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.

Elsevier Boycott, My Thoughts

The recent publishing brouhaha has been about Elsevier.  Mathematician, Tim Gowers, published a blog post where he complained about Elsevier’s very high prices, bundling practices, negotiation tactics, and their attempt to stop the move to OA and their lobbying support of SOPA and PIPA. He has made a conscious effort not to publish in Elsevier titles and also refuse to referee any articles.  Gower hopes that that other science disciplines besides mathematicians will follow suit.

“Even if so many mathematicians refused to cooperate with Elsevier that the quality of their journals plummeted, that wouldn’t necessarily force Elsevier to change its ways, since it could continue to bundle its by now rubbishy mathematics journals together with important journals in physics, chemistry and biology. However, it would be a powerful gesture — perhaps even powerful enough for other sciences to follow suit eventually — and at least mathematics would be free of the problem.”

Elsevier’s Publishing Model Might Go Up in Smoke is a recent and rather simplistic article in Forbes that erroneously states or over exaggerates (hopefully it is the later) the lack of expenses necessary for publishing journals online. 

“Academic publishing is a very good game indeed if you can manage to get into it. As the publisher the work is created at the expense of others, for free to you. There are no advances, no royalties, to pay. The editing, the checking, the decisions about whether to publish, these are all also done for free to you. And the market, that’s every college library in the world and they’re very price insensitive indeed.

Back when physical, paper, copies of the journals were an essential part of any scientists’ life the cost structure could, perhaps, be justified. It is expensive to typeset, proofread, complex texts and then print them in numbers of hundreds or perhaps low thousands. However, now that everything is moving/has moved online then the amounts charged for access to the journals seems less defensible. More like the exploitation of a monopoly position in fact.”

Geez I thought Forbes was a fairly decent magazine. Please tell me I am just totally reading this article wrong and Tim Worstall is writing in tongue and cheek.  I’m not privy to the specific costs of publishing journals but after sitting on the Library Advisory Board of one major medical journal, I know there are still significant costs to publishing online.  I don’t know if it is cheaper than in print or more expensive, but it is certainly not negligible like Worstall implies.  There are server costs, maintenance, upgrades, etc. and you have to pay the people doing all that stuff. Going online can bring a loss in advertising revenue.  In print Publishers could sell multiple ads for an issue. The ads would often appear between articles. There are no ads appearing between articles online.  They usually only have the limited space of the borders of their web page.  In print, some publishers could sell multiple ads per space depending on the subscribers.  For example on pg 42 an add for Lipitor might appear in copies that go to cardiologists while an ad for Advair would be on pg 42 in the copies for internal medicine doctors.  I am by no means supporting predatory pricing practices of publishers or other library vendors, I just think the Forbes article is a poorly written piece which does nothing more than to inflame both sides.  

Ars Technica wrote the short article asking the question, as Researchers boycott publisher; will they embrace instant publishing?  The article briefly describes the Elsevier boycott by mainly math and physical sciences researchers and asks whether something like Faculty of 1000’s  F1000 Research will change academic publishing.

“When a manuscript is submitted to F1000R, an editor will provide a basic sanity check and, if it passes, the paper will immediately be published under a Creative Commons license. Only after it’s online will the journal arrange for reviewers to perform peer review on it. Reviewers’ scope will be limited to the scientific validity of the results and won’t include an evaluation of the paper’s significance. Other researchers will be able to attach comments to the paper that will act a bit like informal reviews. F1000R will also host any large datasets associated with the publications.”

That definitely is an interesting way to publish articles. Not sure if it would work or not, but it is an interesting concept.  In order for it to work you have to get a group of people who are going to read the articles then are willing to critique it and write educated comments and evaluations.  That is a lot to ask when there is yet no incentive for researchers to do it.  

That leads me to what I perceive is the force driving this publishing problem, academia and advancement. The current academic system rewards people who publish in high impact journals and as long as you have people willing to cross the picket line, so to speak, and publish in those high impact journals, the publishers will keep publishing.   You can’t tell me that a struggling PostDoc isn’t going to try to get their article in the highest peer reviewed journal possible in their discipline.  If that happens to be an Elsevier title, then the boycott is conveniently forgotten. But wait, what if there are no established researchers to provide the peer review or editing because they are boycotting?  Again I don’t see a lack of willing reviewers or editors.  Because of the way academia works, there are more researchers who need the high impact journals than journals that need researchers. 

Yet it seesm the boycott is gaining ground.  According Michael Kelley,Library Journal, the Petition Targeting Elsevier’s Business Practices Begins to SnowballTyler Neylon organized an online petition for academics to pledge they won’t publish, referee, or do editorial work for any Elsevier journals, “unless they radically change how they operate.”  Kelley notes that as of Tuesday (1/31/2012) the petition already as 2284 signatures and many comments critical of Elsevier.

Gower correctly mentions that Elsevier isn’t the only publisher out there with heavy handed tactics.  There are others and we in the library world have heard and seen this same rant many times over.  Gower also isn’t the first to boycott a publisher.  We’ve seen this all before with other publishers and scientists and yet the pricing model remains the same.  In fact Kelley reminds us of the PLoS petition directed at scientific and medical publishers to make research literature available through free online public archives. That petition dwarfed the Neylon petition with close to 34,000 signatures from 180 nations.  So how did that work out?  Well according to PLoS, everything remained the same until they jumped into the mix to liberate the literature.  Personally, I think things are still pretty much the same despite all of the protests, boycotts, rants, flames, etc.  If things had changed would there be a Gower boycott?

Everybody is all a twitter (litteraly and figuratively) about the boycott.  It is the news du jour and I do hope something positive comes out of it.  However, I am not holding my breath.  Perahps I am just in a cynical mood today (I am a GenXer afterall so finding me not in a cynical mood is quite rare), but I read these stories and all I can think is that it is the same ol’ same ol’.  I can’t get excited about Gower’s boycott or any other ones.  I can’t get excited that  publishing models will finally change if all of the authors and reviewers boycott, because everybody doesn’t boycott.  I guess I am like this because I feel these type boycotts just really don’t work.  Part of the reason is they are only boycotting half of the problem.  Academia’s advancement structure feeds into this problem. Gower’s boycott doesn’t address that.  Gower’s boycott doesn’t give alternatives to PostDocs who aren’t tenured.  If they are supposed to be good little boycotting researchers, where do they publish without hurting their chances of advancement? I think it is going to take a cataclysmic event within the publishing/library/research world for things to change.  Boycotts are not the cataclysmic event. 




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.

Time to Give Up the Brandon Hill List and Move to Doody’s Core Titles?

A long time ago in galaxy (not so) far, far away, there was a list that would identify essential texts for medical libraries.  This list was called the Brandon-Hill list and it was a very fine list used by many medical librarians through out the land.  But in 2003 there was a disturbance in the force, the list would not go on, it ceased to exist.  However, Doody’s Core Titles emerged, filling the void of Brandon-Hill. 

James Shedlock wrote an interesting article, “Coping without Brando-Hill is Easy; Replace it with Doody’s Core Titles” describing briefly the history and creation of Doody’s Core Titles (DCT) and the reasons why librarians really should stop looking at the old and super out of date Brandon-Hill list and begin to use products like DCT to assist them with their purchasing. 

Now I realize this article is in Doody’s and is written by somebody on the board and is blogged about by a board member (me) as well. So to give you some other perspectives about Doody’s I am also including links to several reviews on DCT so librarians can make an informed decision.  Because, clinging to the old Brandon-Hill list is not an option. As James mentioned, “Though the old Brandon-Hill list was free, it was dated and now no longer exists; it is gone and is not coming back.”  It is time to move on.

Doody’s Core Titles in the Health Sciences (DCT)
Karen S. Fischer
J Med Libr Assoc. 2005 July; 93(3): 409.

Review of Doody’s Core Titles in the Health Sciences 2004 (DCT 2004)
Mark A Spasser
Biomedical Digital Libraries 2005, 2:5 (29 June 2005)
Anybody know of any newer reviews please leave the citation in the comments and I will add them to the post.

The Complexities and Economics of Open Access

Our budgets are shrinking. Libraries are cutting things they once never dreamed of cutting.  The sacred library cows are being sacrificed.  As this is happening there is much vitriol directed at the for profit publishers, the Elseviers, LWWs, and Springers of the publishing world.  After all, they are making a huge profit at the expense of the libraries.  All they care about is money not about the common good of providing access to medical knowledge.

Therefore it was interesting to read T. Scott Plutchak’s post “The Economics of Open Access,” where he states open access publishers are achieving just as high of profit margin as some of the for profits. “PLoS achieved a 20% margin in 2010, and if the trends continue, could conceivably surpass Elsevier’s margin for 2011.  Springer claims “double-digit” profits from BioMed Central.”  So it is OK for PLoS to have that profit margin, but not Elsevier?  Librarians don’t fool yourself, that money comes from somewhere.  Is it really better that the author has to pay $1000-$2000 to publish the article instead of the library paying for the journal?  Well it isn’t in our budget so who cares if it is out somebody else’s budget, right?  But as Scott says, “If publishers add no value, as the anonymous Deutsche Bank analyst proclaims, isn’t PLoS just as immoral as Elsevier?  Shouldn’t we be just as outraged?”

Scott lists several points questioning various issues on the OA debate.

  • If you believe that publishers add no value, then you can’t support PLoS any more than you support Elsevier.
  • If you believe that commercial publishers are the bane, then you should be as opposed to BioMed Central as you are to Elsevier.
  • If you believe that “excess profits” (somewhat of an odd concept, since profits are excessive only when they’re not your own) are the problem, then you need to recognize that OA is not the solution and be as wary of the successful gold & hybrid publishers as you are of the others.
  • If you believe that the most important thing is more and more access, then you should applaud the experiments of the commercial publishers every bit as much as you applaud the others.

We librarians scream and yell about the inequities of the for profit publishers but as Scott points OA is not the panacea that many think it is.  I guess it is OK to make a huge profit if you aren’t a “for profit” company.  I have a news flash, non-profits aren’t exactly trying to break even, they are trying to make as big of a profit as “for profit” companies.  Non-profit is just a tax designation, non-profits still make profits (some more than others). As Forbes says “When we hear ‘nonprofit,’ most of us imagine an organization filled with the ultimate do-gooders: those angelic advocates who are willing to sacrifice their own financial gain to serve a noble cause.”  Yet many of wealthiest non-profit companies make more than many for profit companies and the CEO’s, professors, and winning coaches of these non-profits are called the non-profit millionaires.  Take a look at the compensation of the wealthiest non-profits from Forbes.

I am not saying that the pricing for journals and other library resources aren’t out of whack with that of our budgets, they are.  But to put it into a good (non-profit) vs. evil (for profit) scenario doesn’t solve the problem.  If we believe David Crotty’s post in the Scholarly Kitchen (where Scott got his PLoS 20% profit information), the “good guys” are making just as much profit as the “bad guys.”  They both are for profit.


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.