Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



E-Books in the Boston College Libraries

E-booksThe New York Times, along with many other news outlets, has predicted for some time that 2010 would be the year when (human) readers, e-readers and e-books would become properly introduced. Readers and e-books are already well-acquainted in the Boston College Libraries.  Academic e-books have been with us, and heavily used, for a number of years, in the form of such important collections as EBBO (Early English Books Online), the ATLA Historical Monographs, Cambridge Histories Online, Cambridge Companions Complete, Wiley’s Chemistry of the Functional Groups, Early American Imprints, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Oxford Digital Reference Shelf, Past Masters Online, and Sage Reference Online, to name just a few.  You may also have encountered one of the various e-book product trials offered by the Libraries this past semester as the library’s way of gauging user interest in the content and the functionality of various e-book platforms.  Recent trials have included the e-book collections of Springer, the American Psychological Association, and, currently, selected titles offered by Taylor and Francis.

E-books are increasingly recognized as having certain important benefits over print books: for reference use (for encyclopedic information, data and other facts); for multi-authored books, where the individual chapter is the segment of interest, and where the user would be unlikely to read from cover-to-cover; and for monographs, where multimedia can greatly enhance the experience and the information conveyed (by inclusion of audio or video clips, etc.)  E-books also have the great advantage of offering remote access – at any time of day.

The Libraries are careful in their selection of e-book products, with relevant content being uppermost, and preference given to products offering the following licensing terms:  purchase (rather than subscription, with its attendant on-going costs);  favorable digital rights management (ensuring that the license provides users the ability to print/download meaningful segments of a title, i.e. not limited to page-by-page printing, according to Fair Use guidelines of U.S. Copyright Law; and provisions for perpetual access.  Third-party agents, such as Portico, are now working with many major publishers to preserve e-book content, an option previously limited to e-journal content.

In the past, purchasing options for libraries were largely limited to e-book collections where libraries had little or no choice but to purchase desired as well as less-desirable titles. In more recent years, however, publishers and vendors have responded to the need for individual selection to meet the needs of a specific community, and options for granular title purchase selection have now appeared. The Boston College Libraries have contracted with Ebrary for this type of individual title selection, and are purchasing more titles in this way, while continuing to purchase important publisher collections, where appropriate. 

In the Sciences, the major Scientific, Technical, and Medical (STM) publishers have moved aggressively into e-books, introducing some innovative business models, with many adhering to all of the guidelines described just above.  Elsevier Publishing, for example, now offers the product, “Evidence-Based Selection”, providing access to selected, full e-book collections for a 12-month period. At the end of that time, libraries can invest that cost in purchasing individual titles either from that collection or from others, but now with the benefit of knowledge of individual use history.  In response to growing interest in this subject from many sectors, the Boston College Libraries have purchased access to the Elsevier “EBS” collection for Environmental Studies books pre-2007 through 2009. 

The scholarly e-book market is stepping more slowly into the e-reader fray.  All e-book publishers provide documents in PDF (Portable Document Format), useable on computers. However, many show ambivalence at this time about providing the ability to download content into e-book readers; that is changing, but slowly. Despite this slow start in academia, as the New York Times article indicated, e-readers are growing in popularity.  For Boston College users ready to try out an e-reader, there are ten Apple iPads now available for loan at the O’Neill Library Circulation Desk. Additional iPads will be available soon at other Boston College Libraries.


Sally Wyman
Collection Development Librarian, O'Neill Library