Current problems with ebooks in academic libraries - Our students aren’t crazy about ebooks. They don’t have reading devices and aren’t likely to want to buy a special gadget.
But they also resist reading texts on screen because they find it difficult to concentrate and take notes.
When writing from sources, which they do frequently, they want to spread things out, compare, sort, and look at multiple sources at once.
Students are frustrated when features are treated as bugs.
They want to be able to copy and paste, they don’t see why a books should have a limited number of users at the same time, they are uninterested in creating accounts and having to go through extra steps for access.
They are used to online journal articles that they can easily locate, print, and use however they like; ebooks have restrictions that seem weird and inconvenient, so they ask for “real books.”
At my library, we choose books, one at a time, many of the choices made by faculty. If we have to get a big package that is defined by publisher, we’ll lose that close mapping to the curriculum. Buying bundles has been a problem with journals; we can’t create a collection that suits our local needs, so we end up subsidizing stuff that we don’t want.
What’s promising about ebooks: With distribution over the Internet and the convenience of print on demand, scholarly books could have much greater impact than they currently do and can remain available even when the demand is small and intermittent. And it can provide new models for publishing.
For example, Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book, Planned Obsolescence, invited commentary on drafts as well as more traditional peer review.
Hacking the Academy was a project to crowdsource a book in one week. Contributions were submitted via Twitter with hashtags. The resulting book will be edited and published by the University of Michigan Press, which was adopted by the University of Michigan libraries. A number of university presses are finding a place of shelter in their libraries, and this is how it should be.
The National Academies Press has been making its books available for free online for years, and they have compelling data that suggests this helps them sell copies.
In rebooting scholarly publishing, we should build in openness and find ways to sustain this work that too important to leave to the marketplace.
I’m still struck by the fact that after the 9/11 attacks, university presses were the ones who had published books we didn’t know we’d need. This is a responsibility too important to leave entirely in the hands of market forces. If academic libraries and academic publishing come together – rather than sue each other, as has happened at Georgia State, we can reach beyond borders, outside the academy, make research discoverable by anyone with an interest--
and can preserve the things that libraries care about: intellectual freedom, resistance to censorship, access to information even if it’s unpopular, and privacy so that readers can explore ideas without fear of consequences. If we move into an era when libraries only borrow books, if the content is controlled by others, we cannot guarantee any of these things. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has asked a series of important questions about ebooks: Does the ebook protect your privacy? Does it tell you what it’s doing? What happens to additions you make, such as annotations and highlights? Do you own the book, or just license it? Is it censorship-resistant? Is it burdened with DRM? Does it promote access to knowledge? Does it foster or inhibit innovation? We need to work with our scholars to make sure the scholarly monograph in future promotes access to knowledge and protects intellectual freedom. If that means merging with publishing units and reallocating our traditional labor into editorial functions, then that’s where we should be headed.
Last minute thoughts: when preparing for this web conference, I needed some last minute technical help from our technology folks. A student came over to help and I took the option to ask him what he thought of e-books. He said he found it very difficult to study with e-books. He wants to easily underline, take notes, share, copy and paste, and use it the way that works best for him. He told me “I need to hold it in my hands” and there is something too ethereal, too virtual about a text that is not tangible. This is a young, tech-savvy student. We need to ask our users what they want rather than make assumptions or assume that it’s just a matter of “marketing” to pull them into the future. They have a stake in it, and we should listen to them before we set our course.
Ebook Summit - ebooks and academic libraries
ebooks and academic libraries: some negatives, some positives, and some potential For Library Journal’s virtual conference Libraries at the Tipping Point, Sept. 29, 2010
Websites Hacking the Academy – http://hackingtheacademy.org/ Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence – http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence/ National Academies Press – http://nap.edu/ Digital Culture Books http://www.digitalculture.org/