Medical Library eBooks: Five Years Behind

When Fergie sang, “I’m so 3008. Your so 2000 and late”  I am 100% sure she was not singing about medical libraries and ebooks, but whenever I think of ebooks, libraries and publishers Fergie’s lyrics repeatedly ring through my head.

Public libraries and Amazon are ahead of medical libraries regarding ebooks.  Providers of medical library ebooks such as McGraw Hill Access databases, Ovid, Elsevier’s ClinicalKey, and others methods of providing ebooks are from the digital dinosaur age when a portable device was considered a laptop.

Not much has changed on how we provide our ebooks with these vendors.  Our users go to their website and view the book online like they are viewing a web page.  They do it the same way they did before the Kindle or iPad.  Not only is some of the content STILL in Flash (AccessSurgery) making those videos completely useless, but they treat viewing the ebooks on the iPad and Kindle as mini laptops which is limiting.  Kindles have been around since 2007 and the iPad has been around since 2010.  People have had between 3-6 years worth of downloading expectations that have been fostered by Amazon, Apple, and public libraries.

People’s concepts of an ebook have drastically changed.  The term ebook no longer refers to a book that is available online in HTML or  PDF.  Users now define an ebook as something DOWNLOADABLE to their device.  They are disappointed when they aren’t.  When I am asked if we have any ebooks and I say yes, the next question I am asked is how do they download them to their device.  When I tell them they can’t, they are immediately turned off.  They aren’t interested. 

I understand that these providers don’t want people downloading their books for free and keeping them forever.  However,  public libraries have already done a pretty good job at training our users for us and they have figured out methods to curb copyright and theft.  While users expect to download the book to their device, they also expect that the book will be returned or disappear from their device after a set period of time.  This is the way public libraries have done things.  This is the way iTunes and Amazon “rent” movies.   Amazon has been renting etextbooks and renting to ebooks to Prime members for a while.  It is cheaper to rent the Amazon book than to buy it, and Amazon customers can set their own expiration date (more expensive for longer terms).  Overdrive was founded in 1986 and has been working to provide public libraries with ebooks and materials since 2002 with their Digital Library Reserve, a digital download platform. People are well versed in the concep downloading an ebook to their device for a limited time.

Yet many medical ebook vendors are still plodding away with their ebooks that can only be viewed online, the same way they always had when all we had were laptops.  They have not evolved.  We are still looking at HTML or PDF versions of the print.  Yeah some ebooks have video content or interactive tests, but that isn’t any different than what was available in 2000.  As a result, when it comes to non-downloadable ebooks, we are losing our users. 

Have big publishers become too big to be agile to adapt to current technology?  Are their online publishing platforms too entrenched to be able to provide downloadable ebooks that can disappear (be “returned”) on a device?  Other companies do it.  Why don’t they?  Are they over invested in the way they used to do things that it is inhibiting the way things have evolved?  Or are they operating as usual and don’t really realize the demand to download the books? Only they know.  But one thing is for sure, their online ebook platforms days are limited.  I can’t say whether it is today or tomorrow but it is coming. The consumer demand for downloadable content is not waning, and the use of iPads within hospitals is growing.  According to EHR Intelligence a study conducted at Columbia University Medical Center in New York determined that “iPads were used frequently by residents attending rounds: 90% of residents reported referring to their iPads, since they are unable to leave their attending physician to use a PC elsewhere.” 

If they can’t use a PC to find information and are using their iPad instead, then the old way of offering ebooks via a web page  or PDF is like the Dodo bird. It is stuck on an electronic island with no means of leaving or evolving and being preyed upon by users expectations.

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