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 www.openbookpublishers.com 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 pressbooks.com 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. http://eprints.rclis.org/17930/
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!