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Availability of print reference vs. Doody's Essential Purchase titles in electronic format, see Husted, 2012
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, July 2018


See also eBooks course for health librarians | Conversion to eReader formats | Digital libraries | Massive open online courses (MOOCs) | Print vs. electronic book technologies

"...in principle, an ebook is similar to a print book ...only the medium is different. For a traditional print book the medium is paper. Because an ebook is the digital representation of the printed material (print book), the medium can vary from a (laptop) computer to digital ebook reader, PDA, mobile phone or even (via desktop printer) traditional paper. Usually the content is available in PDF or HTML format, but also plain text and/or XML formats. This makes content more versatile, and flexible than the traditional print book..." — Van der Velde, 2009
  • electronic books (also known as e-books, ebooks or digital books) are published in digital formats which can be viewed on computers, handhelds and e-readers
  • ebooks are supposed to be equivalents of their print counterparts but increasingly they are a different type of media, multimedia or channel with no true print antecedents
  • eBooks and eReaders change constantly, and experts say they have trouble staying current with the technologies
  • e-ink stands for electrophoretic ink a kind of electronic paper; manufactured by EInk Corporation, it based on research at the MIT Media Lab
  • e-ink is currently available commercially in grayscale and color; it is typically used in mobile devices such as e-readers and mobile phones
  • information and communication technologies (ICTs) have advanced to where scholarly texts are produced, stored and accessed online; most early digitization efforts were text only
  • many studies show that university students prefer the print version of a book for deep, cover-to-cover reading
  • ebooks are made available on vendor platforms and cannot always be downloaded to personal devices; users have little patience with less-than-ideal reading platforms (Gregory, 2008); some of this has changed since 2008 but many of the access and reading difficulties remain
  • publishers and organizations such as the Open Content Alliance, Europeana, NetLibrary, Project Gutenberg and Google Books produce ebooks
  • E-book prices for libraries are a challenge because most e-books cost more than their print equivalents, and duplicating formats of the same (or, near same) content puts a strain on library budgets
  • due to the rising costs of information generally, some universities are moving towards e-textbooks; some sites offer free downloads (using bit-torrent technology) such as Pirate Bay but caveat emptor. Ignorance of copyright does not protect you from breaking laws. (See Copyright).
  • in terms of publishing, e-formats provide optimal flexibility for publishers and lower costs. However, it must be said that there is little consensus as to whether electronic versions of scholarly books are valued by academics or whether some disciplines will demand print for the foreseeable future.
  • another consideration is whether both electronic and print versions are needed in the academic library; sometimes duplication controls are needed to ensure that both formats are not purchased unless they are absolutely necessary.
  • for an overview of ebooks in academic libraries, see Powers A. E-book platforms for academic librarians. University of Florida, 2014.
  • also, for public libraries, see Christina de Castell's (Vancouver Public Library) White Paper. eBooks in 2014: Access and Licensing at Canadian Public Libraries. CULC/CBUC, 2014


See also Digital Libraries Glossary

  • Archiving in ebooks refers to licensing agreements that permit libraries to back up digital copies or preserve them on library servers
  • Check-in/checkout emulates print worlds by permitting users to "borrow" ebooks by "checking them out" and "in"
  • Deposit account is a funding mechanism for purchase of ebooks; libraries place funds on deposit in advance to cover future purchases (pay for use/budget control)
  • Digital rights management (DRM) refers to mechanisms that control how ebooks can be used, copied, and shared; for example, the number of pages that may be printed
  • eBooks or electronic books (also digital books) are digital equivalents of conventional printed books; sometimes access is restricted on ebooks due to a digital rights management system
  • eReaders refer to e-book readers and ebook devices designed primarily for reading digital books and periodicals; they use e-ink technology to display content to readers; some common examples are the Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook, Nook Color, Amazon Kindle 3, and the Sony Reader (also, see eBook Lending libraries])
  • e-ink stands for electrophoretic ink which is a proprietary kind of electronic paper; it's manufactured by EInk Corporation and based on research at the MIT Media Lab; e-ink is currently available commercially in grayscale and color; it is typically used in mobile devices such as e-readers and, to a lesser extent, mobile phones
  • Interlibrary loan (ILL) is a sharing of copies between libraries, a practice generally not permitted under ebook licensing agreements
  • Multiuser access model is an ebook agreement that permits multiple patrons to use or "check out" a book at the same time, usually involving a premium payment up front
  • Non-linear lending model refers to "...multiple concurrent access up to a total of # uses per year; permissions renew annually without paying additional fees from initial purchase..."
  • Patron-driven access (PDA) (or patron-initiated access (PIA) or patron-select program (PSP) models based on a user doing something with an ebook before it is actually purchased by the library. See Trigger.
  • Pay-per-use loan a model in which an ebook can be loaned for a one-time use (say on a user's portable device) for a one-time payment, ideally not more than the equivalent cost of a traditional ILL. See Time bomb.
  • Perpetual access ("access in perpetuity") is a licensing condition that in exchange for the onetime purchase price emulates the print paradigm by granting the library access to the e-title for as long as desired. On the downside, it may also involve the payment of an annual maintenance fee.
  • Print-on-demand (POD) (print-to-order (PTO)) a feature of some ebook offerings that permit users to request a printed copy of an ebook from the supplier, at which point a physical book is printed and delivered directly to them.
  • Profile-driven ebook acquisition is an arrangement under which a library's standing profile with a book distributor is modified to permit ebooks to be purchased automatically (or suggested for slip purchase) under terms specified in the profile.
  • Single user access model is one book, one user; emulates the print paradigm by limiting number of people who can simultaneously use an ebook. (See Time bomb).
  • Time bomb is a DRM feature that makes ebooks inaccessible to readers after specific amount of time (e.g., at expiration of library loan period).
  • Trigger is an action in a PDA model that results in the library buying an ebook; for example, a user clicks on a table of contents entry or is actively engaged with the contents of the book for a specific amount of time

Literature review

Van der velde 2009.png
  • I watch the literature in this area very closely. American academic libraries are good about doing internal surveys of providing ebook platforms whereas Canadian academic institutions seem reluctant (however, see CARL / ABRC & Owen below)
  • Since the late 1990s, ebooks have been available to university libraries but there have been few empirical studies. Some small, institutional studies are available (e.g. Rickman et al. (2009); Shelburne (2009); and Abdullah and Gibb (2008)) but they do not determine how ebooks are perceived by the professoriat and students (however, see attitudes section below). There is some evidence that faculty in the sciences prefer ebooks and in the humanities and social sciences prefer print.
  • There are many reasons why ebooks cannot be viewed with the same enthusiasm as electronic journals. For example, many ebooks are not made available in pdf formats. Weak coverage of some subjects and technical limitations impact e-book availability and acceptance by academic faculty.
  • A major drawback to ebooks is that they cannot be compared to the traditional portability of print
  • academics are fond of their book cultures and often dislike ebooks. Even in the sciences, student usage of ebooks has been lower than expected. Some studies suggest that readers often search for information in etexts but do not browse due to the interfaces. Again, usage reveals a wide variance across disciplines.
  • The relevance of ebooks declines with the age of titles. Older computing and technical books may be in demand, however, in some institutions because some faculty are running older versions of applications.
  • Common platforms for e-books such as MyiLibrary and NetLibrary are seen to be difficult to use. Many authors outline technological problems with them. Some vendors prevent the development of ebooks by requiring the use of specific readers.
  • General acceptance of electronic forms of reading is improving. Undergraduates are leaders of the shift. Academic librarians have anticipated this trend and collected ebooks for many years. In 2010, faculty are changing their habits to include e-resources, videos, e-journals and databases.
  • Academic publishers are making e-books available in all disciplines. Ebooks are usually released simultaneously or earlier than print. Examples include Amazon's Kindle and further developments in wireless, wifi, laptops and handhelds. Specific readers are not required and students who are comfortable with electronic resources prefer e-books (especially for snippets of information not deep reading).
  • Awareness of e-books is low due to general lack of awareness of scholarly collections. (Discovery tools such as Summon may be changing this lack of awareness.) Students concentrate on searching in electronic databases instead of print. “Ebooks are more popular and use increases as students find reading materials in e-collections”.
  • JISC The Challenge of Ebooks *aims to help orient managers and support institutions in the adoption and deployment of ebooks and ebook technology
  • The Future of the Book says librarians should be able to distinguish between prognostications about demands for ebooks, and building a lasting environment for scholars and academics who need books; these two scenarios are not equivalent


  • The Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research refers to “inexorable rise of the eBook” and “a student population, hungry for digested content”; print sales will fall sharply as epublishing matures and demand grows. By 2017, eBooks will be default format for textbooks, scholarly books and reference works
  • What is the evidence for this kind of broad statement?

Attitudes towards ebooks & ereaders

  • much of the literature about user attitudes consists of surveys and focus groups of academic community and librarians
  • see Keim B. Why the smart reading device of the future may be paper. Wired Magazine. 1 May 2014.
  • surveys report an assortment of attitudes ranging from enthusiasm to indifference and outright hostility; print books are also seen to be the "library brand" (OCLC, 2006)
  • undergraduates belongs to tech-savvy generation, but there is conflicting evidence of their acceptance of e-books
  • while users appreciate the convenience and accessibility of e-books, their potential to function as resources in scholarship independent of time and space is more limited than in print
  • studies indicate that search functionality and navigation are critical to approval of e-books
  • international surveys confirm what librarians had suspected: students claim the most important features of ebooks are searching and anytime/anywhere access
  • Levine-Clark's survey of library users found that more than half said the inclusion of a search function is very important; he reported that respondents read portions of e-books and relied on print for deep reading
  • interactive features of e-book platforms (such as search) are the most significant advantage over print
  • Gregory's survey investigating undergraduates' attitudes towards e-books found that students liked convenience, cost, and print-ability of e-books but expressed concern with ergonomics and fatigue from reading on a computer screen for a prolonged time
  • research indicates that students are unaware whether e-books are available at their library
  • ebrary surveys and results of a Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) survey indicate that many students do not know if their libraries offer e-books, nor do they know how or where to access them
  • Levine-Clark reported users' confusion as to what actually constitutes an e-book
  • One of the possible reasons for the slow uptake and acceptance of e-books in academic institutions is a lack of promotion and instruction on the part of libraries
  • although book awareness and use is generally lower than anticipated, many non ebook users express a desire to learn more about e-books
  • strategies identified for promoting e-books include embedding them within online or virtual learning environments such as course websites or course management systems, user training and direct promotion to faculty members

Major Ebook Platforms

eBook Vendors

eBook metrics

  • The Association of Research Libraries New Measures Initiative was set up to deal with the demand for libraries to demonstrate outcomes/impacts in areas important to the institution; of particular interest are electronic metrics which is an effort to explore the feasibility of defining and collecting data on the use and value of electronic resources
  • an international initiative serving librarians, publishers and intermediaries by setting standards that facilitate the recording and reporting of online usage statistics in a consistent, credible and compatible way
  • NISO is the National Information Standards Organization of the United States. COUNTER has worked with NISO on SUSHI (Standardized Usage Harvesting Initiative) for a protocol to facilitate automated harvesting of usage statistics from vendors; it can be found on the NISO/SUSHI website

Major eReaders

Ebook readers are mobile electronic devices that are designed for the purpose of reading ebooks and periodicals. An e-book reader is similar to a limited purpose tablet computer:

Advantages of ebooks & ereaders

  • unlimited 24/7 access; enhances role that scholarly literature plays in research
  • portable; many people can view ebooks (if many simultaneous users are allowed)
  • easily searched and cross-referenced, easier to move and transport, storage space is minimal
  • adjustment of font size, embedded animations, cheaper and more environmentally friendly
  • ebooks take advantage of text-to-speech that allow individuals with disabilities the possibility to hear them
  • relatively cheap because 20% of the price of a regular book represents expenditures in printing, binding and transportation
  • ebooks are not widely used yet and account for less than 1/2 of all literature sales
  • most ebooks are produced at the same time as their print versions but some are only available electronically; paper versions may be offered on-demand

Disadvantages of ebooks & ereaders

  • hardware needed such as a computer, mobile device, e-reader or iPhone
  • printing is a big problem in some platforms; in some cases, it is not even offered; there are practically no pdfs or html versions of ebooks
  • eyestrain and fatigue from reading computer screens for prolonged periods is the most common usability complaint from ebook users; scientifically substantiated by Kang, Wang and Lin
  • low-resolution screens, lack of colour variance, limited number of books and magazines, fragility if dropped, inability to be read in strong or weak lighting
  • greater risk of being stolen than books; e-readers require many materials to be built, their environmental impact is thought to be higher than that of paper
  • constant changes to formats and resolution make them less durable than paper
  • e-readers are dominated by Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle (comes in 2 different sizes); Kindle DX is geared to textbook market
  • relatively low refresh rates (pages are slow to "turn" and magnify)
  • inability to display some colours (generally only 16 shades of gray are available)
  • epaper will soon achieve superb resolution, ultrafast refresh cycles and ability to display colours (Samsung-Fujitsu manufactures different versions of colour epaper; not available yet)
  • it is easy to imagine carrying the daily newspaper in a roll of e-paper that can be updated constantly via wireless (the Kindle already partly does this)
  • e-paper is expensive compared to traditional paper, though many experts feel that its price will decrease
  • Apple is will introducing a colour e-reader (iTablet). Plastic Logic is in the process of creating a large-size e-reader that supports a wide variety of formats

Conversion to ereaders

E-Book Pricing


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