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.

11 thoughts on “Medical Library eBooks: Five Years Behind”

  1. Yeah public libraries have some clunky methods and they are far from perfect. I completely agree. But I also see people like my mom who has an iPad (and is not tech savvy…sorry Mom) who enjoys getting ebooks. She has encountered problems and has asked her St. Louis County branch librarians for help but it hasn’t stopped her. I think she is reading more because of the ebooks than she did before. I don’t remember her being this involved what books she can get in the library before. I think her iPad has gotten her into the library more and using more library services.

    It isn’t perfect, yet our users want it despite that. They keep asking me for downloadable ebooks.

  2. Another issue with many ebooks, including medical ebooks, is only one viewer at a time. Instructors assign the books or specific chapters for their classes only to be frustrated by the fact that it’s one at a time service. When the deadline is coming up to complete readings and there are 160 students, this becomes a major issue. We may not have retained a print copy, so how does everyone finish the readings? I know there is the download option, but it’s more steps and frustration.

  3. Exactly Julia! I think it is reasonable to have a ebook available to check out but people can view a chapter at a time without checking it out. If they want to read more than one chapter then they check it out. The other big thing is to have very clear and easy messages or methods telling people how to return the book. Lots of people just let it disappear when they are done reading, meaning that book could be on that device for days or weeks after it is needed.

  4. Wow, you must be a mind reader. I was just saying to another librarian a few days ago that all of our ebook platforms are terrible – primarily because e books can’t be downloaded too a device like an iPad. Sure, there are a few that have apps (thinking of ebrary here), but they only get you half the way there in terms of really being useful like the Kindle app or iBooks is. Frustrating to say the least.

  5. If you read Scholarly Kitchen you know that publishers are very interested in selling directly to the customer instead of making their e-books available through a third party such as a library. Many publishers are not big fans of Overdrive. I’m not sure there is any financial incentive for publishers to develop a library system that would allow library users to temporarily download e-books to their mobile devices. Instead publishers would rather retain the revenue from all the individual sales and rentals through Amazon, Inkling, etc.

  6. Hi,
    I can’t help feeling nostalgic reading this. You and I discussed this a few years ago, just as mobile devices were beginning to take off: I still think the major issues is that the Overdrive model is a threat to the concurrent user – ebook package model. In other words, publishers can sell us all their books in a package at a high level of usage, even though not all the ebooks will be used at that level. Meantime, if we can buy individual titles to download, we can increase the number of copies for popular books, and buy single copies for the others, as we do with print. I’ve looked at this over the years, and this is really the only thing that makes sense to me. To me, the major academic publishers are beginning to resemble the old, pre-digital music industry more and more, tied to big profits and afraid of taking risks in order to adapt to the changing way people use their content.

  7. I think places like Inkling are the future, but their selection is currently limited. It is ok if I were buying ala carte but for something like a library that needs a larger selection they are limited. For example if I need Rudolph’s Pediatrics I need to go to AccessPediatrics which already includes Current Diagnosis and Treatment Pediatrics. Why would I buy Current Diagnosis and Treatment Pediatrics at all through Inkling then?
    Our budget dollars do not allow for duplication of resources. We try to limit that to the best of our ability. That is another reason we have moved to online journals and ebooks. While they may cost more they can be used by more people at the same time unlike the printed version. Why buy two “copies” just because one copy can be downloadable?
    I think publishers are allowing companies like Inkling to do their books because it is a limited scale and doesn’t compete with their larger group packages.

  8. Hi Dan,
    Yep this is an issue that just keeps coming up, like a bad penny. I think the group packages by publishers are limited and their days are numbered. There will come a time where our users will do more than just turn their nose up at these package ebooks, they will stop using them entirely. When this happens we will stop purchasing them.
    Usage is already all over the place depending on the library. Some libraries don’t have good usage while others have good usage. People already have a damn hard time find the ebooks we have because the vendors are so siloed and there are few good methods for directing people to a library’s entire ebook collection. Yes they can use the catalog, but if publishers don’t give us MARC records for their entire collection of ebooks then it makes it more difficult to get them in the catalog. Of course that assumes people use the catalog. I am getting more questions at the front desk asking me how to get the ebooks which implies to me they aren’t thinking of the catalog as the first place to search.
    Increasing access and making them more desirable to use (i.e. downloadable) will increase usage. Increased usage mean we keep buying. Of course if Michele Shipley’s comment is 100% then it doesn’t matter if we buy or not, they only care about individual sales and Amazon.

  9. I just did 2 medical resident orientations in the last 2 days and both groups asked about ebooks. We had to explain about the difficulty of finding ebooks in our collection and that NONE are downloadable. Oops caveat there was one publisher/platform you could download to but of course we can’t because we are an Army facility and we can’t download the software to our desktops/laptops and with the remote access login you don’t get to download to your personal computer at home (sigh).

    We’ve just lost 1/3 of our physical space and had to cut the print collection in half. We lost the space primarily because command believes everything is online. We’re now going to have to rebuild the collection through ebooks – hope they’ve got their checkbook out.

    And yes we’ve discussed and fielded questions about concurrent readers and “why do I have to print page by page – why can’t I print the whole chapter out?” – so then we get into the tricky copyright issues…

    BTW – like your mom Michelle I love my public library and I love the ebooks collection. Overdrive does need improvement but it’s enabled me to do what I love to do which is to read 2 books at a time. And I love Overdrive on the iPad.

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