Law Librarians of New England – Message to eBook Vendors

Submitted by: Lisa Junghahn, Harvard Law Library

On December 7, 2012, the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) met for an annual fall meeting entitled: eBooks Revolution.  There were a variety of timely presentations, including on Generating eBooks and on eBooks, Licensing, and the Future

During the afternoon UnConference: Using eBooks in our Libraries, attendees gathered; identified discussion points; broke into roundtables; and then reported back.  This post is a quick roundup of our collective ebook successes, questions and frustrations.  Our hope is that vendors will read this!

Participants identified eight discussion topics:

  •  Reference/Instruction
  • Faculty
  • Law Firm Desktop Use
  • Patron Interface
  • Getting Patrons to Use / Outreach / Retailing
  • Buying versus Licensing
  • Tech Platforms
  • Updating

A facilitator from each of the eight tables reported out.  Everyone agreed that the library must be leading in their institution on the question of ebooks!  In addition, six interrelated themes emerged:

  • Collection Development & Integration
  • E-Serials & Updating
  • Platforms
  • Technology
  • Culture
  • Publishing

Collection development management and policy questions arose for everyone.  Librarians agreed that ebooks are great for reserves, but cause problems with regard to providing alumni or interlibrary loan access.  Other access issues may relate to multiple users or to the relationship between ebook and platform (think:  iPad).  With ebooks, vendors seem to bundle purchases in an inconsistent and unreliable way; this holds especially true for patron driven acquisition efforts.  Collection librarians are having a hard time figuring out pricing and lending models and whether ebooks should replace print or supplement it.  The issue of integration arose in the context of the catalog.  There are challenges with loading records where there is a lack of compatibility with the integrated library system.  Vendors are inconsistent with themselves and completely inconsistent with each other.  Vendors often do not provide useful user statistics.  On the positive, librarians are embracing the switch to electronic publishing slips for making purchase decisions.

Updating e-serials creates its own brand of problem.  The library no longer has an ability to monitor pricing, claiming, and other cost/quality/check-in control, where end users, like attorneys and faculty, get their updates directly.  This is a major concern.  Relatedly, librarians asked questions like:  Will all publishers make obvious notation of the update in the front pages as they normally do with print analogs.  Librarians noted that subscription ebooks – that is e-resource serials – may pose a problem for the one-use/one-device model.  

Platforms are a problem.  There are constantly changing technologies and interfaces with little consistency.  The platforms are not user friendly, especially for law materials.  Patrons complain about download limitations, and about the lack of annotation tools.  Ebooks fail to replicate what is great about print and also ignore options for improving the experience of reading an ebook. 

Technology and platform issues are highly interrelated.  Across all discussions, folks emphasized the need for libraries to make the technology available and easy to use; libraries should manage technology so patrons have a seamless experience.  Librarians believe there are patrons who will fail to access an ebook due to technology frustrations.  Patrons should be provided with trainings and tutorials.  And to encourage broad adoption of ebook use, it may be smart to start with a few eager patrons and work from there.

Culture came up over and over again as it relates to getting patrons to adopt the use of ebooks.  Firm culture remains somewhat conservative, and lawyers still prefer deskbooks in print.  Faculty want everything both in print and online.  Students editing citations want print, where the ebooks often lack pagination or other citation details.  And for students who want instant (remote) gratification, there remain the above mentioned issues with catalog records and platform variability.  Some law schools are pushing for the use of ebooks for distant learners; considered a cost-saver. 

Publishing came up in the context of faculty support.  Professors are asking to have materials (like course packets) converted into ebook format.  This raises questions on the scope of a library’s role in helping create ebooks.  This is especially important where there may be limited resources for coding and copyright clearance. This same question may shift as self-publishing becomes more common. Librarians are curious to see if self-publishing will ever meet tenure-track standards.  One question was: Whether helping faculty turn materials into ebook format was similar to the role of a university press or other parts of university function – like printing law reviews; and if so, is there a business model to help the library recover epublishing costs. 

Thank you to all who participated in the LLNE meeting; and extra special thanks to the facilitators for the above discussion:  Caroline Walters, Bob DeFabrizio, Anna Lawless, Tim Devin, Mindy Kent, Carli Spina, Michelle Pearse, Catherine Biondo, and Lisa Junghahn.

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