E-books now better than ever: Easy access, clean interface, off-line reading (Part 1)

Back in April, Mary Jackson wrote about significant improvements coming to many of the library’s e-books as a result of EBSCO Publishing’s acquisition of NetLibrary from OCLC in early 2010. These improvements have arrived, and I think they were worth the wait.

Introducing EBSCOhost eBook Collection

The P.H. Welshimer Memorial Library has a substantial collection of over 68,000 e-book titles that migrated from NetLibrary into what is now called EBSCOhost eBook Collection. (The library has e-books from other publishers and vendors–Mary noted we have over 73,000 titles in total. But this is by far our largest collection.) Library users familiar with our EBSCOhost databases (e.g., ATLAS, CINAHL, Education Research Complete, Humanities International Complete, PsycINFO, SocINDEX, etc.) will instantly feel at home navigating this e-book collection, because it actually is another EBSCOhost database. The only difference (though no small difference) is that it searches and displays book content instead of journal article content.

It has been our observation that students tend to prefer using journal articles in research because the search tools connected with accessing articles–especially full-text articles–make this easier, more convenient, and more productive. I believe applying this same capability to books will encourage greater use of this information resource format in student research. (As an aside, students need to appreciate that books and articles are different information ‘animals.’ They serve different functions. It isn’t simply that books are long and articles are short. Rather, books lend themselves to broad and developed treatment of topics, whereas articles tend to be very narrowly focused on a particular aspect of a topic. Because of their format and mandate, articles often do not have the luxury of providing the reader with extensive background or context. Consequently, over-reliance on journal articles can actually hamper a student’s ability to properly understand the development of a topic, its history, or the range of issues at play.)

The “problem” with books isn’t that they’re in print–in fact, students appear to still appreciate and in many cases prefer the printed book format. The “problem” is that print books are not easily searchable (though tables of contents and indexes intend to help). The search tool most strongly associated with finding books is the library catalog. But the catalog doesn’t search the content of a book. The catalog only searches records that point to their associated books (or media). A book record typically includes such things as title, author(s)/editor(s), publication information, subject headings (a controlled system of describing what the book is about), and maybe a table of contents. But not the content itself. This is an inherent limitation of a library catalog (which originated to efficiently organize descriptions of physical, print books). It’s not the catalog’s fault, of course. And for what it is designed to do, a library catalog is still a pretty nifty and powerful tool.

When we enter the digital realm of electronic books where space isn’t an issue–where a catalog record, as it were, can contain not just a “shorthand” description of the book’s contents but literally the entire text of the book–it suddenly becomes possible for a book to be entirely searchable, eliminating the “problem” described above. This is the really powerful capability provided by having our e-books on a platform like EBSCOhost eBook Collection.

In Part 2, I will take you on a quick tour of our EBSCOhost eBook Collection to demonstrate searching, e-book display and navigation, expanded printing, and a new capability for off-line (including to some mobile device) reading.