PDF, the Preferred Digital Format for Ebooks

As we purchase digital textbooks and content, one opportunity for improvement that we hear about is the format of the content. Users tend to want the content in true PDF form so that it is easier to find assigned readings and to match cited pages within a source.

It is common for professors to assign readings based on pagination in the print textbook, but the pages don’t always match the pagination in the digital version.

This post provides examples of what the user finds in some of the more common ebook platforms used for textbooks and study aids in academic law libraries.

Aspen Learning Library

With Aspen textbooks and study aids made available via the Aspen Learning Library platform, there are no page numbers listed in the Table of Contents:

If we want to read page 18 in Contracts: Examples & Explanations, here’s the print image:

The digital image has the print page numbers bolded throughout the body of the text:

Carolina Academic Press via OverDrive

Carolina Academic Press digital textbooks and study aids are accessible via the OverDrive platform. The Table of Contents does not list the page numbers.

If we are looking for page 87 in the print book, Disability Law: Cases, Materials, Problems, we see this:

In the digital version, there is a page navigator but the navigator does not match with the pagination in the print. In this image below, it shows page 87-88 in the navigator but the actual page as found in the print text is listed in brackets and the image below is page 29-30.

To find the actual page 87, you have to scroll through pages to find it in the brackets. Here it is on pages 151-152 of the navigator:

West Academic

With West Academic ebooks made available via the West Academic Online Study Aids platform, the page numbers are not listed in the Table of Contents.

If we’re looking for page 18 in the book, A Short & Happy Guide to the Law of Sales, we see this image in print:

Here is the image in digital format. The print page numbers are listed throughout the body of the text as indicated below:

ProQuest EBook Central

With Aspen textbooks made available via the ProQuest Ebook Central platform, the page numbers are listed in the Table of Contents so at least readers can get an idea of where to start. But the text is not a true PDF of the content.

Print image of p.381 of the book, Trial Techniques and Trials:

Digital image of page 381 in ProQuest: The page numbers are bolded in the digital text so the readers have an idea of where they are within the text.

All Ebsco Ebooks

With Aspen textbooks made available via the Ebsco platform, the page numbers are not listed when looking at the Table of Contents, so the reader has to guess where to start reading based on what the subject matter is. Like the ProQuest platform, the text is not a true PDF of the content, but it does contain page numbers bolded within the text.

The hyperlinked chapters in all platforms makes it easy to jump to the content but for assigned reading purposes, having page numbers that correlate with the print versions in the Table of Contents does help. We’ve suggested faculty include the titles of the book sections and subsections when assigning pages to read and we’ve suggested students use the publisher websites to find the Table of Contents for books so that they can identify sections and pages. Ideally, the digital books would be in true PDF format or include pagination for print and digital in the Table of Contents for the digital versions.

Free & Low-Cost Course Materials

At our law library we maintain one print copy of each required textbook for a semester. To meet this service our access services department reviews a list of required textbooks for the coming semester. We check these against what we currently have in our collection and then create a list of textbooks that we need to order to fulfill the remainder of books on the list that we do not have. The number of new books we need to purchase each semester does not change too much, but we have seen the cost of this same number of books creep up over time.

The Education Data Initiative provides eye-opening numbers about how the average cost of textbooks has increased over the years. For example, the article notes that textbook prices increase by 12% with each new edition. Additionally, for a view over time, the cost of textbooks increased by 1,104% between 1977 and 2015. Most professors believe the cost of course materials is a burden to their students. However, not many professors are aware of open educational resources (OER). Both articles provide more statistics and information to boggle the mind, which I will leave to you to further investigate at another time and so I do not totally dampen your day with grim news!

On a more positive note, post conversation with a colleague, I borrowed from and added to a list of free and low-cost course materials she created. With our law faculty currently making decisions for their spring courses, I am sending them a list of free and low-cost materials in hopes it may encourage some of them to consider alternative selections. Below are a few resources I am mentioning to them.

Legal Casebooks & Materials – Casebook Platforms

  • The eLangdell Bookstore. Open-access publishing wing of CALI. Provides free casebooks on many law school topics written by distinguished law school professors and experts.
  • Semaphore Press. Provides a selection of case books on a small but growing number of topics. Digital editions of casebooks are $30, print around $70, depending on the casebook.
  • Open Textbook Library. A curated collection of open textbooks either in use at multiple higher education institutions or “affiliated with a higher education institution, scholarly society, or professional organization.” Some are relisted titles from eLangdell, but others are original titles. Platform allows user reviews that faculty can refer to when considering whether to adopt a textbook.

Individually Published Free & Low-Cost Casebooks

The following is a sampling of casebook titles that are not aggregated on any platform.

Casebook Development Platforms

Faculty and their associated institutions interested in making educational resources (e.g., digital textbooks) available for their students and others can look to publishing platforms that make it easy to create, adapt, and share educational material.

  • Pressbooks. Built on a WordPress framework which simplifies the development of Open Educational Resources (OER) books. Provides a range of textbook design templates and a cover creation tool. Cost is per book, not edition. Includes online hosting and export to PDF or eBook formats.
  • H2O. Developed by Harvard. Platform facilitates creation of casebooks. Authors can import U.S. case law directly into the case casebook and omit text to only the relevant portions. Allows authors to write introductory text or create annotations for each case.

Informing our law faculty about alternatives is essential in addressing the high cost of course materials. We librarians can get that conversation started.

Digital Casebooks

For law school libraries that provide required textbooks as part of their course reserve services, it is a good time to review various features of digital casebooks. While some vendors sell bundled packages of casebooks, this post is about casebooks purchased as individual ebooks for library patron use.

Libraries can purchase Aspen casebooks individually in digital format from ProQuest LibCentral for library patron use. Carolina Academic Press casebooks can be purchased individually in digital format from Matthew Bender and made available for patrons via the LexisNexis Digital Library in the OverDrive platform. West Academic sells digital casebooks as part of a bundled package with other casebooks; libraries cannot purchase individual digital casebooks for library patron use.

The LibCentral and OverDrive platforms allow users to highlight, annotate, and bookmark. Users can highlight in multiple colors which can help with the IRAC process. Both platforms require extra clicks to get to the pagination and it does not necessarily match the print book so professors may need to assign chapters, sections, and subsections to read rather than pages.

A library’s ProQuest LibCentral administrator can set individual ebooks so that they can only be read online, or the administrator can set limited check-out periods. However, ProQuest does not allow for early return so the ebook will be inaccessible to others until the user returns it. Reading online, rather than checking out, makes the book inaccessible to others until the user closes the browser.

OverDrive only allows check-out options, rather than reading online. The minimum check-out period is longer than most academic law libraries would use for course reserve materials. There is an option to return the ebook early. However, it may not be intuitive for users to figure out how to do this.

During the pandemic, students appreciated digital access and usage statistics appear to be greater than historical print circulation statistics, but we will need more time and usage data to determine if students truly prefer digital casebooks.