I feel like I am beating a dead horse when I mention the topic of ebooks, but it is one of those topics that I just can’t put to rest. The reason I can’t put it to rest is because ebooks are wanted by our users but they are pain in the neck for librarians, users, and probably publishers too. Users want downloadable books and unless a library subscribes to something like UnboundMedicine (which can be very costly) there aren’t a lot of options. Most of our ebook providers still provide ebooks only via the web (you need a Internet connection either via WiFi or cell tower) to view them and they certainly aren’t downloadable. In addition to these physical barriers of ebooks, just finding them can be a challenge.
Finding an ebook is like wandering through a maze but without the cool pattern. In order to find an ebook medical library patrons must navigate the catalog or the web page or know the silo their specific title is hosted. They run into more dead ends and switchbacks that it is frustrating and deafeating. Why?
The catalog is dead (but that is another blog post). Users just really don’t search it. They search Google or they will slog through the library website looking for ebooks to magically be listed. We have so many ebooks from different vendor packages (McGraw Hill Access databases, StatRef, Ovid, Wiley, Springer, MDConsult, etc.) and it is pretty much impossible to create and maintain an accurate web list of the ebooks.We used to keep up a web page on a title and subject basis but with hundreds of titles (thousands once you add in OhioLink) the web list was impossible to maintain. We also used to list our ebooks providers. We had a web page detailing that ebooks could be found at the following sites (then lsited all of the vendors like AccessMedicine, Ovid, StatRefe, etc.) That wan’t helpful. Users have no clue where each title is housed, so they don’t know to “just click on AccessMedicine to view the online version of Harrison’s.” The big web page with links to AccessMedicine, AccessSurgery, OvidBooks, StatRef, Wiley, MDConsult, Safari Tech Books, was not helpful.
Unfortunately we learned that we were thinking too much like a librarian when we tried to direct people to our ebooks. What do I mean by this? If you aren’t a cataloger think back to library school cataloging, and if you are a cataloger I appologize for my crude cataloging example. We librarians have been ingrained to provide as many discover points to a resource that we can. When we catalog a book we do it to the exact specific subjects (thus making a general subject search difficult) and we add all sorts of added titles, authors, subjects, etc. to make it more findable. The idea is sound for cataloging, but it is VERY bad for web design and discoverability.
We recently conducted a user survey of our website. We knew it needed to be redesigned but we wanted to know how our users were trying to find things in order to create a better site. The one thing that was stated repeatedly was that users did NOT want multiple ways for finding things. They wanted one straight shot way and that was it. As librarians we were brought up to try and think of all the ways people might try to find something and make it findable in those ways. We designed our web pages that way. It turns out our users viewed the multiple ways just like navigating a giant maze. The added paths did not aid in discoverablity they just served as switchbacks causing user navigation confusion.
Because ebooks are in different silos and our users have abandoned the catalog, it is difficult to provide one single easy way of searching and accessing anything beyond a very small collection of ebooks. EBSCO A-Z does now keep track of ebooks. But that is such a new feature (released in 2011 or 2012) it is still really too new to be effective. Batch uploading doesn’t keep author or subject changes/additions. Information from the publishers is sometimes missing making the author search a crap shoot. We have consolidated the various ways users can find our ebooks down to two ways; search the catalog or search EBSCO A-Z. Neither method is exactly ideal, somethings are in the catalog that aren’t in A-Z and somethings are in A-Z that aren’t in the catalog. It isn’t the best method for finding ebooks, but it is an improvement over the multitude of ways we provided. Still because I know my users are looking for ONE way to find ebooks, I am always trying to find out how other libraries best to do that.
So how do patrons find your ebooks? What methods are working? What isn’t working? Do they use your catalog? If so how did you get them to use it and how do you keep up with the ebook changes? Let me know your thoughts because I can’t be the only one banging my head against a wall when looking at ebook discoverablity.