Thursday, April 3, 2014

Libraries, E-books, and Publisher Constraints

E-books are gaining popularity in all types of libraries, which comports with the digital transition in libraries. But publisher constraints make it hard for e-books to work with library-lending policies.

InsideHigherEd posted survey results on the various changes in libraries. "Ithaka, a nonprofit research organization that promotes innovative forms of teaching and scholarly communication, previously surveyed library directors in 2010. That survey captured libraries in the middle of a difficult transition from print to electronic resources. Based on the responses of 499 institutions in the fall 2013 survey, that shift has been, 'from a budget allocation perspective, nearly completed.'"

Based on the 2013 survey update, it looks like the shift from print to digital is nearly complete. "Yet library directors and faculty members remain split on the usefulness of electronic collections of books and journals. Instructors are more likely to prefer e-books -- more than 50 percent of respondents in Ithaka's 2012 faculty survey said they 'play an important role' in research and teaching, while only about one-third of library directors agreed. Meanwhile, two-thirds of library directors said they 'would be happy to see hard copy collections [of scholarly journals] discarded and replaced entirely by electronic collections,' compared to 40 percent of faculty members surveyed in 2012."

Whether faculty members or library directors think that e-books are useful, e-books are growing exponentially in library collections. Because libraries continue to increase their holdings, some library directors have decided to fight back against publisher constraints.

"Library directors at 66 liberal arts colleges called for academic libraries to reject licensing agreements with publishers that impose restrictions on how e-books can be accessed and shared."

The statements reads, in part, that "libraries accept licensing agreements -- and whatever restrictions that come with them -- 'at our peril.' By signing agreements that limit how content may be shared, 'we turn our backs on a great strength of the academy -- the ability to build complementary collections and share them in good faith with researchers and the community of readers.'"

"Like physical books, ebooks should be made available for interlibrary loans 'in a manner that is neither cumbersome nor awkward,' and the content should be able to be transferred 'efficiently and electronically.'"

As libraries continue to increase their e-book holdings, it's important for libraries to continue to work with the publishers to make e-books as widely available as their print counterparts. This collective statement is a good start.

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