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.

4 thoughts on “Ebooks and Small Libraries”

  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question!

    I the cataloging system you are referring to (with the bad display) is what we use. This same system does offer ERM management. Should we perhaps think about using that feature? Our catalog doesn’t get much use to begin with, so we mainly rely on our A-Z listing for journals (and some ebooks) and an HTML list for our ebooks.

    We have lots of flyers and remind our users about our ebooks, but we have very low circulation stats for most of the books. Any ideas, from anyone, on how to better promote them? I’m going to put it out on Twitter to.

    Thanks again!

  2. I would really have to play with that cataloging system to see if it does what you and I would like it to do which is to sort of serve a mini web page that lists the ebooks according broad subject and a-z title by using the information you add to the ERM. If it doesn’t, if it is merely a way to organize online resources and keep track of them from a librarian’s point of view then I can’t recommend using the ERM to enhance access to ebooks. I’m not saying I can’t recommend that specific ERM (I haven’t used it so I can’t say anything for or against it specifically), ERMs in general can be extremely helpful organizing resources for librarians.
    Unfortunately way too many ILS companies still focus on organizing for the librarian and the patron experience is secondary (or farther down the list).
    This is an outdated way of thinking and if our ILS isn’t used by our patrons then what good is it, and what good is that company? ILS companies need to spend a lot more time thinking like the user and look at their public interface and public offerings (options in the catalog) and see if they really measure up to par. Quite a few don’t and some even have still have the look of a 1985 computer catalog. If I could say one thing to these companies is to stop waiting for your system to be perfect and launch a better user interface NOW. There is no such thing as perfect, start investing in the front end too. Users and librarians are expecting an Amazon.com look and feel and if you can’t produce something similar patrons won’t use it. If patrons won’t use I don’t how many bells and whistles you provide librarians on the back end, the librarians will get rid of it for another product that patrons will use. We live more and more by usage statistics these days and if the ILS isn’t producing why shouldn’t it be replaced?

    But to get back to your point about ebooks and promotion. I don’t think there is a magic bullet for getting your ebooks noticed. A lot depends on the users in your hospital and how quick they are to grab on to things. Also it depends on how your users look for things. I think a HTML subject list is still very helpful. Also if you can send out a monthly email about what’s new online that might be helpful as well. Similar to that idea may be to add a new resource and link to it on your signature file at the end of your emails. Depending on your hospital’s email you can create two different sig files, one for internal use and one for external. The internal one would have your name and contact information and could say something like, “Have you our online full text medical books available to you? http://blah.blah.blah” The external sig file may just have your name and contact information, that way people outside of your hospital won’t be trying to click on your resources and be disappointed or annoyed.
    I am also a big fan of department field trips and elevator speeches. A group of librarians manned a table at the last Shared Governance Day for Nursing Education, and told any nurse who would listen about our resources (not just ebooks). Not only did we get a lot of individual interest, a nursing admin wants to now have us to quarterly “what’s up in the library” demonstrations in their meetings.

  3. Thanks Michelle. This is really good advice. I did the signature thing that you suggested and (from another post) started using Google Analytics to track our catalog stats and ebook usage.

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