E-Books

It seems a lot is being discussed about e-books and e-readers lately.  Sigh… e-books what a tangle web you weave. 

I think Mark Funk said it best in the recent 2011 Medical eBook Publishing Trends Webcast, ebooks are at the beginning stages of their evolution, somewhat similar to what ejournals were like when they started.  There are differences between ebooks and ejournals but in general ebooks are in their infancy.  Just like with human infants there is a lot of rapid growth, communication isn’t always clear, and stress and confusion can always pop up. 

There was brief discussion on MEDLIB-l about the worry/feeling the publishers are cutting libraries out of the process of lending ebooks.  This seems to have stemmed from Amazon.com recent announcementthat it allows you to rent ebooks from them for a fee.  Sony (Reader) and Barnes and Noble (Nook) allow people with their ereaders to borrow books, but they have partnered through public libraries.  From what I can tell Amazon.com currently doesn’t allow people to borrow ebooks through libraries.  However an article from The New York Times from April 20, 2011, mentions that Amazon will allow Kindle users to borrow books from libraries later this year. I don’t know if Amazon is still planning to do that.

However, I am still unmoved by the goings on with Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony and their ereaders. Why?  Because their readers are really just one trick ponies, you read books on it.   Yes you can get the web on B&N’s Nook color, but who (besides my husband) is looking at the Nook color as a cheap alternative to an iPad?  The Nook color has apps. (It has Angry Birds what other apps are needed!?)  What I see are more and more doctors carrying iPads.  Specifically because the iPad is multi functional device. You can load Kindle and Nook apps on your iPad to read Amazon and B&N ebooks.  There are a lot of great medical apps available for the iPad and depending on the hospital IT department, the EMR can be accessible through the iPad.  Hospital IT departments are resistant enough to change, I think I have a better chance of winning the lottery than the likelihood that a lot of hospital IT departments will allow Nooks to access the EMR. 

Because of the iPad and a few simple reader apps, the ereader wars between Amazon, B&N, and Sony are just background noise to me.  I also don’t think much about the idea of checking out ebooks. Perhaps it is because we have a site license for almost all of our ebooks, we don’t have many ebooks that you “check out” for a period of time. So it is difficult for me to think of “checking out” ebooks. In my mind you just hop on the Intranet and click on the link to the book and read it.  Perhaps if I was a public librarian dealing more with NetLibrary my mind would be thinking more in the manner of checking out an ebook.

People on Medlib-l mentioned the frustration they were having with the bundling of titles and how it makes the prices of said bundles cost prohibitive causing them to go buy the print of the book.  Well that just stinks for anyone in that situation, kind of counter productive to the whole electronic movement.  However, bundling isn’t new, it happened with journals and it is probably no surprise that it is happening with books.    I can understand the pros and cons to bundling from both the publisher and the librarian perspective.  Bundling can be very good if done well by the publisher.  Nobody benefits from bad bundling.  Hopefully as ebooks grow in demand and in popularity, more of the titles in the bundles will be more relevant to the purchasing librarians.

What seems to be a more pressing issue is lack of medical books available electronically, the inconsistencies between ebooks and the printed books, and digital rights/licensing. 

I think more and more titles will eventually become ebooks.  We had the same problem with ejournals. We got new carpeting in the library so we had to empty everything out of our desks and file cabinets so they could move furniture to put the carpet down.  My co-worker ran across a 1999 memo exclaiming that we had over 100 journals available online.  We have access to more than 100 times that amount.  In time we will probably say the same of ebooks.

I recently got an email from somebody telling me that since their ebooks were web based they work very well on the iPad and other tablet devices.  I got one word for you, Flash.  Guess what is not on the iPad? Flash….AHHHH (Sorry still hearing Freddy Mercury singing the Flash Gordon theme song, damn you Blackberry for making sure I can’t forget your commerical.)  Even though some of the texts on their site say download to handheld, McGraw Hill’s Access books don’t seem to work for iPads.  We had a doctor try and access a McGraw Hill book on one of their Access sites and it didn’t work.  When we called their help desk (even though this book is readable on the web with computers) we were told it wasn’t available and wouldn’t work on the iPad. I know that many things in McGraw Hill’s Access sites use Flash, I don’t know if this was a factor with their books.  Optimizing ebooks so that more than just people on desktops or laptops can use them needs to be a priority of publishers. 

One of the biggest pet peeves I have with both ejournals and ebooks are the inconsistencies between print and electronic. Maybe it is just me but it appears that ejournals are getting better with dealing with the inconsistencies, although the damn epub ahead of print still causes me to pull out my hair. Of course maybe I just expect the unexpected a big more with ejournals and I am more savvy to their inconsistencies and don’t see them as inconsistencies anymore.  However, ebooks are still messy.  There are some books that have more information in the ebook than the print.  There are some publishers like Elsevier who sell printed books but only allow access to the online book and extra material through StudentConsult which isn’t for libraires.  I know there were several times where we bought a printed book and whole chapters were missing and we were told it was available online but we couldn’t access the online because it was on StudentConsult or it was tied to an individual code.  That is maddening.

Of course that leads me to the digital rights and licensing.  Academic librarians must deal with issue of ebooks and Blakboard and course reserves.  All librarians must deal with ILL issues and ebooks. We are so used to copying a page or chapter for ILL or sending a whole book to another library, but with ebooks ILL becomes a mess.  Basically, you can’t ILL a whole book which I understand.  But a library should be able to ILL some pages or chapters to the ebook.  Just look at the example where the necessary chapter of a library books is available online but the library doesn’t have online access.  The student or researcher needs that information but is it available through ILL?  Depends on the publisher.  That is just a basic (but big) example of how digital rights and licensing is maddening to librarians, patrons, and normal people.  There is a lot of work to be done in this area.  Unfortunately I think this might take a fairly long time to shake out, because only recently are journal publishers beginning to really work in ILL agreements into electronic journal license agreements. 

Are ebooks perfect? Oh far from it, but ejournals aren’t perfect either yet look how far we have come with them.  Perhaps when ten years from now when we will trip across another memo about our ebooks and sit back and laugh at how far we have come.

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