use the catalog
  2. We need a federated ebook search system

If I tried to address both of these issues it would be a very long post, so today I will discuss the catalog and tomorrow I will discuss federated searching.

Patrons do not use the catalog:

We aren’t the only library to notice this problem.  When most of your library’s information content is in the catalog and when patrons aren’t using the catalog, they aren’t finding the information.  I blame librarians and ILS companies. 

Why do I blame librarians?  We are on the front lines, we should be seeing how our patrons are searching (or aren’t searching) and adjust accordingly.  Yet we really don’t completely do that.  If we did then we wouldn’t be cataloging in MeSH!  I like MeSH, I really do, I think it is the best way for me to search for literature in database like Medline.  But really only librarians are the ones who speak MeSH.  The general population does not.  MeSH is the Esperanto of the medical library where only a select few of learned individuals know and use the language yet the vast majority of the population doesn’t. 

Honestly, I only really use MeSH when I search literature databases which contain millions of articles on various subjects.  When it comes to searching the catalog I usually search using keywords, like most of the library patrons.  So why are we even bothering adding MeSH terms to the catalog itself?  Most of my keywords (and I am a librarian) and certainly most of the patron keywords aren’t MeSH, they are at best general subject terms. 

Earlier this week Julie Stielstra posted on Medlib-l a question about alternative cataloging systems.  She described how a public library began to catalog their nonfiction differently by using “plain language” subject headings with author lables.  For example: SPORTS BASEBALL Bouton or COOKING FRENCH Child.  She wondered if her patrons wouldn’t be better served if she cataloged items like this as well.  Her example was NURSING PEDIATRIC Wong  2010 and I kind of agree with her that it is much more intuitive than WY 159 W559e 2010.

Perhaps we need to really investigate why we insist on using MeSH when clearly our patrons don’t want to use it.  Teaching them to use MeSH for Medline searches is at best a challenge, getting them to use MeSH to search a library catalog is sisyphean. 

For those who are ready to strip me of my librarian stripes, you can still have your MeSH cake and eat it too.  Go ahead keep the MeSH in the record but start adding some general terms that make sense to patrons.  I would love to say, let the patrons add the terms, but that won’t fix the problem.  Patrons don’t use our catalog, and by doing that we would be relying on the few that do search it to take it upon themselves to do the tagging of the collection.  Librarians should start tagging the collection themselves so that there is at least a skeleton set of terms for people to work with and build upon.  Giving them a blank canvas and telling them to paint a master piece is not fair to them.  We have to get them started with paint by numbers first.

Why do I blame ILS companies? 

Because librarians can only do so much.  Most of medical librarians are not programmers nor have the time to create a robost ILS that is required these days.  Therefore we need ILS companies to do that.  However, ILS companies are still designing systems with librarians as their primary users not the patrons.  The librarians are not the primary users.  We are the primary users of the back end but not the system. It seems ILS companies don’t know how to design a system that marries the back end necessities to a patron centered front end.

Patrons want an Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble like system, and quite franklyI have not seen an ILS out there that provides that experience.  Some systems are trying to do better, for example Innovative Interfaces just released a news statment about their AirPAC product for smartphones and its use in libraries.  Those kind of enhancements are helpful but the over all experience of ILS products is still pretty dismal.

Here are examples of different libraries or library system’s catalog records for Hurst’s the Heart.  (Names of libraries have been removed.)

  1. Example 1 from a group of small hospital libraries.
  2. Example 2 from an academic medical library.
  3. Example 3 from an large library system.

Which one is better for the patron? 

Example 1 is just a mess of words with no break for the eye and a bunch of gobblty gook that the patron doesn’t care about.  The call number is in the upper left hand corner like a card from a card catalog.  In fact the whole record is pretty much organized like a card from a card catalog.  Get rid of this design/organizational and display method.  Most patrons these days have never used a card catalog so they don’t “get it.”  Hell we have librarians now who never used a card catalog. It is just more of a mess for them to look at and they have to hunt for pertinent information.

Example 2 is better visually but is still kind of a jumble of words (especially in the TOC). Other things that are odd to a patron, do you really need that many words to describe format and does that all make sense to a patron?  Notes does not mean the same thing to patrons as it does librarians, do we need to show that?  I don’t know, I was always told in library school that people like to know if it has an index, bibliographic references, or illustrations but I have rarely had patrons ask me this when I am looking for a book for them.  They want to know if we have it and if so where can they find it.

Example 3 is the best of the bunch, but it too could use some improvement.  I love the picture of the book in the right, that is helpful to see.  (I realize the other examples were to the online book and may not have had images, but why can’t they if they are the online version of a printed book?)  The two biggest things that the patron cares about, does  my library have this and how do I get it are up top just below the title information.  I am not a big fan of adding links to Google Books if the book isn’t free or available through there.  I think “Limited Preview at Google Books” is not helpful to the patron (How limited? One time only? Can I print? Just the first chapter or TOC? etc.)  This is a large consortia of libraries so the call number which is unique to each library is not listed at the top, but patrons can click on the link to the libraries that have it to see the call number.  (I’m not sure that this is intuitive but I am also not sure how else you would do that within a large group catalog.) Finally the TOCs are arranged in a readable manner with links to the authors of the chapters.  That is very helpful.  Only at the bottom of the screen is the librarian cataloging information, patrons are rarely interested in it and it should be that far down.

I realize that some of the examples not only reflect on the ILS but also the library or libraries that set up their catalogs, but do you see any that are as easy as Barnes and Nobel or Amazon.com?  If so I would love to take screen shots and list them here as good examples.  I would also like to know how their usage is and what those librarians report about patrons using the catalog.