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.

Ebooks and Small Libraries

This morning I was scrolling through the #mlaebooks Twitter feed to help fill in my notes from yesterday’s webinar and I ran across a tweet from LibrarianLizy asking for any advice I could give to small hospital libraries just getting started with ebooks.

I think Mark, Elizabeth, Meg, Karen, and Michael had some great ideas that can definitely be adapted to fit smaller libraries, but here are some of my thoughts which might or might now echo theirs.

The thing I think that is most important they mentioned is to know your users and their/your needs.  Are you a small nursing school library and do the test prep books get stollen or marked up?  Are you a small hospital library that serves people in many areas where a non-circ reference collection isn’t helpful/practical to users?  The type of library and the users needs will determine the “flavor” of your ebook collection.

In general in a small hospital library I would most likely start by looking at my current electronic resources.  Do you have MDConsult?  If so there are ebooks within there that you need to get people aware of and have them start using. 

Personally I think having as many access points to an ebook collection is good.  This is why I think an HTML list of your ebooks by title and general subject is helpful.  If you are a small library just starting out with an ebook collection, creating a list like this is totally doable (assuming you are authorized to create a library webpage) and isn’t too hard to manage.  If you have an online catalog, by all means add the URL to the ebook to the current record. 

*Note* I am not a cataloger so some of my ideas for adding things to the catalog don’t always jive with current cataloging practices. 

If you have a book in print and electronically, I tend to favor adding the URL to the print record in the catalog.  Most of our users want one record, they get confused as to why Hurst’s the Heart is showing up multiple times, especially if dates are similar.  They will often just click on the record that is displayed first and that is it. 

(Here is where I get into some cataloging heresy) If you have the print version of a book and the electronic version is a newer edition, I still think it might be helpful to put the URL of the newr edition in record of the old print book.  I would put the link with wording that says something like, “Click here to connect to the full text of the newer edition online.”  I might add a second record for the newer electronic book edition, but again I really think our patrons don’t like seeing multiple listings for what they interpret as the same book. A lot depends on how you set it up and how your catalog displays things and how prominent the date of publication is on the results list and the bib record.

If you don’t have the print edition of an electronic book, then obviously I would add the record to electronic book in the catalog.

URLS in the catalog. Please make sure that the link the patron sees is clearly explained as the access point to the full text of the book online. This is an area that can be a total pet peeve of mine.

While the following phrases all mean something to librarians, how many patrons will see these phrases (or url) and easily know to use it to get to the online book? (All of these are from real catalogs, libraryname is a blinded name to keep offending libraries annonymous.)

No wonder patrons don’t know how to access our ebooks!  

While I am at it I will go into another one of my major pet peeves which is the location of the URL or hyperlink.  Listing the link to the full text of the ebook at the bottom of the record or mashed in the middle of the meaningless word junk of the record is not helpful to the patron!  The link to the full text should at the top of the record right below the actual title and author.  HELLO this is the is the most important information to the patron and some librarians and catalog systems bury it!  There is one specific ILS which is geared toward small medical libraries that despite having excellent customer service has the most abysmal catalog display.  Their display is more of a hinderance to users than a help and they are long overdue for a new catalog display look but have pushed it back multiple times over the years. 

Bottom line with linking. Be clear and put the link at the top of the record if your ILS allows it!

Usage statistics are also very important to libraries, including small hospital libraries.  Know how much an ebook is being used.  Mark made a very good point about the cost of ebooks and printed books.  Often an ebook is more expensive, but the cost per use is much cheaper than the printed book.  An ebook can be accessed and used by multiple people a day whereas once a printed book is checked out it is only being used by one person.  Your usage statistics will help you determine if an ebook or ebook package is worth keeping.

Finally start small and do your best promoting and displaying that collection.  It is a lot easier to manage and promote a smaller collection than start off the process with a large collection.  As more people buy into your ebook collection they will start looking and wanting more.

MLA E-Books Webinar Update

As I mentioned Marian and I only had about 5 minutes max to describe what we are doing at our library and why.  There was a lot of stuff we just had to leave out for the sake of time.  So here are some of the things we could have talked about if we had more time.

Why did we have an HTML page with titles and subjects of ebooks?

Many patrons don’t use the catalog to find things.  They preferred looking on a web page that listed the books and browsing through that list either by subject (very general subject) or title.   We actually have usage statistics supporting this.   When we looked at our annual usage statistics for the library website the ebooks title and subject web pages had some of highest usage statistics for our site.  Therefore we felt it important to have the ebooks listed on a web page in addition to the catalog.

You mentioned that having a website list them all by title and subject became difficult and time consuming, how does the ERM help?

The ERM allows us to display resources by subject or by title. We created the very general subjects such as database, ebook, alternative medicine, EBM, etc. and assigned those subjects to each resource in the ERM.  People can browse for resources (ebooks, databases, internet sites) according to subject and title.  Please note the linked page in the previous sentence is still under development, so what you see is not the final product.  Instead of people typing in the title they will be able to browse titles by A-Z and we will actually have two subject search boxes, one for resources and one for just ebooks. That way people can just browse the ebooks not all of our resources (databases, internet sites, etc.).

Ideally we will be able to link to the page featuring the alphabetic title list option and use that as our “browsable web page of ebooks by title.”  Same idea for subjects.  We are in the process of setting everything up and we have been making several changes since we recorded our webcast video and I predict several more changes to come.  So this is by no means final, but it offers you a glimpse of how we are trying to still meet our users’ needs by having a browsable “webpage” but also make it more manageable for everyone as we acquire more ebooks.

How can I get an ERM, do I have to have an Innovative Interfaces ILS?

Innovative can be a pretty big and expensive system so some smaller to medium hospital libraries may not have it.  However there are several ILS companies that offer ERMs for their systems, one company specializing in small hospitals that offers an ERM as a part of their system is Cybertools for Libraries. 

One thing to note: We have found that cost is just one of the factors involved in an ERM.  The other MAJOR factor that few fully understand is time.  It takes A LOT of time to import the data of your resources into your ERM.  We were able to get a lot of it imported in during our initial set up and training, and that did save some time.  But that doesn’t mean that everything was able to be imported and the stuff that was imported was correct.  If possible you will want to have your information imported during set up and prior to training (that will help a lot), but don’t think that this will solve all of your time issues.  An ERM is only as good as the information you supply it, so not only do you have to make sure the imported information is correct but you have to MAINTAIN and UPDATE the information within the system. 

Personally, I liken ERM system to when a library first begins the process of getting their electronic journals into a Open URL system and maintaining that system.  Once you have the guts of the data in, you will find you need to go into it to update subscription information, invoice and payment information, usage statistics, changes in contacts, etc.  Are you in it everyday doing something?  No but you may be in it several times for several days depending on what time of the year it is and what needs to be done (renewal time, budget time, your sales/support rep emails you saying they are leaving and somebody else is your new contact).

I was following the Twitter discussion #mlaebooks while I was watching the webcast and one person mentioned “An HTML list or an Electronic Resource Mgt system does not seem scaleable to me. Seems self limiting.” 

The HTML list is indeed limiting and not scaleable.  It really only works well with a small list of ebooks (about 100 or so I would say) after that it becomes a pain to deal with (from the librarian side of things) and a pain to browse (from the patron side of things).  The HTML list was really one of our first method of organizing ebooks for discovery (besides the catalog).  While we are technically moving away from it, I think it is still a good option for small libraries with small ebook collections.  As I mentioned many users just don’t search the catalog, but they will browse a web page. 

The ERM is scaleable.  You can add almost as much information as you want in the system and you can remove or hide resource records (ebooks or whatever else) as you want.  However as I mentioned the ERM has a lot of up front work and does require maintenance to keep it running, but once you start having a lot of ebooks and other online resources that you need to display and make available to patrons, it offers a lot more options than a simple HTML list and it is scalable.

I really enjoyed watching the webcast and found a lot of stuff to be interesting.  Following the discussion on Twitter was also interesting and I am sure a lot of discussions on and offline will follow.  If you have questions with what we are doing please feel free to comment and I will do my best to answer them.

Electronic Resources: Does Your Library Put Its Money Where Its Mouth Is?

I remember listening to a discussion a few weeks ago about library budgets and how dollars are allocated.  If you take away salary and benefits much of the library’s budget is used on resources like databases, journals, books etc., which isn’t much of a surprise.  Also not a surprise is how much of this money is now put towards electronic resources and how less is put towards printed resources.  I do think libraries in general have a way to go before they are entirely online and have no printed books or physical materials on the shelves.  (As to if and when that ever happens, it will probably depend on the type of library and its scope.)  But there is no doubt that we are collecting more online and the amount we are spending for online resources has increased significantly.  Depending on how your library classifies resources you might find that at least 70% of the total resource budget goes to online resources. 

What was kind of surprising was the percentage of staff costs that go toward the non-electronic resources.  What do I mean by this?  Well on a very simple model (one person library) think of how much time a person spends checking in printed journals, binding journals, ordering and processing printed books, photo copying, routing table of contents, etc. 

Now ask the question, “Is your library staff structure in balance with your resource spending?”  While the amount staff time may not be exactly equal to your spending, it should not be completely out of whack.  For example how effective is it for your library to have people focusing on BackMed to fill out a collection when your library is shrinking its print collection?  Do you need to have somebody checking print issues in when you get the journal online? How indepth do you need to process a printed book if it is available online? 

Let us look at it from another angle.  How many people access your website and how many staff do you have to maintain it?  How many staff are doing the high touch outreach services and also adding online tutorials to those they can’t reach?  Now compare that with the how you staff the reference desk where you pay your staff to sit and wait for a question. 

These are overly simple examples, the true answers can be a little more trickey.  There are also exceptions to every rule and there are reasons we do what we do, but one of the reasons should not be, “We’ve just always done it this way.”  It is easy to fall in to ruts and continue what we have always been doing.  We are creatures of habit.  But every now and then we need to step back and look at our library from a different perspective, look at where the majority of our money is going and whether we are appropriating staff time, knowledge and skills accordingly.

MLA E-Books Webinar

This morning my colleague and I finished recording our brief video that will be a part of MLA’s ABC’s of E-Books: Strategies for the Medical Librarywebinar on November 10th.  You can see the agenda for the presnterson MLA’s website.

Marian Simonson and I will have a brief 4-5 min. video presenting how we manage our ebooks at the Cleveland Clinic.  We will talk about how/why we add them to the catalog and how we originally created a plain old web page listing all of our ebooks by title and by subject.  Then as we started to collect more and more ebooks the web list became difficult to manage, time consuming, and too long to scroll through.  So we decided to manage our electronic books using our Electronic Resource Management system.  Our ERM is through our ILS which is Innovative Interfaces.  In the video we discussed how we are using our ERM to manage our ebooks and what our patrons will see and how they might use it as well as what the librarians will see and how they use it.  (Side Note: We didn’t mention this in the video but you don’t have to have III to have an ERM, many other ILS providers have ERMs, including systems specializing in small to medium size medical libraries.)

Our video was only meant to be 4 minutes and I feel like we could have talked longer on the topic. After the webinar on November 10th I will post about some of things that I think I would have liked to have said or expanded upon if we had more time.  It is easier to do it after the webinar so I when I refer to things, you will have already seen the video.

Playing Hard to Get: Purchasing and Reading E-Books

Last week I sat in on the Springer LibraryZone Virtual eBook webinar and it was a very interesting discussion.   Many libraries (especially academic) are investigating and collecting e-books in lieu of some printed text.  How much they are collecting and the nature by which they to the selection process seems to vary according each library, their type, size, consortia involvement, usage data, etc. 

The reasons why and how much they bought all varied but the frustrations, questions, and concerns the faced were very similar and seemed on the minds of every librarian regardless of their library, type, size, consortia involvement, etc.  So what were these concerns?

DRM- Digital rights restrictions.  It seems that every publisher has different rules and while some things can be put on electronic reserve others cannot.  While some things can be shared through ILL or on Blackboard others cannot.  This is not only a particular frustration among librarians but also patrons who aren’t as savvy with copyright issues.  The patrons get frustrated with DRM restrictions for library materials and they are even more frustrated with the restrictions for e-books they buy themselves.  Their view is, “I bought, don’t tell me how I am allowed to use it.”  I am not saying this is always the right or wrong thought process, but it is their thoughts and to a certain extent librarians.

Access – How do people find your e-books was a common question among the librarians.  The e-books publishers don’t always have decent MARC records (if they have any) that can be easily added to the catalog.  So the cataloger must work to add them into the catalog, yet more and more patrons really don’t use the catalog these days.  They would rather randomly search the library’s website or Google.  Some librarians mentioned universal search engines on their web sites as helpful but few mentioned those as having all the answers for finding e-books.  The impression that I got was universal search engines help but aren’t the magic bullet to finding your e-book collection.

Platform confusion – Every publisher’s platform is different and this causes a lot of confusion for finding the book in the platform, accessing it, reading, printing off a chapter, not to mention linking to it within catalogs and Blackboard.  People (librarians and patrons) don’t want to think.  They want a standard look at feel when selecting an e-book and reading a chapter.  They want to print of a paragraph, chapter, or section but some platforms only allow you to see one paragraph at a time on the screen, others disable printing, while others allow the chapter to printed off in PDF.  See how confusing this is for a student who goes into one book reads the chapter in PDF then goes to another book on another platform and wants to print out that chapter to read offline.  This type of problem of platform variation was seen a lot with e-journals in the beginning.  There are still some differences in e-journal sites but many are starting to gradually adopt a similar look and feel these days.  One can only hope e-book publishers might do the same.

Package vs. Single Title – There is some frustration and confusion over how publishers bundle (or don’t bundle) their e-books.  Some expressed how it is frustrating that if they bought the titles they want/needed ala carte they would be paying a lot more than if they bought them in a bundle.  Why is this a problem?  There were people who expressed anger at paying for titles in the bundle that they didn’t want.  Others expressed frustrations with publishers who allowed their content to be on independent or outside platforms only to yank their books from those platforms later.  McGraw Hill has been doing this recently with their textbooks on other reseller platforms such as Ovid and StatRef, interestingly not all of their pulled titles are even available on a McGraw Hill platform, thus leaving the title unavailable online. 

Content – This is one of the biggest frustrations among librarians and was a recently discussed on liblicense-l and Medlib-l.  Just because you bought the textbook doesn’t mean that it is the same in e-book version and vice versa.  It can be something as simple as no page numbers on the electronic version (making it difficult for people to cite a reference in their articles).  Or it can be as extensive as missing chapters in the printed volume that are only available online via a special subscription service or code intended for individuals (not libraries).  If the missing material is in electronic form it means the library may not be able to get the content via ILL, depending on that publisher’s copyright policies.  This phenomenon is also happening in reverse, online texts not having all of the content of the printed text.  Therefore, a library buys the e-book for for curriculum reasons and the teacher wants to link out to a specific chapter on Blackboard only to learn that chapter is not available electronically, it is only available in print.  At least in this scenario libraries can get the printed chapter via ILL.  Many feel this is a classic example of buyer beware or bait and switch since very few publishers disclose these caveats when somebody is buying the printed textbook or e-book.   There were some librarians on Medlib-l who now refuse to purchase certain publishers based on these questionable editing practices. 

There was some discussion about e-books on Kindels, Nooks, iPads, etc. but it appeared that most librarians weren’t currently collecting e-books for specific readers.  They still collected e-books based on need and for curriculum reasons.  It seems that many still have patrons accessing them on desktops or laptops.  So while it seems that many in the publishing world are focused on the various readers, it appears that librarians are focused on content and accessibility, NOT the readers.  Which makes things difficult.  It kind of reminds me of dating and the old saying, “Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”  Perhaps librarians and their patrons are from Mars and publishers are from Venus, we both focus on different things in our relationship making communication and partnership difficult.  Librarians would like to purchase e-books but feel frustrated by backbone issues like accessibility, content, etc. while publishers would like to sell e-books but are focused on exterior issues like readers.  It probably makes each group (librarians and publishers) feel like they the other is playing hard to get.

100 Free Kaplan E-Books Through Apple Bookstore

According to iMedicalApps.com Kaplan is offering 100 free e-books through the Apple Bookstore for a limited time.  There are 19 medically related books available including USMLE books, MCAT, and CCRN books.

Unfortunately this free book detail is only available to iPad and iPhone users (because the deal is only available at the Apple Bookstore) until August 30, 2010. 

Check out iMedicalApps.com for more information and some good screen shots of what the books look like on the iPad (they state it is “significantly easier” to read the books on the iPad).