e-Books: Why Bother

I had a great idea.  Or at least I thought it was a great idea.  However making it a reality makes me think that maybe my idea might just stay in the realm of ideas.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I swear a boat load of people got iPads or smartphones for Christmas because the calls for help about resources, ebooks, network access, etc. have really taken off. Some things like network access or knowing how much data they might consume if they are doing 3G are a little bit out of our control.  But ebooks and library resources, well hell, I thought I could help with that in a relatively easy way.  (Just hit me over the head if I ever think something is going to be easy.)

We are in process of re-designing our website so we did a survey of our users.  We learned that 53% surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that a website for mobile use of library resources is important.  We learned that our users want a website with; better organization, streamlined function, easy for tech un-savvy, and fewer clicks to get to resources.  They want a simple way to find books and ebooks.  (Clearly the catalog isn’t what they consider simple.) They want an easier way to login to resources from home, and to login once.   Not only do our users want simple easy ways to access online resources from the website and their mobile devices but they want simple (few clicks, easy one login) to ebooks from home. 

Ok, now we’re cooking. We know what our users want, so let’s get going. Somebody is working on the regular website and I thought I could help get things mobile.  I approached it on two fronts, the mobile resources and easier access to ebooks.

Lots of librarians shared their lists on iMedicalApps.com Medical Librarian Forum and we have been compiling a list of mobile friendly resources.  Not only would we have a list of mobile friendly sites and apps the library subscribed to but we would have our own mobile site linking to the mobile friendly library resources.  Additionally we came up with a few ideas on how to increase the visibility (and hopefully the usage) of our ebooks. 

I was feeling pretty confident that these things could make finding ebooks easier and also help current and future mobile users get to our resources.  Remember, I said I thought it would be easy? Just start hitting me on the head now…

The problem is the mobile site of vendors.  Many vendors like Elsevier (MDConsult and First Consult), McGraw Hill (Access database) direct smartphones immediately to their mobile site.  While this is nice, their mobile sites require users to login  using their personal login they created.  So a library user would have to have a personal login to each database: MDConsult, First Consult, and all of the Access databases we subscribe to.  If somebody is accessing our resources off campus these personal logins are needed in addition to our proxy login that our users already use to access library resources from home. 

See the problem?  People who are just browsing our resources on their smartphone on campus have to create multiple logins in order to use our online resources from their phone.  We link to our ebooks through the catalog and we are thinking about adding QR code browsing of ebooks in the stacks, but this won’t work on smartphones.  Why? Because when the person scans on the code or clicks the link in our catalog the vendor’s mobile site demands a personal login.  So there is no direct link to the ebook, they have to have a personal login.  Most users don’t think of our ebooks according to vendors, they just click on the title and they EXPECT the book to show up, they don’t expect to be asked for another login.  This method assumes our users have created a personal login with that vendor prior to clicking on the book.  Most people aren’t thinking, “Oh I want to look in Harrison’s Online, I should get a MyAccess login before I click on the title.”

The problem gets even more compounded when our users are off campus.  Our users have been trained to login to our resources using our proxy server.  This is what they have been doing for years, it is a standard for accessing resources remotely, and this is what most users want.  In fact respondents to our recent user survey said they want one login! Well, we can’t provide that if the vendors are creating an extra login! 

So even if I want to provide easy access to ebooks, I can’t.  I have remind people that they have to create a personal login with each vendor.  How do I do that?  That is a heck of mess to write in the online catalog record for each title.  “Click here for access. If you are using a smartphone you must login with your personal login.”  Great then I get more calls about how to create a personal login, to reset their personal login, or that they are using their personal login and can’t get in (but they are using their proxy login). 

Not only do I have the problem in the catalog, I would have the same communication problem on the mobile library site. As anybody who has a smartphone knows, mobile optimized sites are easier to view than the full website.  So the design is a little different than a regular website.  For example if you are linking to resources, you probably don’t want  a whole lot words explaining things.  People on a mobile library website really kind of want the links to go to the resources they need not a whole bunch of instructions about unique login procedures for each resource.

As somebody mentioned to me users don’t have to have a personal login they just tap on the link to Full Site and they can access the resources.  Um doesn’t that kill the whole point of having mobile optimized resources?  Searching th full site of MDConsult or AccessMedicine on a smartphone involves a lot of screen expanding and pinching.  Aren’t we trying to get our users to use our ebooks?  Aren’t we asking/demanding vendors that our ebooks also become mobile optimized?! 

Locking ebooks behind personal logins or forcing people to use the Full Site is not getting people to use the ebooks or online resources. It is a barrier!  Why have vendors created this artificial barrier?!  Why can’t an institutional user access an online resource or ebook without having a personal login?!

In addition to the user access problems I have with personal logins, I have two other questions/problems…

  • Usage stats – Are we getting usage stats each time somebody from our institution is using their personal login? If no, that is very bad. If yes, that is good but we can get without personal logins. You already have our IP ranges and proxy info.
  • Concurrent users – If you don’t have an site license then people can easily come as visitors create a personal login and then use that personal login to access your material looooong after they have left your institution.  These unauthorized unaffiliated users are taking up your concurrent user license spot(s).  We maintain our authorized users list.  We enter the expiration date of visitors, students, contractors, techs, etc. into our system.  When their badge expires they can’t access our resources via proxy.  Therefore we are in agreement with our license agreements AND they are taking up a concurrent user spot.

It is possible to have the mobile site work using institutional proxy, Thompson Reuters Web of Science is mobile optimized.  I click on the link to WoS and I am directed to the mobile site. I am not asked for a personal login.  Off campus I am asked to login to my library account then I am directed to mobile site.  Easy squeazey and MAKES SENSE!

What started out as an easy (yes keep hitting me on the head) project of providing a simple list of mobile optimized resources and linking directly to the books turned into a giant mess.  How can I recommend these mobile resources to smartphone users or the ebooks when I know it will confuse them and frustrate them.  Hell, it confused and frustrated me and I am a librarian who is FAMILIAR with this stuff.  Our users aren’t going to use this stuff the way it is set up right now and unfortunately I can’t make it easier for them because this personal login thing is out of my control.  Why should I bother setting up links to mobile resources and ebooks when it is going to cause more problems and questions then it is worth and serve as another reason to bypass the library for stuff.  No wonder people get their ebooks from Amazon….it is EASY!  Easy is what the users want, medical library ebooks in their current state are not easy, they are a royal pain. 

Why bother?!  We try to make things easily available and barriers keep getting thrown up.  It is enough to drive you batty.  According to ReadWriteWeb, mobile Internet usage has doubled every year since 2009….so this problem isn’t going away.   Hopefully in the near future I won’t be asking why bother with the mess of ebooks.

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