Report on USTLG Summer Meeting on E-Books, The Edward Boyle Library Conference Room, University of Leeds


Thursday 19th June 2003


Maree Green, University of Salford



E-Books – Issues and Challenges

Jill Lambert, Aston University


Jill began with a general paper on e-books based on the experiences at Aston since e-books were introduced in 2001.


She identified that there are currently 3 ways to read e-books but the most popular way is via a desktop or laptop PC. In fact the JISC definition of an e-book is an “online version of printed books, accessed via the Internet”.


Benefits to the libraries:

·         Saving on space (Aston like many libraries is already full)

·         Less clerical administration and no shelving

·         E-books cannot be lost, damaged or stolen. Aston have found there have been less security incidents and vandalism of journals over the last 5 years which they could attribute to the increase in e-journals, for there have been the same incidence of damage to books.


Benefits to the users:

·         E-books provide convenient and instant access from the desktop for distance learners, but it is important that they integrate with other electronic resources.

·         There is a potential for improved searching facilities but they do need to be designed appropriately. e.g. They can provide aids for additional needs such as enlarged fonts



·         Not every student is wired up. According to a recent survey many students use institutional PCs.

·         Although they may be more accessible to the distance learning student, the physical books may be more accessible on campus.

·         E-books are costly and when asked at Aston many users replied that they didn’t think they are worth the money, although hardware costs are decreasing. VAT is payable and thus 17.5% is added onto everything, a cost that Aston finds substantial.

·         Users dislike reading extensive text on a screen and tend to print quite frequently.


Issues in e-book development:

·         The University of Strathclyde has produced the EBONI (Electronic Books ON-screen Interface) guidelines on e-book design. The two most significant factors affecting design are the appearance of information on-screen and the “look and feel” of e-book hardware. Users said that they lose orientation very easily with an e-book so the project recommended a closed environment when leaving so people would know where they are. The EBONI guidelines included items to avoid a busy screen, hypertext links to improve navigation and cross referencing, and other features such as book marking, highlighting and annotating which students are not encouraged to do with physical books.

·         Content. There is a lack of availability in electronic format as e-books are not yet at the same stage as the physical book. The market is currently dominated by the US, although this is changing. Few textbooks are currently available electronically so we must match the needs of the curriculum and reading lists.

·         Often e-books include older editions of textbooks.

·         Books are not currently designed to be read on screen but this should change in the long term.


Publisher’s economics issues:

·         Libraries often fear the instability of e-books e.g. When Aston were just about to launch netLibrary in September 2001 it went into receivership and was rescued by OCLC.

·         Publishers fear that students will stop buying books and use e-books instead and then they would lose income. The aggregators may have to pay costs of conversion.

·         There are lots of pricing models for e-books and Jill mentioned a range of them, commenting that it was like “e-journals all over again”. There are annual subscriptions with a site licence, “purchase” plus and annual access fee, an annual subscription based on the number of titles, free titles, and a three year subscription to the collection e.g. the new JISC e-books deal.

·         Publishers are controlling access to content with a number of different models e.g. the complex “slot system” used by Safari, or the one book, one reader model where a reader can borrow for a length of time used by netLibrary.



·         Identification of available e-books. There is no central repository for e-books so the only way of finding out availability via contacts in other institutions, promotional information, attending exhibitions and web-sites listing e-books.

·         Selection. Academics need to support selection and promote its use.

·         Instigation with a receptive clientele, e.g. computer science students as a target group.

·         Meeting publishers criteria e.g. there is no point subscribing if only 50 relevant titles are available out of a core number of 100.

·         Choosing appropriate collections which are core to the subject areas.

·         Considering free titles, although these titles may later disappear.


Service delivery issues:

·         Cataloguing

·         Ongoing publicity methods

·         Technical maintenance of the collection such as access and password administration.


There are currently several JISC initiatives happening. The E-Books Working Group with representatives from both Higher and Further Education are looking at advice on collection priorities. JISC have launched their Electronic books collection which looks very encouraging, and there are four separate JISC studies of e-books going on.


Jill concluded with a picture of empty shelves in a library. Although she believes e-books have a good future in the library, it is unlikely they will completely replace conventional books.



Electronic books at Aston University

Amanda Poulton and Frances Hall, Aston University


Amanda and Frances followed on from Jill Lambert with their own experiences of e-books at Aston.



Aston is a comparatively small university with approximately 6,000 students and the subject areas are focused. The positive response to the e-journals collection encouraged them to expand into e-books.

Budgets at Aston are calculated according to a formula taking into account student numbers, etc and in close consultation with academic staff. Some subject areas have enough left in budgets to fund new services whilst others do not. Therefore, Engineering and Applied Science have used a Development Fund to fund new services. This is only a temporary solution as the funding has to be found for recurrent years.


Aston currently has access to netLibrary, CRC Press Handbooks, and three Wiley chemistry encyclopaedias. They decided to purchase these e-books for a number of reasons:



netLibrary, which they have had 2 years, is their oldest e-book service. A big factor in its acquisition was the large book budget available in Computer Science. The information specialist chose the initial 82 individual book titles for inclusion (which with some duplicate copies totaled 100 books) and extra books have been purchased since.

Access is by Athens username and password and there are facilities to search within a book, have bookmarks, print and save. netLibrary monitor for suspicious usage and expect users to keep within copyright.

Usage monitoring shows that a third of the books bought in 2001/2 have been accessed 10 or more times. However there is no way of distinguishing how effectively items are being used. The most popular titles have been well used compared to print stock.

The peak time for usage seems to be around October and November when information skills classes are being held, but it is promising that the next highest usage is in January to March when classes are not taking place and students have used them alone.


CRC Press

Last summer Aston took out a year subscription to CRC Press from their Development Fund when they were offering price discounts. Through this deal they took a package of titles for which they had no choice. This meant some titles were already in print stock at Aston but they also gained a huge amount. There are however different deals available from CRC.

They had difficulty with off campus access as it is an IP authenticated service. However they found out later that it is possible to apply for a password.

ENGnetBASE is available within Engineering Village 2 and hence searchable via Compendex.

They are concerned that, unlike netLibrary, usage of CRC Press has tailed off outside information skills classes.


Wiley encyclopaedias

The three year subscription to Wiley encyclopaedias was again taken from their Development Fund. The titles are very specific focused titles and each encyclopaedia must be searched individually on its own website. There were no problems with access off campus as it is an Athens/IP authenticated service.

Usage has been more encouraging, for despite being lower than CRC and netLibrary it has been sustained and it is a very specific focused area.


The following free e-book services have been promoted by Aston as they are relevant to their service:

PubMed bookshelf. This service has been very well received at Aston as it seems to be quite stable and has approximately doubled in size. However the most current editions of textbooks are not always available.

FreeBooks4Doctors. This provides a gateway to other sites.

netLibrary's free collection. This has some use for the Languages department at Aston but is not as useful as the main netLibrary collection.


Promotion of e-books:

·         E-books have been included as a major part of information skills sessions at Aston this year.

·         Most of the services have been included on the catalogue, except for CRC Press due to the length of the contract.

·         netLibrary has been integrated into a first year module as a case study, as requested by a member of academic staff.

·         Emails have been sent to staff and students as new titles are added, a library newsletter is sent to academic staff

·         All the services, both free and paid, can be accessed from the list on the library website.

Reactions to e-books at Aston have generally been favourable, though on the whole students prefer to read print versions. Students ask mainly for reading list items. Academic staff often perceive that money goes further with print.


Aston's concerns about e-books:

1.       They may be unable to sustain provision e.g. they need to find a long term budget solution in order to keep CRC Press.

2.       It is not always possible to buy what is being requested or is on reading lists, only what is available.

3.       The e-books may be old editions, and each title must be checked individually as it is not easy to tell.

4.       In peak usage periods some users may lose patience as they are turned away, whilst the service may be unused during other periods.

5.       If services are cancelled there may be no archives available.

6.       There are also some restrictions and additional costs on downloading and printing on some services.

However, e-books are popular with students and staff and have many benefits that balance the concerns and Aston intend to expand their e-book collection in the future.




Promoting the uptake of e-books in further and higher education

Linda Bennett, Independent Researcher


Linda is working on one of four JISC e-book projects currently running. She is looking at promoting the update of e-books in UK further and higher education and would like feedback from academic institutions to help with this research.


The objectives of the project are:

1.       To ensure that e-books are taken up and exploited as fully and as soon as possible in HE and FE. A manual is being developed on this as it is quite disparate in HE and FE.

2.       To define the role of all stakeholders in ensuring that e-books can be readily discovered and assessed. The supply chain is quite difficult and imperfect and academics don’t often appear in it, yet they are the most powerful. In recent interviews only one academic out of 68 had used an e-book. Others were interested but had had no communication from publishers. Hence they find it difficult to recommend e-books.

JISC have now widened the scope of the project allowing academics to complete questionnaires in order to receive first hand information.

3.       To recommend means by which e-books can be promoted effectively across HE and FE sectors. Publishers have been very slow to promote e-books and some universities promote e-books well whilst others have poor or indifferent practices.


The focus of the project is on short term practical measures and the output will be a formal written report and a practical guide. Case studies will be included.


The terms of reference of the project are:

1.       To assess the demand for e-books within the sector and at institutional level.

2.       An assessment of e-book distribution.

3.       Promotion of e-books within the sector.

The situation is rather confusing as no one has a complete overview of e-books.

The major problem is that publishers are generally not interested in providing e-textbooks. Even Safari, who are 6 months old, provide computing books which are half way through their life.


The project will be addressed by four team panels. These cover:

·         E-book technology and applications – led by Andrew Weinstein.

·         Publishing, marketing and distribution of e-books and related issues – led by Michael Holdsworth

·         Supply chain, metadata and related issues – led by Brian Green

·         E-books from a teaching and learning perspective: current views and future requirements – led by Huw Morris. They are looking at Blackboard and WebCT and the long term learning effects on students.


Linda requested the following help:

·         Contacts from organisations

·         User statistics. These are difficult to produce as many e-book suppliers’ statistics are not very good. netLibrary provides some of the best.

·         User feedback. She has received some interesting anecdotal customer feedback details and found that different students use e-books in different ways. e.g. at UWE mature students did not remember an e-books session they were given, at the University of Huddersfield students were dubious about using e-books and 20 students had no internet access. Some students did not like the idea of an article in a VLE regarding this as for lazy students and preferring a full book, whilst some disabled students would find it entirely impossible to do a course without e-books.

·         Details of your existing or intended approaches to promoting e-books. e.g. at the University of Strathclyde students are looking at making e-books more visible which will feed into this project.


She was to forward copies of the academic questionnaires to attendees.





Knovel: beyond e-books

Chris Gibson, John Rylands University Library of Manchester


Chris is a Science Subject Specialist at John Rylands with a year and a half experience of working with Knovel.

He ended the day with a very enthusiastic demonstration of Knovel showing that Knovel:

·         Provides increasing functionality and added value in an e-book.

·         Is a web interface to full text contents of reference works in approximately 15 different subject areas in science and engineering.

·         Provides current editions, and intends to retain information from superseded editions.

·         Provides approximately 35% of its content as interactive titles including interactive tables, graphs and equations which can be retrieved, manipulated and exported to a variety of standard packages e.g. Excel and Word.

·         Can take graphs that occur in different parts of a publication and superimpose onto the same graph.

·         Is appropriate for scientists, engineers, technicians, students, information professionals or anyone who is interested in hard data and full text information.

·         Includes 140 different categories for searching. Searches retrieve variations in spellings including plurals and Knovel indexes every single part of a publication including the indexes. It automatically searches for synonyms enhancing retrieval.

·         Provides content in standard PDF and HTML formats with links within records and tables, and full text searching.

·         Has introduced a unit converter which is a useful time saver.

·         Has chemical structures available in some tables, giving huge time saving benefits

·         Authorizes an unlimited number of concurrent users so there is no problem with users being turned away.


Chris used the example of a molecular weight query to demonstrate how its interactive features add value to the content and save time for end users. Tables can be modified and customized and column orders changed and sorted. Equation plotters, graph digitizers or graph plotters can be used for graphical representation of the query.

He used the example of the vapour pressure of phenol to demonstrate a keyword search. The results are in relevance order by number of hits. He was able to click on an equation plotter symbol and automatically calculate the formula for vapour pressure as a graph. The values on the graph could be resized or the graph could be changed to linear plot, grid lines added, or it could be output to a standard format such as Excel.


Subscriptions are based on the number of full time equivalents in an institution. Chris expressed his concern as he feels this seems unfair on institutions with, for example, a large arts faculty. It would be more sensible if it were based on Science and Engineering student numbers.



Benefits of Knovel:

1.      Saves time.

Quality answers to science and engineering questions can be retrieved in seconds rather than hours. Thus users can reinvest hours into research and learning.

The interactive features support data analysis and enable output to standard packages. Knovel say that 75% of usage is on research and analysis.

Particularly useful is the availability of both on-campus and 24/7 remote access

It provides a better return on its investment compared to the book due to its user friendly interface.

2.       Enables better decisions

It provides access to a critically selected collection of high quality publications such as the International Critical Tables and Perry’ s Handbook from recognized publishers such as Elsevier and McGraw Hill. These include conference proceedings, key texts, databases, solvent properties databases, etc.

The unique capacity to cross-search aggregated content from multiple publishers and by multiple access routes such as browsing by subject, title or book type, retrieves more concise and comprehensive answers to solve problems. 

3.       Effective customer support

The comprehensive monthly usage reporting helps management decide which packages to cancel, promote or new packages to take. When identifying new titles Knovel listen carefully to the user base.

The dedicated technical support and training by both phone and web is very good. Demonstrations are frequent and free of charge and monthly newsletters provided. 

4.       Increases efficiency

Money can be saved by rationalizing the acquisition of multiple copies of print publications and new editions across satellite libraries and offices around the university.

Staff time can be saved through ordering and processing print equivalents and answering reference enquiries.


Knovel is highly regarded by major subscribers. 25% of subscriptions to Knovel are currently from academia (mainly USA), 75% from many important commercial companies and 5% from government customers.


There is a wealth of free information available from Knovel.

Chris ended by encouraging us to promote and make use of this free access and a free trial.