Electronic books destined for academic success

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A recent survey polling university librarians worldwide on the pros and cons of building an electronic book collection indicates a bright future for so-called eBooks in the academic realm.

Commissioned by Germany-based publisher Springer, the survey reveals there will be a far-reaching transition to electronic books but numerous challenges still remain, such as licensing agreements and access arrangements.

Most of the interviewees agreed that the evolution of users away from print towards electronic books will take at least another 5 to 10 years, although researchers in some disciplines - such as STM - and younger users may make this transition more rapidly.

‘Electronic books are now a serious option… In two years definitely all university libraries will be much more comfortable buying eBooks. In five years print and eBooks purchase will be equal and eBooks will be universally accepted by users. In ten years eBooks will be the norm … in science and business,’ predicted a spokesperson for Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.

Those polled believed the printed book will never cease to exist, but envisage electronic resources accounting for a greater percentage of total holdings in libraries of the future. While print resources will occupy shelves, library patrons will access eBooks and other electronic resources via computer terminals or from remote locations.

And while printed books will always coexist with eBooks, all survey participants see the print/electronic balance shifting. In fact, some librarians believe eBook ubiquity will cause a complete paradigm shift in library function.

‘I can see it as an option, at least for the big book packages, that we get a big reservoir of electronic books – maybe tens or hundreds of thousands of books – and we don’t have the printed versions of these books,’ said Antero Laiho, University Library of Turku, Finland.

‘So when the reader is looking for a particular subject he can find something interesting in these big packages, and then perhaps it would be possible to have the book maybe on a print-on-demand basis, to have a printout for himself,’ he added.

Survey participants also looked at the biggest benefits of adopting eBooks. Key advantages include decreased costs related to physical handling and archiving, and increased functionality, user access and categories of content.