Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



E-Books at Boston College: The Landscape is Evolving

Whether you are actively seeking them, or you encounter them without intending, you’ve probably noticed that e-books seem to be everywhere – in main stream media coverage, as well as on your computer screen here at Boston College. Just as at other major research libraries, we see e-books as an increasingly important part of the Boston College Libraries collections.

Boston College e-books are being added in all disciplines, in a variety of forms. Reference books are now almost always added in electronic form; this facilitates easier consultation by our users. Examples include the collections of Sage Reference Online (35 encyclopedia/handbooks in a wide array of disciplines) and the authoritative texts included in the multi-volume set, Patai’s Chemistry of the Functional Groups. We are also purchasing scholarly monographs as e-books, for reading chapter by chapter or even cover-to-cover. They, also, may appear in collections such as Palgrave Connect (Education, Literature and Religion), Cambridge Companions Complete, or PsycBooks (thousands of scholarly and professional titles from the American Psychological Association), to name a few. This practice of purchasing e-book collections is one of long-standing dating at least from the purchase of Early English Books Online (EEBO) in 2000.

Not all e-books are purchased in collections, and, in fact, title-by-title purchasing is a growing part of the acquisitions landscape. There are two major platforms we use for these purchases:

  • Ebrary is a vendor specializing in providing electronic access to monographs offered by a wide array of scholarly publishers. With an individual account users can take notes, highlight the text, and download chapters. Most Ebrary titles are purchased for the use of one user at a time; this is usually due to cost, but sometimes because of publisher restrictions.
  • OverDrive, a new e-book option here at Boston College, provides access to a growing number of pleasure reading materials (suggest a title for adding to the Boston College OverDrive collection). Many users are already familiar with OverDrive offerings at their public libraries. This year’s OverDrive pilot gives users and library staff the opportunity to better gauge interest in popular reading materials on campus, as well as interest in downloading content for e-readers.

Continuing with the theme of downloading, if you are now using an e-reader or tablet, you’ve probably started looking for downloadable e-books to read/use. OverDrive makes it easy to obtain pleasure reading materials. Scholarly publishers, on the other hand, are still testing the waters on offering full downloading capabilities, with many not yet ready to wade in. Exceptions are appearing: Palgrave now offers EPUB downloading -- EPUB is the current “standard” for e-books, offering the “flowability”, resizing and linking that makes e-books particularly appealing. In January Project Muse began offering on its platform some 12,000+ scholarly e-books published by nearly 70 distinguished university presses; these all carry full download capabilities. Expect to see a fair number of these titles added to the Boston College Libraries collections in the next few months.

So, how do you find e-books at Boston College? The vast majority can be found using Quest or Holmes: they each have individual catalog records just like printed books. This is generally true whether contained in a collection or purchased individually. However, there are exceptions: some e-book collections are delivered essentially, as “databases”; these e-books may only be “findable” from within the database itself, and are treated as “Research Databases” in the Libraries website.

While varying from user to user, subject to subject, and from one type of use to another, we know that many of you appreciate having e-books to use: for 24/7 access, for full-text searchability of books/chapters, and/or for the ability to download books or chapters and carry them around on a laptop or reading device. We also know that others are less enthusiastic about this development, preferring to read print materials. Because we want to learn more about why you might or might not like using e-books here at Boston College, we recently invited faculty and a random sample of students to participate in a survey on e-books on campus. Many took advantage of this opportunity -- clearly, there is great interest in e-books. We will use the results of this survey, and the focus groups to follow, to better understand where the Boston College community sees e-books fitting into their library and information needs. If you did not receive a survey, and would like to participate in an e-book focus group, please email Sally Wyman, Collection Development Librarian.

To learn more about e-book collections at Boston College, talk to your subject librarian or see the Boston College Libraries E-Books Libguide. Here you’ll get a better sense of the array of collections, tips for searching for e-books, links to e-book reader reviews, and more.

Sally Wyman
Collection Development Librarian, O'Neill Library