Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Canadian Association of Law Libraries E-Books Roundtable

On Sunday afternoon at the 2013 annual conference of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) in Montreal, there was a group discussion on the challenges that e-books represent for collection development.

There were many questions examined, including why types of books individual law libraries preferred purchasing in print or in electronic format, what library clients use or gain when libraries buy fewer print books, and how libraries promote the use of e-materials.

Some libraries (in the academic world it appears) have shifted dramatically to an "e-book preferred" purchase policy based on the PDA model ("patron-driven acquisition" - e-book records are downloaded into the catalogue and books are purchased or rented once a certain number of actions occur: a minimum number of patrons click on a book link, read for more than a given number of minutes, or download more than a given number of pages). Other libraries appear more reticent and are waiting to see.

There was a lot of discussion about what types of material did not lend themselves easily to presentation in an e-format. The consensus was that print is better when the user needs to read a significant amount of text or browse between sections (when the user does not know what he or she is looking for). As well, there was consensus when it came to legislative research: here, print still seems to be the preferred option because researchers often need to compare many volumes or editions or versions and they like to spread 7 or 8 volumes on a table to be able to glance back and forth. E-platforms are incapable to reproducting this experience.

There are also worries about what users may be losing in the transition to e-books. For example, will e-book licences lock down and forbid inter-library loans? As well, some participants noted that many users have a mental map of where they found something in print e.g. (in the stacks in a given row on a given shelf or inside a book such as "near the beginning" or "in the 2nd chapter") whereas e-book pages are all the same with fewer visual reminders of "where" one is. One page looks like all the other pages. A further change introduced by any major transition to e-books concerns library workflow: there may be a lot of extra work for technical services when it comes to proper cataloguing and checking for link rot. One librarian added that web-scale discovery tools usually do not include legal materials from the big vendors in their megaindexes, which translates into extra promotion work for instructional and reference librarians who must train people on the discovery tools and the legal databases.

Participants are quite creative when it comes to thinking up means of promoting e-books in their collection: some libraries put labels on the spine of print volumes pointing to e-versions, others provide separate cataloguing records or call numbers for e-books (for virtual shelf browsing), some use smartphone-readable QR codes on shelves, e-books also get promoted on practice area web pages, research guides, new acquisitions pages on library websites and in training presentations.

Evaluating user satisfaction with e-books has been proving difficult for a number of reasons. Surveys have not been able to gather much useful information about satisfaction with e-books specifically. One participant mentioned that some institutions use IP recognition to authenticate e-book users which means that users can't really tell the difference between one kind of e-resource and another, for them an electronic version of a  Carswell loose-leaf, a book chunked into chapters, sections and subsections on Quicklaw, or a database all look pretty much the same. They wouldn't even know they were in an "e-book" or know what is an "e-book".

Finally, participants had a wish list for improving the user experience of e-books:
  • vendors need to come up with an e-book standard through ISO or some other organization
  • vendors need to do a better job of notifying customers when URLs change
  • participants did not like the fact there is often a delay between the print release and the release of the e-book equivalent
  • they added there is a need for a scanned or PDF version of what the print equivalent visually looks like (pagination, paragraph structure, overall look and feel)
  • librarians also want access to an archive of older editions of material that is frequently updated

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 11:52 am

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