Organizing eBooks

I feel like I am beating a dead horse when I mention the topic of ebooks, but it is one of those topics that I just can’t put to rest.  The reason I can’t put it to rest is because ebooks are wanted by our users but they are pain in the neck for librarians, users, and probably publishers too.  Users want downloadable books and unless a library subscribes to something like UnboundMedicine (which can be very costly) there aren’t a lot of options.  Most of our ebook providers still provide ebooks only via the web (you need a Internet connection either via WiFi or cell tower) to view them and they certainly aren’t downloadable. In addition to these physical barriers of ebooks, just finding them can be a challenge. 


Finding ebooks is like wandering through a maze but without the cool pattern.

Finding an ebook is like wandering through a maze but without the cool pattern.  In order to find an ebook medical library patrons must navigate the catalog or the web page or know the silo their specific title is hosted.  They run into more dead ends and switchbacks that it is frustrating and deafeating. Why?

The catalog is dead (but that is another blog post).  Users just really don’t search it.  They search Google or they will slog through the library website looking for ebooks to magically be listed.  We have so many ebooks from different vendor packages (McGraw Hill Access databases, StatRef, Ovid, Wiley, Springer, MDConsult, etc.) and it is pretty much impossible to create and maintain an accurate web list of the ebooks.We used to keep up  a web page on a title and subject basis  but with hundreds of titles (thousands once you add in OhioLink) the web list was impossible to maintain.  We also used to list our ebooks providers. We had a web page detailing that ebooks could be found at the following sites (then lsited all of the vendors like AccessMedicine, Ovid, StatRefe, etc.)   That wan’t helpful.  Users have no clue where each title is housed, so they don’t know to “just click on AccessMedicine to view the online version of Harrison’s.”  The big web page with links to AccessMedicine, AccessSurgery, OvidBooks, StatRef, Wiley, MDConsult, Safari Tech Books, was not helpful. 

Unfortunately we learned that we were thinking too much like a librarian when we tried to direct people to our ebooks.  What do I mean by this?  If you aren’t a cataloger think back to library school cataloging, and if you are a cataloger I appologize for my crude cataloging example.  We librarians have been ingrained to provide as many discover points to a resource that we can.  When we catalog a book we do it to the exact specific subjects (thus making a general subject search difficult) and we add all sorts of added titles, authors, subjects, etc. to make it more findable.  The idea is sound for cataloging, but it is VERY bad for web design and discoverability.  

We recently conducted a user survey of our website.  We knew it needed to be redesigned but we wanted to know how our users were trying to find things in order to create a better site.  The one thing that was stated repeatedly was that users did NOT want multiple ways for finding things.  They wanted one straight shot way and that was it.  As librarians we were brought up to try and think of all the ways people might try to find something and make it findable in those ways.  We designed our web pages that way.  It turns out our users viewed the multiple ways just like navigating a giant maze.  The added paths did not aid in discoverablity they just served as switchbacks causing user navigation confusion.

Because ebooks are in different silos and our users have abandoned the catalog, it is difficult to provide one single easy way of searching and accessing anything beyond a very small collection of ebooks.  EBSCO A-Z does now keep track of ebooks.  But that is such a new feature (released in 2011 or 2012) it is still really too new to be effective.  Batch uploading doesn’t keep author or subject changes/additions.  Information from the publishers is sometimes missing making the author search a crap shoot. We have consolidated the various ways users can find our ebooks down to two ways; search the catalog or search EBSCO A-Z.  Neither method is exactly ideal, somethings are in the catalog that aren’t in A-Z and somethings are in A-Z that aren’t in the catalog.  It isn’t the best method for finding ebooks, but it is an improvement over the multitude of ways we provided.  Still because I know my users are looking for ONE way to find ebooks, I am always trying to find out how other libraries best to do that. 

So how do patrons find your ebooks?  What methods are working?  What isn’t working?  Do they use your catalog?  If so how did you get them to use it and how do you keep up with the ebook changes?  Let me know your thoughts because I can’t be the only one banging my head against a wall when looking at ebook discoverablity.

18 thoughts on “Organizing eBooks”

  1. I completely understand your frustration and need anyone’s assistance! I am a first year librarian working in an academic nursing library with many students who have never formally been taught research skills or ever seen Ebsco. Our OPAC is very easy to use however it still seems daunting to students who have never done research or really searched in a database. I’m trying to think of ways to make the e-book process user friendly and would LOVE any help. Thanks for this post!

  2. I’m not willing to let go of the idea of the catalog. I remember when catalogs worked well. Something has changed. I don’t know what but I know our catalogs don’t work as well as they used to and they do not seem flexible enough to integrate with other tools and access points, like mobile. That goes just for academic library catalogs though. The catalog at my public library works like dream and they just recently integrated all their ebooks into the catalog so no more silo hunting. Everything is one shot in one place – beautiful! I think the answer lies in our public libraries. When it comes to ebooks, they are way ahead of us.

    There is no reason to think it is time to put ebooks to rest or to think we should have it figured out all by now either. Ebooks are still very new. Analog books have been around for thousands of years and it took thousands of years to figure out the best technology for those books and even longer to develop a way to catalog them. I think we will figure out ebooks faster then that.

  3. We want to create a list of our e-books from a variety of publishers (other than records in our library catalog). Is there any nifty database software that can offer us records for those e-books? Microsft Access? But I do not see any Access template that would easily work for handling e-books (title, publisher, ISBN, URL), and editing field tags is not a snap. Ideas?

  4. Our efforts towards ebook discoverability are:
    1. Created LibGuide listing our ebook vendors
    2. In subject specific LibGuides we list the online books available for that specialty, & reference the persistent link to our catalog record to avoid vendor link rot. It takes some time, but as a subject liaison, you become very familiar with books you have available online for your specialty.
    3. We educate our users on how to identify and click on the link to the full text in the catalog record to access things online.

    Regardless of whether the catalog is dead, at least w/ our OPAC there is no good, straightfoward way to limit to only online books.

  5. We are still maintaining a hand-entered list of all our ebooks with title, author, and subject search on one ebooks page. We currently have over 6,000 titles listed, and I’m the first to admit it’s a little unwieldy, as well as somewhat time-consuming.

    We also put individual titles into the catalog (which I think some people still use?), and the main library search interface is Primo, which pulls results from our electronic resource packages as well as the catalog. I don’t have any data on how effective these things or how much our ebooks actually get used, but that’s what we’re doing.

  6. our solution to the e-books access is through several ways
    A management tool from serials solutions where you may have A-Z for ebooks & e-journals same to the EBSCO A-Z . This tool offers alphabetical lists by title and other lists by subject. Also it offers lists according to the NLM mainly for medical libraries. it offers also search by title and keywords in the title
    the 2nd solution is theough colleges / programs webpage, we link the program page to e-books related to the program
    When you acquire e-books , the provider will allow you to download all MARC records and upload them to your lirary system to appear in your OPAC with an indication that it is an ebook and hyperlink to rach the fulltext

  7. You have an uncanny knack of reading my mind or have you reached right across to Australia to bug our Library 😉 We were discussing this very problem earlier this week. Reminds me a bit of the early days of ejournals. We outsource the tracking of lots of them to SFX or Serials Solutions or Ebsco etc. Those listings have become better over time (categories added etc), but eBooks need better records and categorisation (preferably using MeSH terms or perhaps NLM classification as categories – ie They also needs a way to record to component parts of a collection that are held (eg Harrisons as part of Access Medicine) so that all manifestations of the item representation show up. Well we know what we need but no answers to offer. For now we are going to keep trying to list the titles on webpages and in the catalogue but it will become an impossible task over time and better solutions will be needed. Shared pain is all I can offer.

  8. Our university library provides access to e-books through our OPAC and through an electronic resources gateway (i.e., portal for e-books, e-journals, and databases).

    I was not too surprised that your survey found that users did NOT want multiple ways for finding things. During my orientation sessions with students this month, I probably created more confusion by trying to show them different ways of getting to a particular resource. Some students do take note of the steps (or clicks) needed to access a resource.

  9. Like several others, I (and another librarian) have been listing them in a LibGuide, providing a vendor link plus a page listing by Specialty and also another page listing alphabetically. It is so very labor-intensive, and we probably miss a few things. However, I can’t in good conscience deny access to a resource which the user needs and we paid dearly for. (This essentially is what I feel like I’m doing if I rely solely on the catalog.) Keep pounding away on this, Michelle.

  10. I had asked the Ebsco A-Z people about putting our ebooks on our A-Z list in separate tab labeled eBooks. They put some Ebsco ebook thing on it which wasn’t what we wanted at all. When I talked on the phone with them they said they couldn’t do that unless we had less than 100 ebooks. How did you get them to do that for you or is there some kind of miscommunication between us and them?

  11. There isn’t a separate tab (which would be great!!!) there is a tiny little click button underneath the search box that says ebooks. People have to think and select that button and then search for the ebooks. Not ideal. We just don’t have an ideal system yet. Only some of our ebooks are in our catalog because it is too time consuming to keep up with them. Unfortunately only some of our titles are in EBSCO A-Z because they don’t have all of the ebook packages and it is difficult to load ala cart titles. Additionally it doesn’t keep changes to author and subject so if a vendor like Elsevier (just as example don’t know for real) doesn’t give good data to EBSCO and it is missing the author you can’t add that information in. So you have an ebook that is in there but is hard to find and can’t be found via the author.
    EBSCO’s A-Z for ebooks is on the right track but it isn’t anywhere close to an acceptable one stop shopping place like it is for ejournals.

  12. We use Ebsco A-Z and the catalog. We had Ebsco create a custom tab for us that says E-books and we have an alphabetical list of everything we have. They can search A-Z or the opac to find our e-books or on our library webpage we have a listing of our top ebooks on the home page that people can use – this also lists Access Medicine, MD Consult and Books@Ovid.

  13. Ex Libris’ SFX can now list ebooks but I’m not sure that’s the answer either. I appreciate that the users say that they don’t want different places to find things but IMHO the reason we provide different access points is we have all these different users that all want different ways of getting into content. They all think that their way is the most obvious way.

    Our institution has recently dove into the discovery system world and although that’s not always useful to the strictly health sciences librarianship world, perhaps it can resolve the problem. It at least tries to be the one stop shop for whatever you’re looking for. I personally think that’s its failure but it’s still early days.

  14. I’m a big fan of the catalog – it DOES provide bib control. It is too bad that users reject it so out of hand – but maybe that IS the best way for them to find what they need in this case. It has a set of rules about titles, we can add all sorts of arcane access information and at least there is some semblance of management.

  15. Ebsco is mentioned but did you try SWETSWISE, the overall website for journals, e-journals, books and e-books, when you search for a title you will find all details (price, licensing, your ordered subscriptions and e-books) and you can grant your users access to this view. Librarians can manage their complete library documents with SWETS (even ordered articles with Infotrieve). I always go there (on to see the different (price) options for 1 E-book title, instead of looking up all the scattered information on Google ..

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