Open E-Books in Libraries at #OAI8

Last week I attended the CERN workshop on innovation in scholarly communication (#OAI8) in Geneva. There were a lot of interesting talks and discussions. In more than one session we talked about open access models for e-books. Rupert Gatti from explained his business model and reported about his experience with open access e-books. By the way, it reminded me of Andreas von Guntens model with buch & netz, a small Swiss company that publishes e-books under a Creative Commons licence, that are freely available (as web publication) but also can be bought on his homepage and in all bigger online stores. And he uses (as I did with my own e-book about e-books) the platform for production and publication.

But back to Rupert Gattis experience. Something that really stroke me was when he said that libraries do not acquire his e-books. Only if he gives it to a commercial aggregator like Ebrary it will be bought or licensed by libraries – now with the restrictions of a DRM! Just imagine shortly: an e-book is freely available, without DRM, in different formats (EPUB, PDF, Mobi) – but libraries are only interested, when they can license it on a commercial platform in a format restricted by DRM!

I noticed a similar fact when I checked if some freely available e-books are integrated in library catalogues. Usually you don’t find open e-books in a library catalogue (if there are examples, let me know!). But I am convinced that users would really like to find them there. They wouldn’t need to lend them, but they just could download them – like on the website of the Project Gutenberg. By the way – they have great licence agreements there, and any library could use these e-books for free… But why libraries don’t do that? At least here in Europe? Maybe because they think offering free e-books to download would not be an appropriate library service? But hey, the world is changing! Libraries do have to consider new service models. And giving access to content is one basic role of libraries!

What is wrong? We discussed about that in the workshops at OAI8 and I came to the conclusion that the main problem is that free e-books don’t fit to the usual processes in libraries. 1) you can’t license or buy some of these free e-books – and some libraries still think that the catalogue is only for media that have been acquired (bought or licensed). But the two examples of OA publishers I mentioned above do offer e-books to be bought. So in these cases there must be different reasons. 2) Libraries usually link to content on the publisher’s homepage. So an e-book is no file but a link. You can’t set the usual SFX link (but you could link to a DOI eventually) if the e-book is a downloadable file. 3) Only publications from faculty members are stored on document servers (in so called institutional repositories) and then catalogued and made available through the library catalogue. And these publications are usually in PDF format. These institutional repositories are not considered as platforms for different kind of media types or for publications from authors from other institutions.

So, what should a library do, when there are open e-books (on homepages of researchers or for example in the Project Gutenberg) as files in different formats to download? I am convinced that library users would like to get access to this kind of documents if they fit to the collection profile of the library. That means that libraries should catalogue (or import metadata) of open e-books. And they should download the files in different formats and integrate it into their document servers. So these platforms have to be adapted to these requirements and be able to manage also e-books in different formats (EPUB, mobi and PDF). And if libraries give access also to e-books in EPUB format, there will be a real mobile user experience. And maybe we can put a little pressure on commercial publishers to distribute their e-books also in mobile and user friendly formats – and without DRM, of course!

In 2012 an interesting case study on „Collaborative Batch Creation for Open Access E-Books“ was published. In this project  freely available e-books from National Academies Press were catalogued by volunteers. They upgraded bibliographic records for aggregation into a batch that could be easily loaded into library catalogs.

Young, Philip and Culbertson, Rebecca and McGrath, Kelley Collaborative Batch Creation for Open Access E-Books: A Case Study. In: Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 2012, vol. 51.

And if you are looking for more open e-books: in the blog no shelf required a list of several open access e-books collections was published last year.

And what can we do? At the Swiss Institute for Information Science we are thinking on a new project in which we want to create a platform for open access e-books, so that public and academic libraries can easily link to them and integrate it in their catalogs. If you are interested (as a librarian, publisher, software developer or…) to collaborate in such a project, don’t hesitate to contact me!

Autor: mrudolf

Director of State and University Library Lucerne (Zentral- und Hochschulbibliothek Luzern), former Professor for Library Science at HTW Chur (university of applied sciences), co-editor of Informationspraxis, co-principal investigator of the Horizon Report Library Edition, blogging on library topics - and also on mindful living (in German as Männerherz)

4 Kommentare zu „Open E-Books in Libraries at #OAI8“

  1. This points to a troubling future for many libraries. Many seem reluctant to add paper volumes to their overcrowded shelves, yet you suggest they don’t want OA ebooks, either. Except many of the ebooks are either free or inexpensive enough for their readers to simply bypass the library altogether, or even form their own informal „library“ user swaps.
    So what is the emerging purpose of these institutions in a digital age?
    I just finished reading Nicholson Baker’s disturbing essay, „Discards,“ on the negative impact of trashing the classic card catalogs in university libraries, and it appears these institutions have abandoned any real role as an effective mediator and guide through the rapidly growing fields of information.

  2. I am a librarian AND I am interested in integrating open ebooks in the catalogue. But in the field of education there are not that many ebooks in german language available (our users don’t really like to read in English). So far it is mainly brochures I have included in our opac. The above named project idea would be to store the fulltexts in different formats for linking to? I’d be interested!

  3. Dear Susanna, yes this is the aim of our project idea. We plan to make an internal proposal in September – and it’s useful to have some institutions that are interested in the project!

  4. Your conclusion that free e-books don’t fit to the usual processes in libraries makes sense. But I think you skipped the most important factor to explain why librarians are reluctant to manage free e-books. Licensing, linking or storing problems can be solved as they are rather technical issues. What is more difficult is to juge the quality of the material, and no librarian is willing to add in his/her catalog a document which is not of sufficient quality. When you choose documents from a commercial list, you take low risks as you trust the publishers. With free e-books published by individuals or small unkown companies, you usually don’t have the same level of trust and it takes much more effort and time to evaluate the quality of the document. Hence the fact that most libarians are not taking in account free e-books.

    Your project of a free plateform is a very nice idea. But I think you have to be very cautious with the accepted e-books as it will set up your reputation. If you accept very bad, or malicious e-books, all your plateform will be disconsidered, and ignored by librarians. On the contrary, if you help the libarians in hosting only good quality documents, they will take you plateform in consideration.

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