E-Books: What a Librarian Wants

Many university presses are working hard to figure out how to be effective players in the e-book market. What do academic libraries want when it comes to e-books?

James R. Mouw is the assistant director for technical and electronic resources and the electronic resources officer at the University of Chicago Library. That means he handles “all things digital in terms of the licensing and the contracting side of things,” he said in an interview.

These days, about 20 percent of the current monographs the library adds are digital, according to Mouw. The move toward e-books has been gradual but noticeable and parallels a similar shift in the journals world, he said.

Users have made their own shift toward digital materials. The library recently did a survey of Chicago’s graduate and professional students. Many respondents said they wanted more e-books. “It came up over and over again,” Mouw said. “I don’t think we have good data on how [e-books are] being used. We know they’re being used a lot.”

Mouw laid out a few criteria he wants digital monographs to meet. First, if there are going to be print and digital versions, they should be available at the same time, so the library can decide which best suits its needs. “If we have patron requests, we’re not going to wait three months for an e-book,” he said.

Second, digital monographs need to be made available in a way that allows the library to pick and choose and not make duplicate purchases. “They need to be present in our vendor databases so we can select them, they need to be part of our approval plans, they need to be found, selected, paid for, all through our regular acquisitons streams,” Mouw said. The library’s major book supplier is Yankee Book Peddler. That doesn’t preclude working with other vendors. Would he buy digital monographs from a university-press consortium? “It would depend on the arrangement, but sure,” he said.

Third, the Chicago library strongly prefers to buy digital content that’s guaranteed be permanently accessible, “so we essentially own it,” Mouw said. That means the publisher needs to have a sound archival strategy in place. (Mouw mentioned the Portico model as an example of perpetual archiving.)

Cost, understandably, is important. For Chicago’s purposes, the cost of a digital monograph “needs to be in the ballpark of what the print edition would cost,” Mouw said. “I’m not going to pay 10 times more for an e-book than for a print edition.”

The Chronicle asked about the dreaded DRM, digital-rights management, which allows rights holders to control how much access users have to the material and what they can do with it. How much DRM does Mouw want to see applied to the e-books Chicago acquires? “Ideally none” was his answer.

“I think we tend to view DRM, especially if it’s intrusive, as one of those things that can put a barrier between users and the product,” he explained. “I spend my life trying to take away barriers. So it’s bothersome when it’s intrusive, and that’s something that the publishers need to think about very carefully—what’s appropriate to protect without going too far.”—Jennifer Howard





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