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The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Lisa Nachtigall, Wiley

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E-books play an increasingly important role in research libraries. We ask people from across the industry for their perspective on scholarly e-books today

Lisa Nachtigall, director, digital books sales development, Scientific, Technical, Medical and Scholarly, Wiley

Within the academic library environment, the availability of an e-book has improved discoverability and increased the access to valuable scholarly and research content. In the library of 1980, there was a single book on a shelf, which a student found in a card catalogue, on the premises of the library, when the library was open. Once it was checked out, that book wasn’t available to anyone else until it was checked back in.

Today, that book is being used by a sometimes-unlimited number of people at any one time. It’s being found maybe in an online catalogue, maybe through a Google search, maybe through a course management tool, whenever the student decides it’s time to do some work. For researchers in the STEM community, e-books are in the lab when they need them, on their mobile devices in the field or in the hospital. And that’s just about discovery and access. Digital technology provides an opportunity to move beyond the text – to enrich the text – in ways that just aren’t available with print delivery.

At a basic level, for example, e-books allow us to include colour images within the text in ways that weren’t always available because of production costs. But more importantly, we can start to really focus on how ‘traditional’ content is used and then integrate tools that fundamentally change how the student or researcher engages with the content. That could include QR codes to direct students to ancillary web content, video to illustrate a medical technique, or author lectures to augment the text.

One of the challenges for publishers is timing. How do we manage the rate of technological change with the rate of change in reading, learning, and research preferences of the various communities we aim to support? Technology can do almost anything we might want it to do today. But what do our end users really need and want? Do we develop enhancements because we can, or because our users will really benefit from those enhancements? We need to be sure we aren’t getting caught in the trap of doing things just because we can.

The availability of multiple proprietary e-book formats has, of course, presented a challenge for production departments to keep up with the latest technologies. We look at the opportunities provided by any new player in the e-book market to assess the benefits that a new format might offer to the end users.

DRM is a term that brings up all sorts of philosophical issues for publishers and librarians. From the publisher perspective, we understand that libraries are focused on providing access to the content that their patrons need. But publishers also have an obligation to our authors to protect their work. DRM does not have to be a bad thing; We could all be working together to create a better DRM experience for users.