Let’s Not Borrow Trouble
By Meredith Farkas
Tue, 03/22/2011 - 17:10
E-book collection development requires new considerations
At my library, I’m in charge of collection development for our largest academic division. Sometimes I find the task daunting as I struggle to find a balance between buying things that will likely get used today and anticipating what might be needed in the future. The choices I make will influence the long-term health of our collection and I feel the weight of that—especially when I’m making decisions about e-books.
I’ve been getting more and more requests from faculty for specific works in e-book format. We’ve purchased several e-book collections, but the most recent requests have been for individual works. While I know some libraries are already moving toward entirely electronic reference collections, these requests give me pause because there are so many issues to consider in a market that is operating atop shifting sands. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act, but we should fully understand the issues before making any decisions.
With the growth of the e-book market, librarians involved in collection development not only need to be subject-matter experts, but they also need to be savvy about a variety of technological, legal, and business issues surrounding e-books. Here are just a few things librarians should consider when making decisions about e-books and collections:
- How will patrons find the book(s)? Some e-book vendors provide MARC records, while others force patrons to search their own system to find books. How will we make it easy for patrons to understand the variety of options in our physical and digital collections and different ways to access each?
- What devices can a patron use to read the book(s)? I can order and read a book on my Kindle at the click of a button. This is not the case with e-books provided by libraries. Some e-book collections can easily be read on mobile devices in PDF format or with an app, some require a complicated hack to get them to work, and others do not work on mobile devices or e-readers at all. Also, different e-readers read different book formats; interoperability is almost nonexistent.
- Is this accessible? Beyond the topic of interoperability, it’s critically important that every library investigate whether its e-book offerings are ADA-compliant.
- Will the vendor’s digital rights management interfere with legitimate use? Patrons want to be able to download books and read them offline. They want to be able to print portions to take to class (or the beach). Some vendors make these things impossible in the name of protecting rights-holders, while others have managed to protect copyright and still allow patrons to use e-books however they wish.
- What about ILL? Interlibrary loan is a critical part of the work of libraries and allows us to offer so much more to patrons than we could provide on our own. What does ILL look like in the e-book world when currently only a very small number of e-book vendors allow for any sort of interlibrary loan?
- How do you browse an e-book collection? No matter how good our library search engines become, browsing is still an important part of the discovery process, and this is not something that has been replicated well online. Many possibilities exist, but it’s difficult to imagine an easily browsable collection of various e-book platforms and print works.
Over the past year, the e-book market has exploded and blissful ignorance about the impact of e-books on libraries is no longer an option for any librarian involved in making collection decisions. We must keep up with the electronic publishing world, the e-reader market, and the online reading habits of our patrons in order to make the best possible decisions for our patrons and the health of our collections.
MEREDITH FARKAS, who has been head of instructional initiatives at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, becomes head of instructional services at Portland (Oreg.) State University April 1. She is also part-time faculty at San José State University School of Library and Information Science. She blogs at Information Wants to Be Free and created Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. Contact her at librarysuccess[at]gmail.com.