The state of scholarly e-books today and tomorrow: Valerie Ryder, Wolper Information Services

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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

Valerie Ryder, director of information strategy, Wolper Information Services

Research libraries in academic institutions were early adopters of e-books. Most US academic libraries offered e-books to students and faculty since at least 2007 and the number of e-books offered to their user populations continues to increase significantly, according to the ‘2012 Survey of Ebook Usage in U.S. Academic Libraries’ conducted by Library Journal. Academic library spending on e-books has increased as a percentage of their acquisitions budget, but still remains less than 10 per cent.

E-books also play a significant role in corporate and government libraries, although it is difficult to find published, statistical studies about their collections, due to the proprietary nature of their institutions. E-books in corporate and government libraries are diversified in nature, format and functionality so that they address the needs of the institution they serve.

The number-one challenge for academic libraries is the cost of e-books, combined with dissatisfaction over the relatively low discounts offered by e-book vendors. Ease of use is a primary criterion in selecting an e-book vendor by academic librarians. Timely receipt of MARC (cataloging) records for the library’s online catalogue to aid users in discovering and accessing e-books is also important. For the user, multiple device options available for accessing and downloading e-books for offline reading via a mobile device are critical.

An overall challenge faced by libraries is the licensing of e-books for use by the library’s user population. Although electronic resource and acquisitions librarians have been dealing with licensing versus ownership issues for two decades, some requirements are unique to e-books. Two especially challenging issues are the number of times that an e-book is used, as well as lending of an e-book by one library to another library. The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has been addressing these questions to reach a common ground by modifying its ‘Shared E-Resource Understanding (SERU) Recommended Practice’ to incorporate e-books into a best practice originally developed for e-journals.

One continuing barrier to e-book access in academic libraries is user lack of awareness of e-book availability, although that factor has been declining. A limited number of titles and difficulty reading e-books on-screen remain strong as negative factors. Complex downloading processes have dramatically risen as a barrier given by academic users. Digital rights management issues have declined in importance but are still significant. Lack of availability of desired titles in e-book format for preferred devices remains a strong deterrent.