Ebooks and Usage

Recently I have been writing a series of posts on ebooks.  The blog posts didn’t start out as a series.  It all started from an update post about our video from the MLA webinar where I added a few things that we wanted to say on the video but didn’t due to time constraints and where I answered a few questions from the #mlaebooks Twitter discussion.  Then I followed it up with another post on ebooks for small libraries because I realized I accidentally missed a question from the Twitter discussion and it was easier to blog the answer than to write a really long comment.  By then my brain was thinking ebooks and the next two posts Ebooks: The Library Catalog and Federated Searching Part 1  and Ebooks: The Library Catalog and Federated Searching Part 2  looked at some of the things I think we (librarians) need to help manage our ebooks and make them more findable for patrons.

It seems the MLA webinar has definitely inspired some discussion about ebooks, because I am starting to notice a little more chatter regarding promoting ebook usage among library patrons. 

Promoting is very important and I think there is no one size fits all method to promote your library’s ebook collection.  Some librarians report their patrons respond well to emailed alerts, others report their patrons get so much email that anything sent to a large group is often deleted.  Some librarians have good results with brown bag lunch and learns, while others can’t get anybody to attend even if they fed them. Promotion methods vary and all I can say is that we should all be sharing our ideas, what worked, what didn’t, and possible reasons for success or failure.  The larger the idea pool, the more ideas others can draw upon. 

Usage statistics are a key way to determine whether your promotion efforts are working and people are using your ebooks.  I have a few things to say about ebook usage statistics that librarians just entering the ebook fray should think about.

Don’t compare your ebook usage stats with your ejournal usage stats.  We are familiar with ejournals and we use their usage statistics to help guide our collection development decisions.  So naturally we would do the same with books and in a way it is hard (maybe I just find it hard) to not look at the overall ebook usage and compare it to overall ejournal usage.  That is like comparing apples to oranges.  They may be fruit but they are not the same.  Ejournals publish new articles weekly, monthly or quarterly.  Ebooks do not have nearly that type of publishing pattern.  Most books are published every few years.  Traditional books that have new updates added to the ebook version are updated as frequently but not usually as often as ejournal gets new articles.  Content is constantly changing within an ejournal.  New information is added many many times through out the year.  This is not the same with ebooks.  For example, you have people who subscribe to the TOC of journals to see if there is an article they may want.  I don’t know of the same type of interest in the TOC’s for ebooks. 

So not only does the constantly changing content in ejournals drive more people to their sites, but it is a lot easier to find journal articles than it is to find book chapters.  Let’s face it MEDLINE is way more robust at finding information on a topic than LocatorPlus.  That is because MEDLINE has articles that are indexed individually.  Unfortunatley there is no MEDLINE for books.  The best we can do is have the TOC for books.  While that is helpful, that is not giving books and book chapters the same methods of findability as journal articles have. 

Those two things alone are most likely going to drive your ejournal usage higher than that of your ebooks. 

Personally I would look at your ebooks by title and begin to break down how much your ebook costs you per download or chapter view.  If you have a ebook that costs you $500 for a single user license and it was accessed five times that year, it cost you $100 per use.  The goal is to get the cost per use down as low as possible.  It is up to you determine what appropriate cost per use is.  If it is an ebook that you happen to have in print then look at your circulation statistics. Look how often the book was checked out and compare it to an ebook’s cost per use .  This may prove to be helpful.  If it is reference book, look at how often you are reshelving the book instead of circ stats. 

The usage of ebook packages are little more difficult to evaluate.  For example MDConsult has multiple books and you really can’t cherry pick among the books.  If you can get usage statistics per title that is great.  But instead of being frustrated about the books that don’t get usage in that package look at the ones that get the most usage.  Their usuage has to be better than if they were available ala carte because they are carrying the cost of the under utilized books.  Not every book in your package is going to be a home run.  The key is making sure that you have more books in your package carrying the usage burden than those that are in the package but may be out of scope for your institution. 

The last thing to remember, acceptance, adoption, and usage of ebooks will take time.  It took time with ejournals, but I think we sometimes tend to forget that.  We assume our users are already savvy to online literature because they are using ejournals, ebooks are different.  They may be literature but they are different and it takes time for people and things to become common place.

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