Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ebooks: A Brief Fix On a Moving Target

On Friday I traveled to Northeastern University to attend a session put on by the Collection Development Interest Group (CDIG) of the ACRL - New England Chapter: "Ebooks: A Brief Fix On a Moving Target". This session highlighted short talks (20-25 minutes) from various people in the library world about a subject that is near and dear to our hearts - ebooks and how they affect libraries. While the sessions were for the benefit of academic librarians and staff, I was pleased to listen to it outside of the OverDrive-laden news I tend to have in my work (although OverDrive definitely came up).

These notes are gleaned from my thoughts and my tweets during the session (hashtag #CDIGebooks):

E-books: Intellectual Property Rights of Libraries and Library Patrons (Kyle Courtney, Manager, Resource Sharing and Faculty Information Delivery, Harvard Law School)

The concepts of intellectual property, first-sale doctrine and copyright is huge dealing with ebooks right now. While libraries are still looking at ebooks as physical books being purchased, publishers see the digital file as being licensed. Where does the truth lie? Libraries would not be able to lend without the stipulations of the first-sale doctrine, nor would used bookstores or used music stores be in business, thanks to the 1908 court case of Bobbs-Merrill  Co. vs. Straus. One interesting slide from Courtney was about piracy: consider theft does not equal piracy, and vice versa? Theft removes the object from its original place; piracy makes a copy (or tens or hundreds). If someone takes your car but returns it to the same place, has it actually been stolen? While I understand the broad thought this comes from, I am not sure I agree with it. Also highlighted was the OverDrive contract with the Kansas State Librarian, which has been on the forefront of libraries' minds in regards to contract review and changes and ownership of digital materials. Courtney stresses that everyone should read their contracts (libraries AND vendors).

Gluejar: Give Books to the World (Andromeda Yelton, Gluejar.com)

Ebooks are coming in various formats, supplied by various vendors, with multiplying devices. Add DRM, copyright and rights holders to that, it is enough to make any librarian's head spin. However, what if you could "unglue" the digital rights for a book from the rest? Yelton explains that Gluejar is looking to do that with Unglue.it. While still pre-launch, the concept of Unglue.it would include purchasing the ebook rights for works from the right holders, fundraising (along the lines of Kickstarter) to cover the cost, then providing the ebook under a Creative Commons license. While attribution and non-derivative clauses will exist, this could be a good way for libraries to supplement the ebook demand at minimal costs. Authors could see the benefit of increased demand on backlist titles or for derivative works. I am looking forward to see how this project moves forward.

Patron-Driven Acquisitions: History and Best Practices. (David Swords, EBL)

PDA - such a strange term for a strange process. Patron Driven Acquisitions is a scalable way for smaller libraries to distribute funds for collection development. While many libraries are concerned that PDA will cause ill-advised buying, he notes that using a model such as acquisitions based on short-term loans of titles to regulate the purchase showed a marked decrease in print titles being acquired. Swords also talked about the contents of the De Gruyter title that is being released which highlights history and theory, plus practical use. I was intrigued to find out that one of the chapters was written by my former supervisor, Tom Corbett. He is currently the head of the library at Cushing Academy, which made major headlines by "throwing out its print collection for ebooks". The library does a lot more with ebooks than print, but still carries a print collection, although less than half of what was originally there.

A Change of Heart on Ebooks: A User’s Perspective (Greg Eow, British and American History Librarian, Yale University)

Eow never thought he would want to be an ebook user. He rarely had to use digital resources while getting his degree, so had been able to put them aside for texts. As an archivist, he finds pleasure in the written word, but more and more he is starting to believe that digital formats will overtake print formats, and librarians that insist on collecting print materials will become "rare book librarians". Eow discussed how he received his first ereader (a Kindle, present from his mom) and found that carrying it on a trip was much easier than trying to bring print copies of the reference materials he was reading. He is now purchasing many of the books he already owns in ebook format. However, he also thinks that the arguments that people have about the "killing of footnotes" by ebooks will not hold. Especially in the humanities, whether print or digital, people still need pagination, still need footnotes. Debates on the other side of the desire to still see print succeed, based on the love of paper, of bindings and type, seem to further illustrate it is not a content argument, but one of collectors. Thus, the idea that print materials will be "rare books" could still play out.

Issues in Current and Future E-book technology (Bob Boissy, Director, Network Sales, Springer)

Boissy loves ebooks, but recognizes the limits of e-ink, as shown by demonstrating the differences between veiwing an 14th century manuscript on an original Nook versus an iPad, Boissy shows that technology can bring a book to life on screen. Academic publishers have been on a fast track to digitization, in fact it has been a case of "DIGITIZE ALL THE THINGS" and deal with the ramifications later. A lot of backlist has been digitized; Springer has now been able to clear out most of their backlist print after digitizing with Google Books, and now keep to print-on-demand for their titles. Subscription packages for libraries are scrutinized as they know that libraries will not buy what they will not use. To keep libraries buying, the packages must drive usage, and publishers are on the proving end of that. Boissy also noted that publishers that have electronic journal subscriptions, then add ebooks to them, have seen an inflationary effect on the electronic journal usage. While reports say that the online catalog is still the top source for finding academic resources in the library, with search engines and other discovery platforms being introduced to libraries, the best way to find what you need is a moving target.


  1. What are the differences between viewing a 14th century manuscript on a Nook and an iPad?

  2. Due to the limitations of e-ink being black and white, Boissy noted that being able to view the manuscript in the iPad brought not only clarity in color, but the ability to see more definition of the original work.