Getting to grips with developing and managing e-book collections

Getting to grips with developing and managing e-book collections

Another summary of a recent course we’ve attended, contributed by Nick

Like many public libraries, our lending libraries have recently begun to offer an e-book collection, some of which can be downloaded onto e-book readers (other than Kindles), some of which have to be read online.  We are involved with managing the collection.

The course was organised by the UK eInformation Group of CLIP, took place in the Learning Centre at the University of Birmingham and was presented by Chris Armstrong, of Information Automation Limited.

Definitions of e-books

The day began by offering a definition of what is meant by an e-book.  The term is often treated as being synonymous with commercial e-books, downloadable onto handhelds, but here the presenter offered a wider definition –

“Any content that is recognisably book-like, regardless of size, origin or composition, but excluding serial publications, made available for reference or reading on any device (handheld or desk-bound) that includes a screen”.

They may be digitised or born-digital, in a variety of formats (PDF, HTML, ePub), purchased, subscribed to or free, and 95% of them are currently scanned versions of printed books.  So this definition includes not only the kind of mass market e-books that we are now introducing, but the type of “electronic resource” that we have been making available for some time.   

Trends in e-book publishing

A survey of the ways in which e-books are being made available began with publishers themselves. University presses were generally the first, then academic publishers (who may offer a choice of whole books or “granular access” – the option of buying individual chapters), followed by publishers of specialist non-fiction, educational publishers, general non-fiction, fiction and children’s fiction.  Other options include

Aggregators, such as Credo Reference  who offer packaged access to works from different publishers.

Library suppliers, such as Overdrive and Askews, who make more mainstream titles available in what is intended to be a library-friendly way.

Bookshops, such as Campus .

Free e-resources (often made available through libraries). These include Text archives (scanned archives of print works), collections (such as the International Children’s Digital Archives) single works ( City Sites), examples of social publishing and reading (‘Mortal Ghost’).

Library Projects – such as EOD (e-books on demand) .

Interface and reading issues

The second session gave us an opportunity to experiment with a range of e-books, guided by worksheets.  One was a subscription publication produced by a publisher (Oxford Scholarship), three were aggregators (Ovid Kluwer, eBooks at EBSCO and Credo Reference) and five were freely available (City Sites, Open Library, Penguin, International Children’s Digital Library and Spartacus). 

After the session we discussed the ‘interface and reading issues’ that we felt had arisen.  Most had experienced some problems with overly complex navigation and readability when looking at the subscription services – but not so the free services.  The presenter emphasised that when reading non fiction e-books the primary need was to extract brief pieces of information quickly, and that the printed page, in his view, was still the preferred format for extended reading. 

He admitted, though, that “e-fiction does not appear to present any problems for public library users”.

Business models: acquisition

The two main models are purchase and subscription.

The purchase model means that the library has to download the book and find its own way of making it accessible, mounting it on the library server and determining how to lend it.  When a library buys (as opposed to licenses) an e-book the same copyright restrictions apply as to a paper copy.  There are also issues relating to the meaning of “perpetual access”.

Under the subscription model the library pays a hosting fee and lending and use is managed by the provider.  The subscription model is the more library-friendly of the two.


The main point here was that a licence agreement is –

“an invitation to negotiate the terms and conditions … and the use of licences and therefore the introduction of contract law to regulate the use of digital resources, has brought the status of existing copyright exceptions into question.  Contract law means that the parties to a contract are free to negotiate the terms of copyrighted material or even [mistakenly] waive the rights granted to them by copyright law.”

 To avoid this the licensee should press for the conclusion of wording such as

The licence shall be deemed to complement and extend the rights of the Licensee under the national Copyright Act and nothing in this licence shall be construed as diminishing permitted acts or as constituting a waiver of any statutory rights held by the Licensee from time to time under that Act or any amending legislation.”

if it is not already present in the licence.

Facilitating access

The best way of facilitating access remains OPAC (catalogued titles are apparently used 70% more than uncatalogued ones).  Others include providing access from the main library website and Virtual Learning Environments.  Libraries may also want to consider whether they want to make handheld e-book readers available to their readers. 

Promotion and marketing

Some of the more imaginative suggestions for marketing an e-book service included placing stickers on print copies and the use of ‘surrogate e-book’ wobblers.

This course was well-presented and offered a well-informed overview of the general subject, which assumed no previous knowledge or experience, although it was (understandably – I was the only delegate from a public library) not primarily concerned with the practicalities of providing an e-book service (in the usual sense of the term) in a public lending library context.