50 Shades of eBooks

Laura Edwards and Victoria Koger

Laura Edwards (L) and Victoria Koger

Laura Edwards and Victoria Koger, Team Leaders, Discovery and Metadata and Collection Management, respectively, at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) Libraries, discussed some of the frustrations that e-books have caused for libraries and their users.

For libraries:

  • Training: E-books may require training, but because of the need to work within budgets, there may not be enough money available.
  • Packages are how we get access to e-books. Some vendors try to limit adds and deletes to twice a year, coinciding with semester schedules. But some publishers are now starting to withdraw titles mid-semester, which is one more thing that librarians must stay on top of.
  • The library is trying to stay abreast of PDA purchases and determine what triggers an e-book purchase. Sometimes, users will sometimes skim a book to see if it is what they need, which is a use that must be paid for even though it was for only a few minutes.

For users:

  • Perception is reality. Sometimes a book is required reading, but the library was not informed about it, which causes a delay in getting it to the user. Libraries must mediate purchases and approve them behind the scenes before a book becomes available.
  • The library has no control over publishers’ restrictions. Staff must be trained so they can communicate with users about them.
  • Missing e-books: Deletions from packages are not known until somebody complains.
  • Complicated downloading: Users need too many accounts to set up e-book access: with Adobe, Adobe Digital Editions, and a reader that will work with them. Users frequently do not realize they must export the e-book to their PC or any notations they have made on it will disappear when the checkout period has expired.
  • Different platforms have different ways of taking notes on their e-books.
  • System developers have a “Don’t make me think” design philosophy and want to make their websites intuitive, but it may be hard for usres to find how to turn a page, do a search, etc.

Background and theory:

EKU is a mid-sized university that welcomes innovation and has a culture that allows experimentation, which helps to make better decisions. The library had a DDA program until prices went up but is not using it for all purchases now. If a book is over a certain price, the purchase must be mediated, which makes users wait.  DDA is being used for both print and e-books.

Students prefer print books over electronic; they seem to think reading a print book helps them understand the material and retain information better. However, they like convenience of ready access to e-books 24/7. These preferences may not be the same in a few years as the culture changes. If students ask specifically for a book in one format or another, the library will buy it for them if possible.  More people are now requesting e-books, so an additional field for this was added to the request form, which the students did not like.

What does this mean for us? Research on reading indicates that reading print combined with page turning helps the brain remember the information on the page. The mind engages at a deeper level when focused on a print page. Reading is not natural to us like vision or language–you must learn how to do it. We can learn how to read effectively online. Today’s internet encourages skimming, not reading. We are raising a generation of people that have not learned how to do deep reading, so we need to develop tools for students. There is a place for different forms of books. But what works today may not be available next year!

Coping Strategies:

  • Be flexible. Research needs are always changing; the collection needs to keep pace. There will be mistakes; accept it. Try new things, learn from failures, and help the staff to get used to it.
  • Communication with library staff, students, faculty, university staff, and vendors is very important. The EKU library prepared a  guide to e-books.
  • Disseminate regular reminders to staff to check links to online content. The larger your institution, the harder it is.
  • Streamline workflows when possible. Automate where possible.

Don HawkinsDon Hawkins
Charleston 2015 Conference Blogger and Against The Grain Columnist

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