The way to lead with ebooks: Watch the horizon

At this year’s American Library Association Meeting in Las Vegas in late June, I moderated a panel on the future of ebooks. The panelists consisted of publishers, librarians, and writers (see below). The goal: to dare and envision the “next phase” of the ebook game in libraries.

“This isn’t a therapy session,” I remember saying at one point. “It is a brainstorming session,” an attempt to come up with actual solutions to what is broken with ebooks in libraries. I invited the attendees (as well as the panelists) to think as “leaders” rather than “managers” (regardless of their current roles). The leaders among us, not managers, can propel us to the next level. Unlike managers, whose performance is often judged by their ability to watch the bottom line, leaders are more interested in watching the horizon — not in what is attainable today but what is possible tomorrow. We’ve come a long way as an industry, but the ship we’re sailing has long ways to go before it reaches what now appears to be in the far distance.

It was a lively, intense discussion. And an honor for me to be part of it. I’m pasting below Sue Polanka’s take on the panel. It includes links to the slides presented during the panel, my own and Yoav Lorch’s (Total BooX). American Libraries magazine also published a summary of the discussion on its web site: Total BooX Hosts an ALA Panel in Las Vegas: New Ebook Strategies for Librarians and Publishers.


A few weeks ago at the ALA Annual Conference, Mirela Roncevic, an NSR contributing writer, organized a panel discussion about leading with ebooks.  Panelists included:

  • Jamie LaRue – founder of the Douglas County Libraries Model, a library platform for the management of ebooks.
  • Elizabeth Joseph – recently appointed Coordinator of Information and adult services at The Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut
  • Stuart Smith -  Open Road; featured speaker on Huffington Post Live and is a contributor to multiple literacy blogs.
  • Terry Kirchner – Westchester Library System, Terry has taken the digital leap and fully embraces the potential offered by ebooks.
  • Michael Rockliff set out to become a librarian, and is now Director, School and Library Sales & Marketing at Workman Publishing Company, where he remains happily ensconsed.
  • Yoav Lorch is a writer turned entrepreneur and founder of Total BooX, his third startup.

I enjoyed the initial presentations from both Roncevic and Lorch,  They both agreed to share their slides, which are available here:

Mirela led with a discussion on the difference between a manager and a leader. She provided several examples with regard to ebooks.  For instance, managing ebooks might include words like build, limit, copy, accept, control, or take.  But, leading with ebooks would look more like these words:  create, expand, originate, challenge, inspire, and give. This, of course, relates to both publishers and libraries.

Mirela proposed four concepts on how to lead with ebooks:

  • Think like a READER
  • Promote the AUTHOR
  • Value the BOOK
  • Enable READING

Yoav’s presentation (link to slides above) focused on the art of reading, reading without boundaries, reading without restrictions and rules, and so on.  The visuals in his slides say it all – a patron locked out of the convenience store, a car trunk limiting the space one can use, a book with a self-destruct system set to a timer, and an unavailable wikipedia entry due to 39 holds.

Yoav also discussed alternative solutions, the freeing of content, the focus on connecting readers with books and READING, and alternative solutions that could be part of this ecosystem.  He highlighted, of course, the work of TotalBoox and the ability to use data to make decisions.

Some highlights from the panel conversation:

  • The reader views new reading technologies with the experience of old (print) reading. We need to challenge the assumptions of old paradigm and then develop a mature model. We seem to be stuck in the “first wave” of ebook technology. Total Boox is an example of a company in the “second phase,” one who is challenging the old paradigm.
  • Our current tools are not designed for a new generation of readers. They are designed for designers. The expectations of readers often are crushed. We seem to be creating tech barriers instead of removing them.
  • Marketing ebook content is everyone’s task today. How are we mating ebooks to a reader? Authors do this through social media, creating author videos that might show the life of an author, link to reviews, or related websites.
  • A librarian on the panel commented on the Total Boox model in regard to marketing. With the Total Boox model (paying only for pages read), knowing when a person stops reading a book can help us to foster reading. We can put something more exciting on p. 20 if we see a trend that many stop reading at that point.
  • Total Boox representatives didn’t think the use of that data would be so detailed. He felt it would take librarians a while to learn how to use the data provided by Total Boox, but that knowing which chapters are read could help collection development decisions in future.
  • Publishers are flailing about. Use data can help them flail about in a more organized way.
  • Several panelists supported the idea of fragmented reading, which doesn’t require cover to cover reading.
  • Overall, many felt that one model of reading won’t dominate, that there will be varied ways of reading.

Total Boox Launches Free Reading Week in Honor of Libraries

Total Boox

Libraries are used to receiving a lot of love from vendors and publishers during National Library Week, which this year kicks off on April 13th. Many vendors have already made announcements about opening up their content, including ProQuest and Oxford University Press. Total Boox is joining them today with a major announcement.

This is a first, folks: In honor of National Library Week, the ebook vendor will open up its entire collection of ebooks (20,000 and counting) on April 13th and make it accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Although one does not have to be a library patron to take advantage of the free reading, Total Boox is encouraging public librarians in particular to use this opportunity to educate their patrons about ebooks, especially in the communities where libraries cannot afford ebook lending services.

The Free Reading Week site is set up and becomes active April 13th. Users need to sign up for the service on this page using their email and password. They will then be prompted to download the Total Boox free Reader app for one of the three tablets supported: Android, iOS, or Kindle Fire. Books may then be downloaded by visiting

Full press release below.


Media inquiries:


Total Boox Launches Free Reading Week

April 11, 2014 (New York, Tel Aviv) — In honor of National Library Week, Total Boox is making its entire collection of ebooks available for free reading between April 13 and April 20, 2014. Anyone with an Android, IOS, or Kindle Fire tablet in the United States and around the world can download and read over 20,000 quality titles for free at

Public librarians everywhere are invited to take advantage of this unique opportunity to introduce their patrons to ebooks and to encourage those who already read ebooks to explore the plethora of titles available on the Total Boox platform.

“Libraries and reading are inseparable, so it seems fitting to celebrate libraries by inviting people to read,” said Yoav Lorch, Founder and CEO of Total Boox. “Public libraries continue to face many challenges with ebooks. Let’s take our minds off the issues during National Library Week and shift the focus back on reading. We are thrilled to help libraries promote reading in their communities.”

Total Boox’ list of ebooks includes an array of fiction and nonfiction titles bearing imprints of the world’s premier publishers, including O’Reilly, FW Media, Sourcebooks, Other Press, Elsevier, Red Wheel Weiser, Berrett-Koehler, Open-Road, and many more. Various categories are represented, including those in high demand: genre and literary fiction, crafts and self-help, religion and spirituality, health and medicine, business and careers, and more.

Regardless of whether their institutions use the Total Boox service, librarians may freely distribute materials with instructions on how to use the Total Boox platform during National Library Week.

For further inquiries about this and other Total Boox initiatives, contact


About Total Boox, Ltd.

Based in Israel, with representatives in the United States, Total Boox is led by a team of entrepreneurs with backgrounds in publishing, technology, and libraries. With its innovative e-book service, Total Boox aims to change the way libraries provide access to digital content and to eliminate the frustrations they have faced with ebooks: lack of instant access, prohibitive cost, and inferior user experience. Total Boox’ fair-for-all business model puts libraries in the driver seat, allows them to set the annual budget, keep track of patrons’ activities, gain insight into their reading interests, and pay only for the content read. Through the process, publishers and authors are compensated fairly and patrons’ privacy is never compromised. For information on how to implement Total Boox in libraries, visit

eContent Quarterly, Winter 2014: The Needs of the User

ecq_issue002_300Winter 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly is now available. The topic can best be summed up as follows: “The articles in this issue attest to the fact that the needs of the user are the single most important aspect of content development.”

Below is the full Editor’s Introduction as it appears in the issue. Thanks to the librarians, publishers, and ebook vendors who continue to support the mission of the journal. Having just returned from ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia, I was encouraged by the feedback received and inspired by the continued interest from industry professionals to contribute. So keep proposing topics. And keep sharing your stories. More important, keep experimenting no matter the cost. If you are, you are doing your part. — Mirela Roncevic, co-editor

Download this and other issues of eCQ at


From the Editors

Welcome to the second, Winter 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly. Since launching the journal at 2013 ALA in Chicago, our goal has stayed the same: while the library and publishing industries remain in a state of flux, we want to tackle e-content from every angle and through the voices of a variety of information professionals shaping it. This includes public, academic, and school librarians as well as publishers, aggregators, book distributors, and all others in the business of selling e-content to libraries.

While the intention isn’t to center each issue of the journal on one theme, things often serendipitously fall into place, making it hard to ignore the common threads among the articles. So while Issue 1 offered four articles on four distinct topics by four individuals with varied backgrounds—an experienced book vendor, a gadget-loving academic librarian, a metadata specialist, and a K–12 educator and a children’s librarian—the issue’s overarching theme was the importance of partnerships. Issue 2 is as eclectic but it, too, echoes a subject that rises to the top: the needs of the user.

In the opening article, Lura Sanborn provides a sweeping overview of the digital market and the reasons why embracing a buildingless library makes sense for every institution not “there” yet. With an “I’ve made up my mind” attitude toward e-only collections, Sanborn addresses “the sheer magic digital collections bring to the research environment,” encouraging librarians to consider moving “beyond the building.” And Sanborn’s actions speak as loud as her words: at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, she replaced the Faculty Room Library (after it was shut down) with a Faculty Digital Library (with the help of the LibGuides software), which led to an even more comprehensive and tightly welded collection.

While most articles featured in the journal are narrative-driven and tell stories to inspire and instruct, general overviews such as Sanborn’s are just as important. As we get tangled up in in-depth discussions about e-content—replete with words and phrases that often have entirely different meanings outside the confines of our professional worlds—we shouldn’t forget that a significant number of information professionals still needs this type of encouragement and sobering reminders of why their resistance (or inability) to go digital is only hurting them and those they serve. “I will happily push our photocopier into the pond if it means I can buy the last three years of Harvard University Press’s titles in e-format,” proclaims Sanborn, rightfully asking: “When did the academic library become all things for all people: copy center, university press, maker space, snack bar, and study center?”

What follows Sanborn’s overview are three articles discussing, in different ways and within very different cultures, the importance of the user in the process of creating as well as implementing e-content. John G. Dove, currently senior publisher at Credo Reference, shares perspectives of three distinct “e-reference” companies catering to libraries. Dove has extensive experience in technology businesses, including e-publishing and online education, but it is his fascination with the purpose of the reference book that has informed much of his research in recent years and has contributed to solidifying the Credo brand in library circles. Quoting the first sentence of the preface to the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dove reminds us that no matter what type of content we are aggregating online, we must always pay close attention to the utility of the published work.

And to be successful at transforming the purpose of a published work online, we must put the user at the center of design. Dove profiles three companies whose products represent user-centered approaches to designing online reference platforms, including Credo Reference, iFactory, and Reverb, and shares insight from their leaders.

The remaining two articles may be defined as informal (but insightful) e-content case studies, in which two academic librarians and one school librarian share the initiatives they’ve taken at their institutions to bring e-books to their users. We have strong, personal interests in these two stories, since we attended the two schools during our formative (alas, predigital) years: Mirela attended New York University (NYU), both undergraduate and graduate, while Sue is a graduate of the Mother of Mercy High School (MMHS) in Cincinnati.

Angela M. Carreño and Bill Maltarich, both involved with expanding NYU’s e-collections, share their institution’s much-admired, dual-hosted e-book strategy and describe each of its three imperatives—Aggregation, Integration, and Cooperation—in great detail and with realistic expectations for the future. Their goal: to highlight what has worked well and what hasn’t, in the hope of helping others avoid the pitfalls NYU faced along the way. What resonates throughout, among other things, is the librarians’ keen awareness of the users’ needs and the insistence on giving them as many “points of entry” into the content as possible. While NYU’s e-book strategy has been quite successful and has helped serve the needs of what has become a Global Network University requiring a true “global” library, Carreño and Maltarich remind us that the strategy remains and will likely remain a work in progress.

Linda Behen of MMHS also points to the constancy of change in her own story: “At the time this article is published,” she says “it’s to be assumed that we’ve already made some changes to our program.” She describes her school’s approach as “not necessarily original,” but its combination of various tools and strategies make it unique. MMHS takes into consideration that there is no single device or method that can solve every information need. This is why its students have access to both a Mac and a PC lab, a 1:1 iPad program, a BYOD (Buy Your Own Device) program, library loaner laptops, Kindles, and more. “Individual preferences change as an assignment or informational need changes,” says Behen, “and the library’s goal is to satisfy that momentary need, and more importantly, to develop students into curious, savvy information literate users who confidently approach, and perhaps even embrace, the hunt for useful and reliable information.”

Regardless of what type of library user we may be profiling—be they experienced researchers using sophisticated reference products, undergraduates attending a “global” university, or high school students in the Midwest with varied financial backgrounds—placing their distinct, and constantly evolving, needs at the center of product development (as described in Dove’s article) as well as a library’s e-content strategy (as described in NYU and MMHS stories), is paramount. The articles in this issue attest to the fact that the needs of the user are the single most important aspect of content development.

E-Content in Libraries: 2013 in Review (Trends, Reflections, Highlights)

By Mirela Roncevic 

2013 in reviewRe-reading the introduction to the NSR “year in review” article from last year makes it tempting to cut and paste parts of the post from 12 months ago into this one. Looking back at how e-content in libraries—in all its incarnations—continued to evolve throughout 2013, it becomes obvious that 2013 carried on the legacy of the years past. Those who created, reviewed, sold, and managed e-content for libraries witnessed a kind of solidification (rather than reinvention) of a number of initiatives and products that were introduced in 2011 and 2012. In many ways, 2013 was less about changing the game and more about playing it well. And since many of last year’s observations still hold true, some cutting-and-pasting is in order:

  • new alliances were formed among both publishers and vendors”
  • more mergers took place”
  • open access initiatives showed no signs of slowing down”
  • “those of us keeping up with e-content were reminded that emerging technological advances continued to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible only a year before”
  • “our industry was challenged to rethink its own expectations about digital library environments but also dare to aim higher


2013 Trends

Based on the initiatives brought to us by the companies whose products are listed below (see 2013 Highlights), we may draw some conclusions about the e-content trends likely to dominate 2014:

Self-publishing continues to soar — According to a recent analysis of US ISBN data by Bowker, the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011 and 422 percent over 2007. Ebooks comprised 40 percent of the ISBNs that were self-published in 2012, up from just 11 percent in 2007. Smashwords conducted a study in 2013 to analyze self-published book sales data and also released its key findings in an effort to help authors and publishers sell more ebooks.

Kids’ reading of ebooks is growing — Scholastic’s study on kids’ reading in the digial age (Kids & Family Reading Report) found that kids’ reading of ebooks has nearly doubled since 2010. According to the findings, the percentage of children who have read an ebook has almost doubled since 2010 (25% vs. 46%); 75 percent of kids who have read an ebook are reading ebooks at home; 72 percent of parents are interested in having their child read ebooks; and half of children age nine-17 said they would read more books for fun if they had greater access to ebooks (a 50 percent increase since 2010).

All of this is great news for K-12 publishers rushing (justifiably) to “animate” their front- and backlist and breathe new life into existing content via interactive platforms and e-learning resources. Leaders on the K-12 publishing side include Scholastic, of course, as well as Rosen Publishing.

Lines are blurring as vendor roles are expanding — As everyone in the market of producing and selling e-content to libraries expands their existing lines of services, librarians are left with the daunting task of keeping up with who does what. Long gone are the days when publishers simply published books and distributors brought them to libraries. The picture in 2013 is complex and it looks something like this:

  • major library aggregators are becoming publishers (think EBSCO acquiring publishers like Wilson and Salem Press)
  • major academic publishers are becoming sources of free and Open Access books (think DeGruyter)
  • traditional book distributors are morphing into ebook lending services (think Baker & Taylor)
  • ebook lending services are embracing new leasing models by taking clues from established aggregators (think 3M’s interest in patron-driven purchasing)
  • self-publishing services are providing content to libraries (think Smashwords’ LibraryDirect service )
  • non-profit online repositories are becoming publishers (think Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Press)
  • e-retailers are becoming publishers (think Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing) as well as online reading communities (think Amazon acquiring GoodReads)
  • K-12 publishers are becoming “media” companies (think Rosen’s new suite of interactive learning resources)

Public libraries are showing more interest in publishing as well as owning content — If various organizations with no background in publishing are becoming publishers, shouldn’t libraries—a fertile ground for cultivating authors, many would argue—reconsider their roles in the 21st century? In ALA’s June 2013 E-Content Digital Supplement, Jamie La Rue proposed that libraries consider their potential as future publishers of locally-grown content. ”There are several reasons why public libraries might want to move in this direction,” wrote La Rue, “Once a library invests in the infrastructure to manage ebooks directly from publishers, it finds that the same infrastructure allows it to be a publisher.”

Back in September La Rue’s Douglas County Libraries (DCL) announced the debut of The Wire: A Writer’s Resource, a blog that provides information for aspiring authors to write, publish, and find markets for their books. And just a couple of weeks ago, news broke that DCL and Colorado Library Consortium were awarded an LSTA grant of over $200,000 for their ”eVoke 2.0: Colorado Statewide eBook Pilot Project: proposal. The goal of the project is to develop an alpha stage end-to-end cloud e-content infrastructure that will provide e-content purchasing and lending capabilities to Colorado libraries. This again reaffirms DCL’s resolve to own the content purchased.

Integration of multi-media components is the next frontier —  This is a no-brainer. Many studies, surveys, and articles have pointed to the fact that digital reading is, at its best, interactive reading. This explains why a number of vendors is developing digitally-born interactive content inviting students and researchers to engage in a new kind of learning: watching and listening while reading. There is also a growing interest in all things digital audiobooks. Baker & Taylor has made great strides on this front, enabling library patrons to borrow and download digital audiobooks directly to their Apple and Android mobile devices.

Big “multi-media” stories of 2013 included Credo releasing its very first all-video collection and, of course, OverDrive—still the biggest force to be reckoned with in the land of ebook lending services—announced back in January that its platform would be enhanced with streaming video and audio technology; the service went live last month.

Content still wants to be free (to the user) — Well, clearly it does. Because we keep getting more free access to it all the time, from both expected sources like Open Access initiatives UnGlue.It and Knowledge Unlatched and the newly launched Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and the less likely sources like for-profit academic publishers.

The biggest confirmation of the value of free access in the 21st century came just last month when the long-running Google Books lawsuit (which accused Google of copying millions of books without permission) was dismissed. “In my view,” said U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, ,”Google Books provides significant public benefits…Indeed, all society benefits.”

Partnerships continue to thrive – An industry leader once said at a conference, “competitors are just companies you haven’t figured out how to partner with yet.” Judging from the staggering number of partnerships that were announced in 2013, it seems that the key players in the e-content ecosystem are quickly realizing the value of partnering with those that can enhance their offerings as well as those who are directly competing with their products. Gale (part of Cengage Learning), for example, has made 2013 the year of partnerships with institutions as revered as The National Geographic, the Smithsonian, and the Associated Press.

University presses continued to join forces in an effort to bring even more monographic content to digital library collections, with four main initiatives still going strong (including those by Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, JStor, and ProjectMUSE).

Then there are deals more complex than partnerships, and we’ve come to identify them as mergers or acquisitions. The year kicked off with a major announcement from ProQuest that it was acquiring the long-time competitor to ebrary: EBL. “A major reason ProQuest wished to acquire EBL was to extend their innovative business models, including the patent-protected Non-Linear Lending (NLL) model and chapter-level purchasing, said Kevin Sayar, Senior Vice President, ProQuest Workflow Solutions, at the time the announcement was first made.

Trade publishers are coming around – The Big Six (or Five) are starting to ease the restrictions imposed on libraries lending ebooks to patrons. Looking back into the not-so-distant past, it’s clear that the trade side has come a long way. As of late 2013, every major trade publisher has some deal in place helping libraries bring ebook versions of popular titles to patrons. Simon & Schuster, the last remaining holdout among the Big Six (or Five), is now undergoing a pilot program with several libraries in New York; Random House recently announced a big partnership with both Follett and MyiLibrary; Harlequin titles are now available via MyiLibrary; Macmillan added 11,000 ebooks to Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 platform in late 2013; and back in April, Penguin removed the six-month embrago on ebook titles licensed to libraries, now offering new titles simultaneously in both print and electronic formats.

Academic publishers are recognizing the value of e-learning tools – Just like K-12 publishers are recognizing the value of engaging young learners with interactive content, academic publishers continue to recognize the value in integrating e-learning tools into their resources to enhance the research experience for all involved. This no longer implies merely embedding citation tools and personalization features. It means working with academic institutions to connect directly to the curriculum; providing  professors with the tools to create their own textbooks; embedding teaching tools that allow educators to monitor student progress; supplementing video lectures with various academic titles; and more. SAGE’s recent partnership with Coursera, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, is a leading example of an established academic publisher stepping outside its comfort zone to make their resources available to millions of students using MOOCs.

2013 Reflections 

As we take the time to review the products introduced (or re-introduced) in 2013, now is the time to consider what the current e-content landscape reflects. Here are some (random) thoughts:

  • While we marvel at the opportunities afforded to us by technology, are we as an industry (which includes the vast ecosystem of publishers, aggregators, distributors, and libraries) equally appreciative of the fact that ebooks are still (just) books that need to be written first – and written well?
  • While we welcome the expansion of publishing tools making it possible for undiscovered talent to get noticed, are we willing to give up the elaborate editorial practices that have existed for decades to deliver to us the content worthy of preserving? Do we understand the implications of what happens when we minimize or abandon them? Do we recognize that this is already happening?
  • Are we still impressed by the platforms housing hundreds of thousands of ebooks and journals or are we perhaps getting closer to wanting platforms that simply cost less, don’t entail elaborate business models, and include a sufficient (rather than overwhelming) number of titles that count? If so, who decides what counts?
  • Speaking of business models, while we recognize the need to experiment and learn through trial and error, are we at least moving closer to how we want to purchase e-content in the future? Or are we rowing round in circles? If we had to make one choice right now, would we own or lease?
  • While we can all agree that libraries should buy and circulate content that is used and read above all else, why are many of us not satisfied with the notion that library collections–public and academic–are to be built based on random patron interest? With all due respect to our patrons (lay readers and students alike), are we to no longer value the competence of trained experts? Which begs the question: in this brave new world, do we still value a good review?
  • Lastly, in this ecosystem where “everyone is doing everything,” are we still placing quality of content at the top of our list of priorities? When we create e-content, do we challenge ourselves to make every word count? When we buy e-content, are we still tempted to get more bang for the buck?

We are likely to hear a multitude of opposing viewpoints when such questions are asked at conferences and webinars, but we should continue asking them, and asking them often, as every new opportunity is bound to create a unique new challenge. Consider, for example, if the very thing alluring us today–the pursuit of quantity–becomes the great obstacle in the years to come.

2013 Highlights

Since emerging technologies make it possible for everyone to do everything, the A-Z listing of the companies, brands, and institutions that transformed and revamped e-content in 2013 purposefully incorporates the familiar with the lesser-known, the big with the small, the for-profit with the non-profit, the traditional with the alternative, and the established with the emerging. This egalitarian approach to presenting e-content would not have made as much sense a few years ago, but it seems appropriate today. More to the point: it seems necessary. The most powerful aspect of technology is the way in which it can make a single person’s effort produce as much impact as that of an entire organization. The goal here is to highlight that possibility as much as possible.

The links in each annotation below take you (for the most part) to previous No Shelf Required postings highlighting the press releases received from these content providers all throughout 2013. The list does not include all of the initiatives that occurred at such organizations. It does, however, include the most relevant. If you take the time to go through it, you will likely be caught up with the state of e-content in libraries as of this December.

Apologies in advance to the companies not included who have made significant announcements in 2013. If there is a glaring omission, don’t hesitate to get in touch.





Baker and Taylor



  • Brill Open now includes ebooks(offering the authors the choice to make their research freely accessible online in exchange for a Publication Charge; all Brill Open book titles are listed in the DOAB, which Brill has been sponsoring for some time)


De Gruyter

Duke University Press

  • Duke University Press ebooks to move to HighWire (beginning with the 2014 collection, e-Duke Books, an annual collection of at least 100 new ebooks published by the university press and more than 1500 backlist titles, will move to HighWire’s Open Platform and the newly adopted Folio e-book solution)

 DPLA (Digital Public Library of America)




  • Elsevier Acquires Mendeley (a London-based company that operates a global research management and collaboration platform; researchers worldwide use Mendeley’s tools to manage and annotate documents, create citations and bibliographies, collaborate on research projects and network with academics)


Gale (Cengage Learning)

Google Books

  • Google Books prevails, lawsuit dismissed (in November 2013, Google won dismissal of a long-running lawsuit by authors accusing Google of copying millions of books without permission; the decision, if it survives an expected appeal, would let Google continue expanding the online library; in the words of James Grimmelmann, University of Maryland intellectual property law professor, “this is a good ruling for libraries and researchers, because the opinion recognizes the public benefit of making books available)

 Harvard University Press

  • HUP partners with De Gruyter to re-release 2800 titles (to celebrate its 100th anniversary, HUP is now working with De Gruyter to make all of the books published since its founding available for sale worldwide; the titles will be offered in ten separate subject-area packages that reflect the spectrum of the press’s catalog)



  • Highwire launches Folio, a new ebook product (a flexible ebook solution designed for publishers to rapidly bring their books online; key components include a publisher home page, an informative book landing page, and an ereader view)


Internet Archive

Knowledge Unlatched

  • Knowledge Unlatched announces pilot collection, libraries needed (seen as the first step in creating a sustainable route to Open Access for a large number of scholarly books; if at least 200 libraries sign up for the collection by end of January 2014, 28 new Humanities and Social Science books will be made free on an Open Access basis; the books are published by such publishers as Brill, Cambridge University Press, De Gruyter, and Duke University Press; view the collection here)


  • MacMillan opens ebook backlist to libraries via Axis 360 (including 11,000 ebooks made available to all public libraries using the Axis 360 digital media platform; in early 2013 Macmillan started a public library e-lending program with a select group of backlist titles from its Minotaur Books mystery and crime fiction imporint)



Oxford University Press



  • Penguin removes 6 month embargo for libraries (in April the publisher removed the six-month embargo on ebook titles licensed to libraries and now offers new titles immediately after they are released in the consumer market; other limitations are also expected to also be removed, including a one-year expiration date on ebooks licensed to libraries)


Rosen Publishing

Safari Books

 SAGE Publications


  • SciELO open access ebooks, an interview with Nicholas Cop (SciELO began in 1998 as an Open Access academic e-journal operation; today it’s known for indexing and publishing over 1000 peer-reviewed OA academic journals from Latin American, Spain, Portugal, and South Africa; ebook operation began in 2012 but was officially announced to the international community in the spring of 2013)

Simon & Schuster

  • releases two more free ebooks (a crowdfunding site that lets book lovers pay authors and publishers to make their already-published books free to the world under a Creative Commons license; the two ebooks included Dennis Weiser’s erotic sci-fi thriller The Third Awakening and Lauren Pressley’s So You Want To Be a Librarian)
  • and Open Book Publishers launch new campaign (This is the second campaign from Open Book Publishers, who released the Unglued Ebook of Oral Literature in Africa by Ruth Finnegan in September 2012)
  • De Gruyter and partner to expand open access titles (see De Gruyter entry above)
  • 2.0: Buy to Unglue (from an email: To showcase the work we’ve done, we’ve launched a “buy to unglue” campaign for a public domain ebook, Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland You can buy an ebook and see the ungluing date change. You can join our test library, and ask to borrow a book. Once you’ve joined a library, you can buy ebooks you can share with the library…Now that we can show everyone how “buy to unglue” is going to work, we want to talk with publishers, authors, and libraries that feel ready to take the next step into the ebook future.”)


  • Ten publishers add eBook metadata to WorldCat (OCLC’s new agreement with leading publishers to add more ebook metadata to WorldCat, including Cambridge University Press, Chandos Publishing, Edward Elgar Publishing, World Scientific Publishing, and several others)
  • WorldCat database reaches 2 billion holdings (announced in May 2013; Sue Polanka noted in a post, “I am simply amazed at the growth of this database over the years…[it] has been a great resource for discovering content and extending a library’s collection through interlibrary loan service.”)


Mirela Roncevic is an independent writer, editor, and content developer recognized for spearheading a number of initiatives in the publishing and LIS field, including the coverage of digital content in Library Journal. She has also managed publications of LIS books and newsletters and developed online resources for librarians, including The Library Grants Center. At the forefront of the e-book revolution since its infancy, she managed Library Journal‘s first e-book reviews column and is a consultant to e-content producers, advising them on positioning their products in libraries while working closely with information professionals. She is the author of ALA TechSource’s 2013 Library Technology Report on e-book platforms, co-editor of ALA’s new journal, eContent Quarterly, and instructor of the popular Ebooks: What Libraries Need To Know Now and for the Future ALA course. Mirela speaks and writes on the state of publishing and digital content in the U.S. and beyond. Follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic.

For the Love of the Written Word

“By looking at how ebooks are produced and distributed to libraries, we can take clues from what the larger book industry has come to value…”

Back at the beginning of summer 2013, I wrote an article about ebooks as a guest for Sue Polanka’s EbONLINE Searcherook Buzz column in Information Today‘s ONLINE Searcher. The article was published in September and has only been available to subscribers. It is probably the most important thing I’ve written. Re-reading it now, I am realizing I need to revisit and expand it significantly in 2014, as I have a lot more to say on the topic.

It’s taken me a long time to get to a point where I can say, with confidence, what bugs me about our industry as it migrates to digital. And that’s what this article is about.

Since launching my business in 2010, I have walked through the publishing and LIS field as an outsider, working on various projects simultaneously. I have built e-resources from scratch, launched book series and newsletters, ran Advisory Boards, published book-length reports, and taught classes on ebooks.

Some endeavors have been more successful than others. Some have been more lucrative than others. But at the end of each, the same questions persisted: Why is it that those with the most intimate relationship with the content–the creators–continue to get the shortest end of the stick regardless of the size of the organization, its corporate culture, financial stability, or even its reputation in libraries?

I’ll let the article take it from here [reprinted with permission and shared with ALA's Ebooks class in September 2013]:

For the Love of the Written Word

By Mirela Roncevic

I have noticed lately that, in a number of “call to action” articles, industry leaders point to the often unproductive nature of the dialog among vendors and librarians. Attend a panel discussion or participate in a webinar, and you are bound to encounter a debate about the pitfalls of ebook business models, limitations imposed by lending services, staggeringly high cost of subscriptions, and the libraries’ struggles to keep up with both supply and demand in the face of dwindling budgets.

Jamie LaRue correctly noted that there is a lot of “whining” going on in the industry. He expanded on this during an episode of American Libraries Live, “The Present and Future of E-Books” (April 18, 2013). His proposal that we all start walking in each other’s shoes in hopes of bringing us closer to “negotiations” was dead on. In that spirit of comradery and in the role of an advocate for those of us with the most intimate relationship with the content itself—authors and editors—I want to shed light here on the inconvenient truth behind what I believe has led to our dissatisfaction with ebooks. And it has to do with our cooperative devaluation of the most important skills the publishing industry has to offer—writing and editing.

Ebooks have failed us on many of their promises, and there are as many reasons why as there are professionals in this industry—and plenty of blame to go around, too. We keep asking: How did we end up with platforms housing hundreds of thousands of ebooks? Does it really make sense to let patrons “drive” library sales? Should we be impressed by sheer vastness of the ebook landscape? Looking back, it seems as if we had collectively decided in those early days of econtent that “bigger” and “complicated” would be better than “smaller” and “simple.”

But what does all this have to do with the devalued work of writers and editors? Everything. By devaluing the work of those who shape the content, we are undermining long-term sustainability of the products offered to libraries as well as librarians’ efforts to do their jobs properly. We devalue the work of writers and editors by removing or reducing laborious editorial practices from the picture, which helps products get bigger faster, and by performing editorial work under unfavorable-to-writers circumstances.


By looking at how ebooks are produced and distributed to libraries, we can take clues from what the larger book industry has come to value, which doesn’t necessarily represent our individual views. We have all cooperated in making these values integral to what has taken center stage in epublishing today. And it is because of these values that the contribution of those without whom high-quality content wouldn’t exist is worth alarmingly little. These values have long been in the making—well before the advent of ebooks—but they seem more visible today:

  • Quantity over Quality — Products housing large quantities of ebooks are generally considered superior, regardless of library market, and are often touted as “leading” and “top.” With the advent of self-publishing tools, smaller vendors play “catch-up” by agreeing to distribute large quantities of un-vetted or minimally vetted self-published literature to appear more competitive. Further, in an effort to help librarians promote “subject collections” (on the academic end) and “Reader’s Advisory” (on the public end), content that is only loosely connected is bundled and promoted as comparable.
  • Cherry-picking over Curation — Ebook platforms are commonly marketed as “selection tools,” allowing librarians to pick titles based on their need, but this is a superficial process that affords little or no time for actual curation, owing in part to the overwhelming number of ebooks within each product. Further, for many vendors—particularly those developing research products—editorial practices are not the backbone of their business, so their content-development processes don’t involve organic editorial curation.
  • Technology over Human Creation — Stronger emphasis is placed on the products’ technological capabilities, particularly features and functionalities, than on ebook platforms’ creative components. Most companies behind such products—excluding traditional publishers—are “technology” companies with little or no background in the book business and, consequently, with very few (if any) professionally trained editors on staff familiar with the books’ contents, its authors, and subjects.


Some librarians refer to publishers as mere “middlemen” between the creator and the consumer. Such claims are only partially valid and lead us to that place of misunderstanding again. Traditional publishing houses must be given proper credit for the role they’ve played in content creation. Referring to them as mere “middlemen” devalues the editorial practices—still the backbone of their business— that have ensured the titles sold to libraries are held to the highest standards. In an age when epublishing tools are luring us into believing that we can all publish anything we want, it is essential that librarians stay aware of this.

Distributors, wholesalers, aggregators, and ebook lending services are the “middlemen.” So are online retailers, software companies producing ereading devices, and various start-ups marketing self-publishing tools. Publishers, however, don’t merely stand in the “middle” between the writer and the reader. Unlike art galleries that simply display someone else’s work, publishers must “finish” the work before releasing it for mass consumption, a process involving the skills of more than one person.

When librarians have a clear understanding of what truly stands between the writer and reader—acknowledging along the way the undervalued input of editors—they will be better able to influence the quality of the products sold to them. It is their responsibility, I believe, to demand the highest editorial standards of every company entering this field.


Very few endeavors are as demanding as writing. It is a complex, chaotic, and volatile process, full of self-doubt and dissuasion. At its best, writing a book calls for an intimate relationship between the original creator (author) and the secondary creator (editor), whose “invisible art of editing” involves far more than grammatical input. “Reactive” editors sort through myriad manuscripts to discern what is publishable (trade publishing), while “proactive” ones relentlessly pursue qualified individuals to contribute (academic publishing). Then there is that far more subtle job of turning an ordinary sentence into an extraordinary one—that special skill, which takes years to master, to pick the right word and put it in the right place.

Editors also perform a numbing amount of reading and rereading on a daily basis. Their job is to make the writers sound more coherent, and this isn’t guaranteed by the writers’ educational background or expertise. In the world of self-publishing, this relationship disappears because self-publishing “services” lack the infrastructure designed to employ professional editors. And their cultures are also not designed to nurture the slow-burn type of relationship between the author and editor. Instead, they provide copyediting often masked as editorial services for which authors pay extra. Yet, without this delicate author/editor relationship, the end result is almost always inferior.


But forgoing editorial practices to save money and time isn’t the only reason why epublishing—in all its variations— keeps the wrong values alive. As mentioned already, the other has to do with us accepting to write and produce content without proper compensation. This is especially true in academic and professional publishing. It is mind-boggling how we have fed the “monster” for decades by writing for every reason but a decent paycheck.

We write for prestige, for recognition, exposure, influence, and, my favorite, we write for the love of the written word. I can’t count the times I heard this uttered by a fellow writer or editor—even librarians (who are no strangers to contributing to professional literature). We help build encyclopedias. We contribute to journals and book series. We write reviews. And we accept the idea that receiving a byline, a short biography, or an “honorarium” is sufficient compensation.

Consider this: If in the world of ebooks—where production processes have already been shortened due to technological advances and editorial practices are kept to a bare minimum (if at all present)—our willingness to “sell” our “written word” cheap continues, along with the willingness of self-published authors to bypass editorial input, what stands in the way of any vendor from growing another monster ebook platform housing far more content than anyone needs or wants?

What if we started valuing what we wrote and how we wrote it to the point at which everyone out there “packaging” our knowledge had to slow down because

  • they would suddenly need a lot more funds to pay the content creators
  • they would need more time to publish the content that undergoes extensive revisions and
  • they would be held accountable by librarians purchasing the content, who would not be impressed by the size of each new collection but by its relevance and quality

What if librarians showed little interest in wholesale approach to knowledge management and instead only wanted to “play” with the vendors who brought them awesome books again?


In an American Libraries’ E-Content Supplement (June 2013), La Rue proposed that libraries consider their potential as future publishers of locally-grown content. After all, if everyone else can now call themselves publishers—including online retail stores and book distributors—why can’t libraries take advantage of epublishing tools? I see libraries as fertile ground for cultivating authors, both commercial and academic. I can’t think of better compatriots to editors and writers than librarians. But are libraries willing to compensate properly those brought on board to cultivate the content? Will they have the resources to “protect” the quality of content by hiring qualified editors to make it publishable in the first place? Or will they only be able to accept the efforts of those willing to pitch in on a voluntary basis?

I am not naive about the financial difficulties libraries face to stay afloat—particularly in the public sector—and I am fully aware of the pressure they are under. Having worked with librarians through my entire editorial career, I have walked in their shoes for more than a mile. But I will challenge any suggestion that puts professional writers and editors in an even more vulnerable position than they already find themselves in. Instead, I propose we develop ways in which we all can join forces—publishers, vendors and librarians—to ensure that content creation rather than content management takes center stage again. I propose we strive to reach a point at which the pursuit of quality is the value every ebook product reflects, whoever is behind it.

Let’s start by considering these new rules:

For public libraries:

  • Retail stores should give readers what they want; libraries should give them what is good.
  • Reader’s Advisory and collection development are about deep knowledge of literature, not recommendations based on loosely-related topics generated by algorithms.
  • Ebook lending services are valued not by the enormity of their collections but by the quality of the materials.
  • Publishing houses that nurture authors and support extensive editorial practices are considered the only trusted sources of highest-quality content.
  • The work of editors and writers is compensated fairly.

For academic libraries:

  • Ebook platforms are valued not by the enormity of their collections but by the quality of the materials and their relevance to scholars and students.
  • Up-to-the minute scholarship, now available via epublishing tools allowing scholars to share their work “faster,” is only acceptable if it undergoes proper editorial scrutiny.
  • Peer-reviewing  does not replace editorial contribution and necessary revisions.
  • Subject specialists are not always qualified to act as editors; publishers that promote them as sole editors of essay collections are not real publishers.
  • The work of editors and writers is compensated fairly.

Recently, I came across a quote from Max Frisch’s novel Homo Faber (Abelard-Schuman,1957), describing the views of the main characters, Walter Faber and Hanna Landsberg, that struck a chord: “Technology, for the protagonist, is the knack of so arranging the world that one does not have to experience it. Life, she says, is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology.”

Technology has helped us manage content in ways we couldn’t imagine possible only a decade ago. But technology cannot help us create content or arrange it so that we (and future generations of readers) can experience it. Mastering what the technology cannot is a daunting task—with a whole lot of reading, revising, and rethinking involved—but I assure you: the editors and writers among us are up for the challenge.


Mirela Roncevic ( is an independent content developer and editorial consultant who has spearheaded a range of initiatives in the LIS field. She is co-editor of ALA’s new journal, eContent Quarterly, author of Ebook Platforms for Libraries (ALA Editions, 2013), and managing editor of a forthcoming LIS book series. Prior to this, she was Senior Editor at Library Journal, where she oversaw coverage of electronic resources and assigned books for review in the humanities. Follow her on Twitter at @MirelaRoncevic.

eContent Quarterly launches: Editors share Issue 1 Contents and Notes

ECQ_001_subscrip_300eContent Quarterly’s First (Fall 2013) Issue is now live; Mirela and Sue share their introduction to give readers a sense of the journal’s scope and its overall mission:

Welcome to the first, Fall 2013 issue of eContent Quarterly. As we promised in the Preview issue—which launched at the ALA conference in Chicago this past summer—our goal is to tackle e-content from every conceivable angle and through the voices of a variety of information professionals shaping the e-content landscape, including public, academic and school librarians as well as publishers, aggregators, distributors and others catering to libraries.

As YBP’s Michael Zeoli observes in the opening piece on supplying and collecting books in academic libraries, we are all guilty of “viewing the circumstances of our sectors in isolation, as though they existed separately from the others, so not always appreciating the fact that we share in the same travails and potential rewards.” By bringing together the voices of those who produce content on the one end and manage it on the other, this issue of eCQ reminds us that no player in the e-content ecosystem—be they for-profit corporations or non-profit institutions—can master “the digital shift” single-handedly. Drawing on his vast experience as a content developer, Zeoli gives an “insider’s view” on the complex nature of publisher-aggregator-library relationships, calling for less isolationism and more partnerships among all parties. He also shares some eye-opening figures about the impact of E on P in relation to sales, content availability and overall revenues.

Zeoli’s sentiments about the importance of collaboration reverberate through the closing piece as well, in which librarians Carisa Kluver and Cen Campbell insist that despite technological advances, no one gets the digital shift completely: “This transition is like nothing we have experienced in recent human history, and none of us has a road map. Together, however, we can build something that can evolve over time.” Kluver and Campbell, founders of and, respectively, tell the stories of how they created the two sites to help guide librarians and parents through the complex universe of children’s apps, drawing our attention to the importance of unbiased reviews in the process but also pointing to the new opportunities for K-12 librarians to use their skills and guide parents and teachers to the best sources.

The two middle pieces serve as educational overviews of key topics in e-content discussions these days: formats and metadata. Dixie State University’s John Burns provides a detailed overview of the most prevalent e-book formats, from both the perspectives of a passionate consumer of gadgets—the badge he wears proudly—and of an informed professional with varied library experience. If you have been looking for a summary of the pros and cons of e-book formats as they relate to libraries, look no further. Burns’ piece paints a clear picture of what is out there, what is here to stay and what formats may not be around much longer.

Renee Register’s  piece on metadata is another introductory text on what metadata is and how it is used by publishers, aggregators and libraries. Given the topic’s complexity—particularly in digital environments—Register assumes little metadata knowledge on the part of the reader,  which helps us follow her analysis of the challenges the e-book industry faces as it moves forward with two systems of metadata, ONIX and MARC. Having founded, a company that supports publishers and libraries in the development of data policies, Register is exceedingly qualified to offer opinions on what is needed to eliminate duplication of metadata efforts across publishing and library operations. She, too, draws our attention to the new processes for metadata management that would allow for more collaboration between publishers and libraries.

Indeed, if there is a dominant theme echoing through all the pieces in this issue of eCQ, it is the importance of partnerships. Whatever aspect of e-content we may be discussing—building e-book collections in academic libraries; navigating formats; using and creating metadata or evaluating children’s apps—we are bound to reach similar conclusions about the pressing need to cooperate rather than to quarrel. The reality is: librarians and those that cater to them have a lot more in common than they may realize. Zeoli drives this point home when stating: “We each possess unique expertise designed ultimately to enhance the delivery of content.” And that’s the vision we have for this journal: helping information professionals understand what others in the chain are facing, so that we may all see better how to apply our expertise.

Sue Polanka & Mirela Roncevic, Editors

Issue 1, Fall 2013 Contents:

  • Supplying and Collecting Books: An Uneasy Metamorphosis by Michael Zeoli Drawing on his vast experience as a content developer, Zeoli gives an insider’s view on the complex nature of publisher-aggregator-library relationships, calling for less isolationism and more partnerships among all parties.
  • E-book Formats: An Overview for Librarians by John Burns Dixie State University’s gadget-loving librarian explains the pros and cons of e-book formats as they relate to libraries.
  • The Importance of Metadata for E-content by Renée Register The founder of provides an introductory text on what metadata is; how it is used by publishers, aggregators, and libraries; and the challenges the e-book industry faces as it moves forward with two systems of metadata, ONIX and MARC.
  • Evaluating Children’s Apps by Carisa KIuver and Cen Campbell The founders of Digital Storytime and Little eLit, respectively, tell the stories of how they created the two sites to help guide librarians and parents through the complex universe of children’s apps.

ALA eCourse on eBooks: Lessons Learned

ALA’s new eCourse on ebooks starts September 2nd. Well, it’s not exactly new. I taught this four-week course last March and have accepted ALA’s invitation to teach it again this September. On the other hand, it’s not exactly the same class either, since much has changed since I developed the original syllabus in early 2013 — so much, in fact, that the new list of required readings is quite different from the original. While this class still requires no prior knowledge of ebooks and we will again be going over the basics (e.g., formats, reading devices, dominant brands, DRM, purchasing options, etc.), we will also take a closer look at the trends that are currently driving our conversations at conferences and in various online communities.

As I prepare for the course, which starts this Monday and ends on September 27th, I am taking the time to revisit the many conversations I engaged in with the participants back in March. This helps me get a good perspective on the type of queries I will likely receive again as the course progresses. The earlier forums now remind me that some joined the class because they had had minimal exposure to ebooks and wanted to learn about them in an environment where they wouldn’t be judged for their inadequate knowledge, while others joined the class because their in-depth knowledge of ebooks somehow made it more challenging to make informed purchasing decisions.

Lessons Learned

In short: the March group was diverse (including public, K-12, academic, and special librarians), energetic, friendly, and highly motivated. Looking back, I can draw the following conclusions about what mattered to them the most:

  • They wanted to understand the technology that made ebooks possible only to the extent that it helped them do their jobs more efficiently.
  • They still cared, for the most part, about the fate of the written word more than about the technology.
  • They expressed great concern about patrons’ right to privacy when reading ebooks.
  • They relentlessly complained about the cost of subscriptions to ebook lending services.
  • They were curious to know all about hosting their own ebook platforms
  • They hesitated about the need to implement e-reader lending services at their institutions.
  • They generally perceived publishers and vendors as “for profit” institutions with little understanding of libraries, particularly school and public.

I was inspired by the fact that the voices on those lively forums came from every part of the globe, well beyond the United States, including places like Greece, Saudi Arabia, China, and Australia and that we were able to learn together about the medium via a range of materials, including academic journals, trade magazines, professional literature, various slides, and even videos on YouTube .

More information about the September class, including details about how to register, is available on the course’s site. I will “meet” you in the “Welcome” forum on Monday. Until then, I leave you with some of the comments from earlier (now archived) forums that echo some of what the participants took away from the March class.


“I still can’t tell Ebsco’s whatever it’s called, from ebrary and how they may be slightly different from some of the other platforms, but publishers and distributors I’ve got down cold (I think). I think [the world of ebook vendors] is a mess and getting more out of control.”

“Being able to tell the differences between distributors and aggregators, each with a proprietary platform or package, was less intimidating than realizing that there are so many variations to keep track of.”

“This was a lot of great information to absorb. I now feel more prepared and knowledgeable as we move forward to add and maintain an e book collection for our library. As a result of taking this class we will begin with a curriculum focus and work with a team of teachers, allowing us to promote and market to a smaller audience and grow from there. At the elementary level, I am looking forward to more interactive options becoming available. Although, I still have questions and concerns about privacy for all users -especially young users.”

“I could be a grouchy old guy and say that this course has resolved nothing for me. That, in itself, is what I am taking away from the class. Nothing is resolved. The ebook world continues to be a primordial swirl of chaos. However, the maelstrom of platforms and formats and DRM headaches is spiraling down toward an eventual semblance of calm. As I was telling a patron, just yesterday, we could actually have a functioning ebook system in place before the next semester begins. All the involved parties just have to settle on a unified plan.”

“I’ve been pondering how disconnected libraries/non-profits and business worlds appear. Many of the eBook businesses we have researched are in the business to make money/profit, build individual relationships with consumers, and dominate the market. Libraries and non-profits are not in the business to make profit. The varied charges result into a huge disconnect between the two models. I’m not sure this challenge will go away completely. What is the way to find resolution to this disconnecting?

“My favorite line from the entire course readings is from “Purchasing E-Books in Libraries” by Sue Polanka. She states, “It’s a complete labyrinth. But one day, it will be easy”, which gives me hope. Everything is challenging in its beginnings. With patience, awareness, and teamwork we will find the most effective methods to eBook solutions.”

“I wouldn’t have thought there would be any reason to weed an ebook collection because they don’t take up any space or get damaged, but the article [on weeding ebooks] brought up some good points. Too many choices make a search overwhelming, and it is not good to keep material that is no longer relevant. Then again, it’s not like the library actually owns the ebooks in its collection, but maybe someday that will change.”

“A little part of me dies every time we have to weed our physical collection. With ebooks, there is no looking at a trash bin filled with unloved tomes. The process of weeding is definitely a selling point in favor of ebooks. You just look at the usage statistics, and eliminate files that circulate too little or not at all. And yet, [a librarian touched] on a good point. They were never “our” books, to begin with. It shouldn’t be so painful to eliminate them.”

“I wish that my concerns over privacy, ownership, digital divides, and preservation could have been assuaged by all that I have learned [in this course]. Unfortunately, that certainly is not the case. But fear not. We as librarians must be determined to continue to strive for those things we know to be important – the freedom to read privately and the importance of preserving the intellectual record of our culture!”


“My prediction for the future is to have a set-up for e-books that is almost universal.  Just as we did for cataloging with OCLC and World Cat, ebooks could be accessed and dispensed on one major platform subscribed to by many, and not fragmented into many different platforms, publishers, aggregators, etc. etc. etc.”

“Caldwell-Stone’s call for slowing down the move to digital content is unlikely to gain any traction. Even in the presence of a (likely) significant security breach of user information, the demand for digital content from libraries will be impossible to ignore.”

“States with strong library user privacy rights will pursue legislation to control the collection and use of patron information. However, changing political climates that continue to encourage both “business-friendly” and “terrorism-unfriendly” legislation will mean resistance to the privacy demands of citizens.”

“There will be significant advances in user-shared development, commentary, group input, and materials sharing in ebook publishing and distribution driven by publishers of academic textbooks. We see pieces of this in CourseSmart and projects like Zola. The academic community will demand it and publishers are already responding.”

“Independent and self-publishing will grow and become a fog of poor quality materials, much like the Internet overall. This will be accompanied by the growth of self-organized groups, with elite, higher-quality publishing rising to the top in profitability and reputation—think Iowa Writers—across both broad and narrow disciplinary and interest groups.”

“This feels so self-evident as to be dumb to say, but here goes…..the technology is advancing so quickly that “getting control” of it in the sense that we’ve so often used in cataloging (developing standard procedures and formats) seems nearly impossible, so that libraries will have to become accustomed to a more fluid world.”

“I’m always bad at gambling and predicting the future, but I do believe that in the near future (three years, maximum) we will see an end to the pricing wars. I think that e-books and print books will cost roughly the same. While e-books don’t have to account for paper and binding costs, if they become truly integrated things, with sound and video material added in, then that will raise the cost.”

“If there is too much variety in the type of e readers, and e-publication styles the customer will lose interest. They want it to be easy to get what they want on the device they are currently using, they want things to work without lots of difficulties. Keep it simple and people are happy.”

“The proliferation of ebooks is not what will cause the end of libraries. That end will come when we stop dealing with books and begin marketing data services. We will cease to be librarians and start to be information technologists, specializing in digital programming. Some of us were attracted to this business because we wanted to share our love of books, not because we wanted to be computer programmers.”

“The question that haunts me is how to adapt to changes in the way we attend to our patrons’ interests. I can’t pretend to care about business models and platforms. All that matters is being able to provide students with access to the information they need, at a cost that we can justify to our administrators.”


eContent Quarterly now accepting proposals

econtent image

ALA Editions recently announced the Fall 2013 launch of a new online journal: eContent Quarterly, edited by Sue Polanka and Mirela Roncevic. The journal was previewed at this year’s ALA conference in Chicago, and the zero issue made available for free in PDF, ePub, and Mobi formats on the journal’s site.

Fall 2013 issue, to be released in September, will feature articles on e-book formats,  metadata, kids’ apps, and the importance of partnerships in the management of econtent. Winter 2014 issue, to be released in early 2014, will explore “bookless” libraries, user-centered design of e-reference products, implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs in high schools, and multi-format e-book strategies in academic libraries.

Contributors Wanted

eContent Quarterly is now accepting proposals for contributions to its Spring 2014 issue. Librarians, publishers, vendors, and other information science professionals interested in writing an article about how their institution is braving an e-content challenge, or if they are in the midst of developing or releasing a product information professionals should know about, may send their proposal to the editors (;, including a detailed description of the topic.

Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Effect of digital content on learning and literacy
  • Discoverability and marketing of digital content
  • Business model experimentation
  • Ebook platform technologies
  • Locally-hosted digital content
  • Library as Publisher
  • Self-publishing and libraries
  • Budgeting for digital content
  • Impact of one-to-one device adoption
  • Open access ebooks
  • Digital textbook adoption


eContent Quarterly offers practical, user-driven solutions and ideas for curating, integrating, and managing electronic content in rapidly-changing digital library environments. Each issue consists of in-depth articles on the many facets of electronic content as well as product reviews and interviews with industry leaders. The articles are written by a wide range of professionals, both from the library field and publishing and vendor industry.


Polanka created the award-winning blog, No Shelf Required®, which explores the issues surrounding e-books for librarians and publishers and has led to a series of best-selling publications.  She is the head of reference and instruction at the Wright State University Libraries in Dayton, OH, president of the Academic Library Association of Ohio, and a member of the ALA Council.  She was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2011, tagged as the Ebook Guru.  Her column, E-Book Buzz, appears in ONLINE Searcher magazine. She speaks internationally on the topic of e-books.  Follow her on Twitter @noshelfrequired.

Roncevic is an independent writer, editor and content developer recognized for spearheading a number of initiatives in the publishing and LIS field, including the overhaul of digital coverage in Library Journal. She has also managed publications of LIS books and newsletters and developed online resources for librarians, including The Library Grants Center. At the forefront of the e-book revolution since its infancy, Roncevic managed Library Journal‘s first e-book reviews column and is a consultant for e-content producers, advising them on positioning their products in libraries while working closely with librarians. She teaches and speaks on the topic of econtent and digital publishing.  Follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic.


ALA’s Ebook Platforms for Libraries: What it’s about and what it’s for

My Library Technology Report (Volume 49; Issue 3) for American Library Association was just released by ALA TechSource and is available for purchase (in print or in electronic versions) through the ALA Store.

I am no stranger to producing massive quantities of content from scratch. It is my life’s work. I’ve taken on impossible-to-tame-and-organize subjects and turned them into directories many times in the past, both as an independent content developer (e.g., The Library Grants Center) and as an editor during my Library Journal days, where I tackled the intricacies of the ebook marketplace before the industry began its transformation (imagine assigning ebook content for review to librarians before decent reading devices were even available — that kind of “tackle”).

But none of my previous endeavors involved the level of complexity I had to work through to compile this report.  In order for potential readers to have a better grasp of how I developed it– and perhaps just as important, why I developed it — some from-the-author insight is in order.

Back in September 2012, after a short hiatus from the industry, I decided to do some catch up and take on some writing assignments. What’s really been happening with ebook products, I started to ask. Same old noise? Are librarians still demanding better ebook lending policies and are the big six (or five, or however low the number is these days) still refusing to offer licensing agreements that would appease some of the (justified) frustration on the library end? Are ebook aggregators getting bigger with each passing day as before? And how many of those “little publishers that could” (responsible for some of the highest-quality content in libraries) have gone out of business or fell into the hands of the more powerful since the last time I checked in with them?

‘Turns out, the ebook companies (in all their incarnations; more on this later), at least as they appear to libraries, have gotten into a big hurry to impress – and this hurry has led to more chaos than most could have predicted a few years back. Emerging and established technologies have enabled companies that have previously sold us packing tape and all kinds of non-book consumer goods (yes, the writer in me still sees it that way), to aggressively enter the library market, disarm most publishers and their ability to distribute their own econtent to libraries, and position themselves as the new forces to be reckoned with. This means that public, academic, and K-12 librarians, however different in what they do, now find themselves facing the same challenge: How do they keep up with it all? How much do they need? How much can they spend? Where do they even begin if they are just starting out with ebooks?

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess what the vast and growing ebooks landscape in libraries will look like a year or two from now, but as it stands right now, librarians need to keep up or they will remain behind. That’s what this report aims to do: provide a starting point from which they can embark on their institutions’ ebook ventures.

The goal here is to break it all down for them–objectively and in as much detail as a single author can handle without losing track of it all herself–and to provide a Zagat-style A-Z listing of all the key players in the ebooks market, explain their identities, and the uniqueness of their products. To help me sort through the mess, I’ve developed a technique I use each time I evaluate a new vendor: if you are not producing content from scratch like a publisher or merging content from multiple books for research purposes like an aggregator, then you are a type of distributor. And, of course, you can be more than one of these three at the same time.

It took several months to compile this report. Although I am its sole author, I relied on the feedback provided by a number of (willing) vendors who were asked to supply information as current as possible about each product. The survey sent to the companies catering to libraries (including publishers, aggregators, distributors, and ebook lending services) included a long list of questions, grouped according to these four purchasing criteria: content, technical specs, functionality, and business model. Here is a sampling of the types of information requested from all four groups:

  • number of titles
  • subjects covered
  • type of service (e.g., aggregator, lending service, etc)
  • number of publishers represented
  • key library markets (e.g., public, academic/research, K-12)
  • inclusion of multi-media
  • ebook formats (e.g., ePub, PDF)
  • reading devices supported
  • ADA compliance (yes or no)
  • DRM limitations (copy, paste, print, etc.)
  • Offline reading (yes or no)
  • Annotation tools
  • Usage reports
  • Interlibrary Loan options
  • Annual platform fees
  • Minimal commitment
  • Consortial purchasing
  • Free trials

The information sent back to me was then used to create a long Directory of ebook platforms (the heart of the report) and it was also added to the comparative tables in the back, which librarians may use to gain insight into how certain products stack up against one another to make informed purchasing decisions.

Although I will be the first to admit that comparing these products can lead to an apples-and-oranges frustration, I still believe (and hope to prove with this report) that librarians need a bird’s eye view of the entire ebooks ecosystem to be able to assess what their preferences are. Perhaps it even helps them to predict what their library’s future needs will be. And perhaps it helps vendors themselves see how their products compare to others and ways in which they can be improved.

The world of ebooks will continue to evolve at a dizzying pace and this report will, no doubt, age quicker than most others tackling LIS topics. The companies behind these ebook platforms are growing faster than we can keep up with them, and they will continue to inundate us with announcements about new partnerships, mergers, and initiatives. What’s more, the very definition of “ebook” will continue to evolve as content types begin to merge more rapidly and these platforms start featuring content beyond books, including journals, newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, and web sites (many already do).

This report paints the picture as it is today: vast, complex, and impossibly varied. Just how many of these platforms does your library really need to offer its patrons a wide array of high-quality econtent, both for pleasure reading and research? Probably not more than a few. The million dollar question remains: which few?

If this report helps you understand the big picture and if it helps you get a little closer to deciding which products to offer to your patrons, then it will have served its purpose.–MR



ALA eCourse: Ebooks — What Librarians Need To Know Now and for the Future



ALA’s eCourse on eBooks is set to begin on March 4th. I’ve designed this course to help librarians and other information professionals get caught up with ebooks, both on the consumer end and in libraries. You do not need to have prior knowledge of ebooks (or experience using or purchasing them) to join us. You also do not need to own a reading device. Together we’ll revisit the very beginnings of ebooks and explore issues ranging from file formats to delivery mechanisms and lending policies as well as the changing roles of publishers, distributors, aggregators, online retail giants, and online reading communities.

The world of ebooks is vast and complex. This course will help you navigate it with more clarity and confidence. Below is the updated syllabus. More information on the process is available on the course’s web site. I look forward to sharing my knowledge of ebooks and learning from all who register. See you on March 4th.–M.R.


eCourse outline

Week 1: Introduction to E-books & E-readers
  • Definition & context
  • History of e-books/major milestones
  • Basic features of e-books
  • Advantages/challenges of e-books
  • Digital Rights Management (DRM)
  • E-book softwares & formats
  • Dedicated e-readers and other portable devices
  • Dominant brands in the e-book market
Week 2: Availability & Publishing of E-books
  • Types of e-books (free, low cost, open access)
  • Business of publishing e-books (traditional vs. e-publishing)
  • The phenomenon of digital self-publishing
  • Sources of e-books online (nonprofits vs. for-profits)
  • Online e-book stores (, iBooks, etc.)
  • Online e-book repositories (e.g., Project Gutenberg, HathiTrust, Google Books)
  • Google Books Settlement
  • Online reading communities (GoodReads, Shelfari, weRead)
  • E-textbooks
Week 3: E-books in Libraries: Products & Purchasing
  • E-book platforms in libraries (aggregators, distributors, publishers, etc.)
  • E-book lending services (e.g., OverDrive, 3M, etc.)
  • University Press consortia platforms
  • E-book issues in academic, research, public, and K-12 libraries
  • Criteria for purchasing e-book platforms
Week 4: Current Trends & Future Prospects
  • E-book controversies
  • Ethics of e-books
  • E-book trends in 2013
  • Future predictions for e-books
  • Review/discussion

How this eCourse Works
The eCourse begins on March 4. Your participation will require approximately six hours a week, at times that fit your schedule. There are no live sessions. All activities take place on the website, and you will be expected to

  •     Read, listen to or view online content
  •     Post to online discussion boards
  •     Complete weekly assignments or activities

Instructor Mirela Roncevic will monitor discussion boards regularly during the four-week period, lead group discussions, and will also answer individual questions. All interaction will take place on the eCourse site, which will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s recommended that students log into the site on March 4 or within a few days for an overview of the content and to begin the first lesson.


E-Content in Libraries: 2012 in Review

2012 was a busy year for e-content: new alliances were formed among both publishers and vendors, more mergers took place, controversies surrounding ebook lending in public libraries persisted, open access initiatives showed no signs of slowing down, and the pressing need to digitize scholarly publishing gave rise to several monograph e-platforms. With each passing week, those of us keeping up with e-content were reminded that emerging technological advances continued to push the boundaries of what we thought was possible only a year before.

Our industry was challenged to rethink its own expectations about digital library environments but also dare to aim higher. We asked the same questions as in the years past: Who remained ahead of the curve? Who took the most risk? Who spoke directly to the needs of users? And who brought us products that would stand the test of time years from now?

During the slow month of December, “best lists” are released all over Library land. They give us a chance to take a break from “keeping up” and simply reflect. So let’s pause from chasing press releases and reflect on some of the most impactful digital resources released in 2012.

This A-Z list includes a spectrum of products— both brand new or significantly re-vamped—brought to us in 2012 by the companies that continue to transform the way e-content is consumed in libraries across the United States and well beyond. Each is described via a brief annotation, placed in the context of its respective library market, and enhanced with links to various related posts (both on No Shelf Required and beyond) for more insight.

Stay tuned for more “year in review” coverage from Sue Polanka later in the week.


3M Cloud Library

3M™ Cloud Library is a cloud-based ebook lending system that launched in the summer of 2011 but gained in popularity in 2012. It comprises over 100,000 ebook titles from some 40 publishers, including HarperCollins, Random House, Workman, and many more on the horizon, including Penguin. Patrons can read and check out titles at home, on the go, or via discovery terminals (or kiosks) located at the library. 3M’s business model has received kudos for allowing libraries to retain use of the content they purchase even after their contract with 3M expires. 3M’s own e-reader lets patrons try ebooks without needing to buy a device. It doesn’t require a credit card and synchronizes easily with the 3M Cloud Library.

Also of interest:

Axis 360

When ebooks started to gain momentum in libraries, print wholesalers were not equipped to handle digital transactions. But owing to new technologies, they are now able to transform their practices and develop digital media “management and circulation” platforms of their own. Baker & Taylor’s platform, Axis 360, which went live in late 2011 and received media attention all throughout 2012, makes it possible for libraries to acquire all library content in one place—especially beneficial for libraries already using B&T for their print collections. Librarians can choose from more than 105,000 ebooks (in PDF and ePub formats) through B & T’s Title Source 3 at the same time they order print titles. The platform surfaces content on a Magic Wall and allows patrons to check out the ebooks they want.

Also of interest:

  • NSR interview with Michael Bills, B&T’s Director of Sales for Digital Products
  • More on what’s on the horizon for Axis 360
  • All about B&T’s eReader, Blio
  • LJ feature article on Axis 360 & B&T’s future as an ebook distributor
  • Huntsville-Madison County Public Library YouTube video on using Axis 360

Books at JSTOR

Books at JSTOR is an initiative by several university presses (including Yale and Princeton) to make their ebooks available as part of JSTOR, a widely-used digital platform of scholarly content founded in 1995 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Once incorporated, the book content is cross-searchable with millions of journal articles and primary sources already on JSTOR. “Librarians have been telling us for some time now to add scholarly books,” said Books at JSTOR’s Director Frank Smith in a phone interview with Mirela Roncevic months before the official launch in November 2012.

Also of interest:

EBSCOhost & H.W. Wilson Super Databases

For those who have wondered what would ultimately happen to the revered Wilson content acquired by EBSCO in 2011, the answers came with the gradual releases of seven “super databases” in late 2012 that fully integrate EBSCO’s content and technologies with Wilson’s. The product names are as follows: Education Source, Applied Science & Technology Source, Humanities Source, Art Source, Legal Source, Biography Source, and last but not least: Library & Information Science Source. Note for libraries already subscribing to existing EBSCO and/or Wilson databases: those smaller products will continue to be available separately. According to a note on EBSCO’s web site, “while the new, merged ‘super’ databases will be made available at an additional cost, customers will NOT be required to upgrade.”

Also of interest:

Literati by Credo

An extension of the original Credo Reference platform, Literati has been marketed as “a library’s connection to information literacy” all throughout 2012. What started out as a publisher-neutral “database” back in the distant 1999, has now morphed into a “solution” that engages researchers with customized videos and tutorials. The content remains an integral part but it is significantly “enhanced” by technology. As noted in the original press release, Literati is all about bringing together three essential components of research—Technology, Content, and Services (with on-site librarians)—”to help eliminate the hurdles of discovery, education and assessment, collaboration, classroom integration and library promotion.” This translates into a power package of over 600 XML-enriched reference ebooks and over 500,000 images and audio and video clips. Credo also released a Public version of Literati in the summer of 2012.

Also of interest:

National Geographic Virtual Library (NGVL)

It is just what the name implies: a digital archive of every issue ever published by the National Geographic magazine (including the popular National Geographic Traveler),  along with a cross-searchable collection of National Geographic (NG) books on travel, science, technology, and history, available as a database exclusively to libraries as of Fall 2012. Gale Cengage seized the opportunity to partner with the nonprofit and use its delivery platform to make NG content available as a complete digital package. “The Gale platform will provide new avenues for discovering [our] content for research and learning,” said President of National Geographic Publishing and Digital Media Declan Moore at the time of NGVL’s release. NGVL’s three main components include National Geographic Magazine Archive, 1888-1994; National Geographic Magazine Archive, 1995-Current; and National Geographic: People, Animals, and the World (a collection of books, images, videos, and interactive maps).

Also of interest:

Oxford Reference & Oxford Handbooks Online 

Oxford University Press needs no introduction when it comes to digital library content. From the early stages of the e-revolution, the publisher has carefully guarded the migration of its scholarly content online. 2012 saw the releases of several familiar but significantly revamped products, including Oxford Reference (OR) and Oxford Handbooks Online (OHO). OR combines the content of two OUP resources that ceased to be available as separate entities in December, 2012: Oxford Reference Online and Oxford Digital Reference Shelf. This launch of a new product simply called Oxford Reference coincided with OUP’s 80th anniversary of the first publication of The Oxford Companion to English Literature, prompting OUP to celebrate eight decades of subject reference publishing on its web site.

Oxford Handbooks Online has two distinct identities: it is a research platform as well as a publishing platform, featuring coverage that has grown to 14 disciplines (translating to about 300 handbooks and 10,000 articles in total). The new platform enables articles to publish immediately after passing peer review, which, according to OUP’s press release, will deliver new scholarship to those who need it faster and more efficiently (see also Palgrave MacMillan’s Palgrave Pivot initiative below).

Also of interest:

Palgrave Pivot

“A new initiative from Palgrave Macmillan (PM) is breaking down the boundaries of publishing research,” was the first sentence of a press release from October, 2012, announcing the launch of a new imprint, Palgrave Pivot, with 21 titles. This innovative new approach to scholarly publishing offers authors the flexibility of publishing their research at lengths between journal articles and monographs within 12 weeks of acceptance after full peer-review. The imprint’s publications are available as ebooks for libraries, including via the publisher’s ebook platform Palgrave Connect, individual ebooks for personal use, and as digitally-produced print editions. “The artificial difficulty of publishing work that is longer than a conventional article and shorter than a book has been an anomaly for many years. Bridging this gap is an excellent idea…a concept whose time has come and was indeed long overdue,” said John Walton, Research Professor at Basque Foundation for Science.

Also of interest:

Rosen Interactive eBooks

Rosen reaffirmed its status as a leading publisher of digital content for K-12 library markets in 2012, having successfully launched a series of interactive ebooks designed to meet the needs of the Common Core and AASL standards as well as to support transliteracy skills among Pre K through 6th grade students. The 120 nonfiction titles range in subjects from Geography and Language to Religion and the Arts and can be explored online by individual students or entire classrooms. The embedded Digital Content Creation Tools allow students to create storyboards and blogs, write book reviews, emails, and post cards, and even build wiki pages and web sites. Librarians can purchase ebooks a la carte style or in bundles. Since Rosen publishes more than 700 new books each year and has a backlist of more than 7000 titles, the “interactive” list will likely grow at a rapid pace in the months to come.

Also of interest:

SAGE Knowledge

2012 was a big year for SAGE Publications. Just last October, SAGE announced the purchase of primary sources publisher Adam Matthew at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which marked the company’s second acquisition in 14 months, following the purchase of UK-based independent publisher Learning Matters in August 2011. SAGE also unveiled the new digital face of its e-platform, formerly known as SAGE Reference Online and now known as SAGE Knowledge, which houses all of the book and journal content owned by the publisher. Billed as “the ultimate social sciences online library” for students, researchers, and faculty, the platform boasts 2,750 titles and includes 300-plus key reference works (about 150 new titles are added each year). All of SAGE’s imprints are represented, including CQ Press and Corwin.

Also of interest:

  • NSR Post about SAGE’s growing portfolio
  • NSR interview with SAGE’s Lettie Conrad about the new platform
  • More on SAGE Navigator, a new Social Sciences Literature Review Tool set to launch in Spring 2013
  • All about Corwin’s new ebook platform for K-12 educators

University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO)

UPSO is a partnership between Oxford University Press and a number of university presses (including Fordham, University of Florida, and, as of late, Stanford University) to aggregate monograph content into a single, cross-searchable platform featuring XML format. OUP set the stage for digitization of scholarly monographs back in 2003 with the launch of Oxford Scholarship Online, now fully integrated with the book content of ten partner presses on the new UPSO platform. The platform offers offers 10,000-plus titles available in 24 subject areas, over 300 sub-disciplines, and about 11,500 authors from over 50 countries. Unlike rival platforms, UPSO does not currently integrate journal content with books. “Our platform is geared toward long-form scholarship,” said Rebecca Seger, OUP’s Director of Institutional Sales for the Americas, in a phone interview with Mirela Roncevic in late 2011. “The full book is an argument, and we want to preserve that.”

Also of interest:

  • OUP-produced video offering librarian perspectives on UPSO
  • OUP’s recent partnership with Stanford University
  • Sue Polanka’s ONLINE Magazine article on university presses and ebooks

University Publishing Online (UPO)

Like UPSO (above), UPO is a platform hosted by a university press with a long history of scholarly publishing, but it casts the net wider in terms of the type of content provided. The result of a joint venture between Cambridge University Press and partner publishers—including Liverpool University, Mathematical Association of America, University of Adelaide Press, Boydell & Brewer, and others—UPO integrates scholarly books (including textbooks and professional books) with journal articles on a single platform. “Our goal is to remain as flexible as possible in terms of the type of content we provide,” said Hannah Perrett, CUP’s Strategic Development Director for Digital Publishing in an email to Mirela Roncevic at the time of UPO’s release. A list of titles is available for download (in Excel or CSV formats) on UPO’s home page.

Also of interest:

UPCC Book Collections on Project MUSE

The Project MUSE initiative is the result of a partnership with the University Press Ebook Consortium, which includes Johns Hopkins University Press (the host institution), New York University, and over 60 others. The new business model allows participating publishers to select the titles they want to offer annually on the MUSE platform. “We developed the name University Press Content Consortium [for the partnership] to signal to the market that book and journal content coming together was only the beginning,” said Dean Smith, Director of Project MUSE, in a phone conversation with Mirela Roncevic in late 2011. “In the future, we will transform the platform yet again to include reference works, datasets, multimedia, annotation, collaboration, and commenting features.”

Also of interest:

VitalSource Bookshelf

VitalSource Bookshelf® is the most used e-textbook platform in the world and, unsurprisingly, Ingram’s fastest growing business. It has about 2.7 million registered users on 6000 campuses in 180 countries. When it was announced just weeks ago that 60 new publishers have added more than 35,000 new digital textbooks and online course materials to the platform, the product and the company cemented their leadership roles in e-textbook distribution. “We are experiencing significant growth in the number of publisher, institutional, and reseller customers using the platform,” said Kent Freeman, COO of Vital Source Technologies, at the time of the announcement. The most recent publishers to join VitalSource include 14 of the most recognized university presses. The platform can be accessed online or via download on a variety of device types including Mac, Windows, iPad, and Android.

Also of interest:

  • NSR post about addition of 60 publishers to VitalSource
  • An addition of Android App to VitalSource
  • Partnership between VitalSource and Blackboard Learn
  • Vital Source acquisition of VPG Integrated Media, specializing in enhanced e-textbooks

eContent Quarterly: Call for Contributions

From a No Shelf Required post:

Last week ALA Editions announced the 2013 launch of a new online journal: eContent Quarterly, edited by Sue Polanka and Mirela Roncevic. The journal will offer practical, user-driven solutions and ideas for curating, integrating, and managing electronic content in rapidly-changing digital library environments. Each issue will consist of in-depth articles on the many facets of electronic content as well as product reviews and interviews with industry leaders.

“Libraries, publishers, and information providers are constantly experimenting with business models, delivery methods, and usability of digital content.  eContent Quarterly aims to capture these stories, along with their successes and failures, in order to share best practices in the industry, ” said Polanka.

“We will strive to provide timely coverage that helps everyone in the information chain make informed decisions, with less emphasis on descriptions of products and more focus on unique features and comparisons,” added Roncevic.

Contributors Wanted

eContent Quarterly is now accepting proposals for contributions. Librarians, publishers, and other information science professionals interested in submitting a proposal should send a written request to Sue Polanka, including a description of the topic and information about affiliation and credentials.

Suggested topics include:

  • Business model experimentation
  • Ebook platform technologies
  • Discoverability and marketing of digital content
  • Locally hosted digital content
  • User satisfaction surveys
  • User-centered design
  • Budgeting for digital content
  • Impact of one-to-one device adoption
  • Open access ebooks
  • Digital textbook adoption
  • Effect of digital content on learning and literacy
  • Lending devices to patrons with disabilities

Review Coverage

For review coverage of current or forthcoming products—including ebook platforms, databases, and digital solutions—publishers and producers may contact Mirela Roncevic, including description of each product and details on how to access it.


Polanka created the award-winning blog, No Shelf Required®, which explores the issues surrounding e-books for librarians and publishers and has led to a series of best-selling publications.  She is the head of reference and instruction at the Wright State University Libraries in Dayton, OH, president of the Academic Library Association of Ohio, and a member of the ALA Council.  She was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2011, tagged as the Ebook Guru.  Her column, E-Book Buzz, appears in ONLINE Searcher magazine. She speaks internationally on the topic of e-books.  Follow her on Twitter @noshelfrequired.

Roncevic is an independent writer, editor and content developer recognized for spearheading a number of initiatives in the LIS field, including the overhaul of reference coverage in Library Journal. She has also managed publications of LIS books and newsletters and developed free online resources for librarians, including The Library Grants Center. At the forefront of the e-book revolution since its infancy, she managed LJ’s first ebook reviews column in 1999 and is a consultant for e-content producers. Editor of The Library Journal Guide to E-Reference Resources, she is currently authoring an issue of ALA TechSource’s Library Technology Reports on ebook platforms in libraries. Follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic.


ALA Editions

ALA Editions publishes resources used worldwide by tens of thousands of library and information professionals to improve programs, build on best practices, develop leadership, and for personal professional development. ALA authors and developers are leaders in their fields, and their content is published in a growing range of print and electronic formats. Contact ALA Editions at (800) 545-2433 ext. 5418 or

ALA Editions announces launch of eContent Quarterly

The press release announcing the upcoming release of ALA’s new online journal, eContent Quarterly, is available on American Librariesweb site. Thrilled to be part of it.


CHICAGO, November 20, 2012—ALA Editions announces eContent Quarterly, a new online journal. Launching in Fall 2013, eContent Quarterly will offer practical, user-driven solutions and ideas for curating, developing, integrating and managing content in rapidly-changing digital library environments.

The journal is edited by Sue Polanka and Mirela Roncevic, whose deep knowledge of the e-content landscape and vast library and editorial experience combine to bring clarity and focus to the journal’s purpose: helping information professionals keep pace with e-book and journal platforms, databases, multi-media products, digital solutions and discovery services.  Written by and for information professionals in the business of producing, selling and buying e-content—including librarians and publishers—each issue will consist of in-depth articles that explore the many facets of electronic content, as well as supplements ranging from product reviews to interviews with key players. Look for subscription information for eContent Quarterly in 2013.

Polanka created the award-winning blog, No Shelf Required®, a blog about the issues surrounding e-books for librarians and publishers, which has led to a series of best-selling publications.  She is the head of reference and instruction at the Wright State University Libraries in Dayton, Ohio, president of the Academic Library Association of Ohio and a member of the ALA Council.  She was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2011, tagged as the Ebook Guru.  Her column, E-Book Buzz, appears in ONLINE Searcher magazine. She speaks internationally on the topic of e-books.  Follow her on Twitter @noshelfrequired.

Roncevic is an independent writer, editor and content developer recognized for spearheading a number of initiatives in the LIS field, including the overhaul of reference coverage in Library Journal. She has also managed publications of LIS books and newsletters and developed free online resources for librarians, including The Library Grants Center. At the forefront of the e-book revolution since its infancy, she managed Library Journal‘s first e-book reviews column in 1999 and is a consultant for e-content producers, advising them on positioning their products in libraries while working closely with librarians. Editor of “The Library Journal Guide to E-Reference Resources”, she is currently authoring an issue of ALA TechSource’s Library Technology Reports on e-book platforms in libraries. Follow her on Twitter @MirelaRoncevic.

ALA Editions publishes resources used worldwide by tens of thousands of library and information professionals to improve programs, build on best practices, develop leadership, and for personal professional development. ALA authors and developers are leaders in their fields, and their content is published in a growing range of print and electronic formats. Contact ALA Editions at (800) 545-2433 ext. 5418 or

Ebook Platforms in Libraries: A new report in the works

I am in the midst of developing a library technology report on ebook platforms for ALA TechSource (a unit of the publishing department of the American Library Association), due out in the Spring of 2013. The focus: ebook platforms in libraries. As I am amassing information about various products from publishers and aggregators on the specifics of each platform, I’ve decided to open it up to a broader audience in the early stages of the writing process and obtain feedback from all who may benefit.

Publishers and aggregators: Please take a moment to read the proposed contents of the report (below) and let me know where your products fit and why. I plan to cover a variety of products.

Librarians: What are your main frustrations when selecting ebook platforms? Please take a moment to consider if the details I plan to include about each product will help you make informed purchasing decisions.

I’ll be accepting suggestions through the end of November. Thanks for speaking your mind. It matters.


Ebook Platforms in Libraries will provide the following:

  • A detailed overview of e-platforms available in libraries
  • Explanations of how ebook platforms specifically (those that house e-versions of print books online) differ from other types of e-platforms (e.g., databases with born digital content)
  • Overview of the key players in the business of aggregating and distributing ebooks to academic, public, and school libraries
  • Suggestions to librarians on how to determine which ebook platforms best suit their institutions’ needs
  • Side-by-side comparisons of similar ebook platforms (see criteria below)

Contents & Context

Librarians are inundated with the choices available to them when deciding which ebook platforms to purchase. Some serve as tools for lending books to patrons; others serve as research tools. Some are available directly from content producers (publishers); others come from distributors and aggregators. Some have general appeal and are suitable for various types of libraries; others have strong scholarly undertones and are only appropriate for graduate collections. Some are broad in coverage and include a range of categories and genres; others are subject-specific or publisher-specific and target niche markets.

Not only do librarians need to keep up with the number of electronic platforms available on the market, they also need to keep up with how each is evolving. As publishers continue to experiment with business models, consolidate content, and merge with competition (a common practice in the industry), librarians need help figuring out how to sort through the options and choose what to purchase based on the criteria set forth by the institutions they serve. Many things come into play, with pricing and access usually at the top of the list of priorities.

This report will provide a comprehensive overview of the various types of ebook platforms available to libraries, specifically the platforms that house electronic versions of books available in print (thus preserving the “book” format online). The report will not include collections of journal platforms, unless they also include ebooks (more on this below).

Each platform will be described in sufficient detail and comparative charts will be provided throughout, examining, among other things, the following:

  • technical requirements (e.g., browsers, plug-ins required, hand-held devices supported)
  • type of library (e.g., public and academic, academic only, K-12 only)
  • targeted audience (e.g., general, high school, undergraduate, graduate)
  • multimedia options
  • type of content (e.g., trade publications, monographs, reference books)
  • categories, if applicable (e.g., general, popular fiction and nonfiction, humanities)
  • size and scope (e.g., number of titles, number of publishers)
  • purchase options
  • searchability (e.g., book level, article level)
  • DRM restrictions
  • Trials

Types of platforms covered

  • General ebook platforms (an overview of the key players in the field — including OverDrive, ebrary, eBooks on EBSCOhost, and others — and major, multi-publisher ebook platforms in public, academic, and school libraries)
  • Publisher-specific platforms (ebook platforms hosted by the publishers who produce the original content, e.g., The ABC-CLIO eBook Collection; Oxford Reference)
  • Subject-specific platforms (the focus here is on the platforms housing ebooks on the same or similar subjects; Note: specialized scholarly databases and indexes will not be covered here; that alone warrants a separate report).
  • Multi-content platforms (an overview of platforms on the cutting edge of e-content development, including products that merge ebook content with other types of content, such as articles or scholarly monographs; e.g., JStor, Project MUSE, and Cambridge University Press’s University Publishing Online.)


Thoughts? Suggestions? Please share them by emailing me at or posting a reply below.


Life cannot be mastered by technology (neither can research)

I spent the summer of 2012 reading through an online literature resource, trying to come up with new ways to dissect existing content and re-purpose its use. Literature is my passion, so this was a rare opportunity to enjoy the reading part as much as the writing and everything that followed.

Early on in the process, I came across a scholarly essay on a novel about technology. This passage caught my attention: “Technology, for the protagonist, is the knack of so arranging the world that one does not have to experience it. Life, she says, is not matter and cannot be mastered by technology.”

I re-read it many times since then. Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that one does not have to experience it. Life is not matter. It cannot be mastered by technology.

A string of thoughts followed: Can reference products be mastered by technology? How can they (see What is reference? and What is reference? Part 2 for more on my definition of reference) guide today’s research in a way that leads to more clarity and less confusion? When it comes to content, “less is more” usually doesn’t apply. But when it comes to how content is presented (and managed) online, perhaps it does.

What researchers need is focused (highly focused) guidance. This is where the “generational gap” argument dosn’t hold . Regardless of their age and experience, researchers need access to relevant content that flows not randomly but with a purpose. They often don’t need automatically generated lists of “related terms” or long bibliographies that lead them further away from the topic they are researching. They need products mastered by humans, not technology.

With that in mind, I plunged into this project with a new vision for it. My goal remained to master the parts of the product that technology couldn’t. I would make decisions during the process instead of go into it with a clear plan. I would let the technology enable certain parts but I wouldn’t let it steer it. It would be time-consuming and laborious, but every link would matter. I would rely on my own knowledge of literature and on the knowledge of the contributors to shape the outcome. And I would improvise. Everything else would, hopefully, fall into place.

Fast forward two months. I’ve come out of this experience with a newfound appreciation for the human effort in the process of content development– not the marvels of technology. My point: perhaps the key to remaining truly innovative in the world of reference publishing is not to embellish digital products with whatever new accessory comes along. The key is to master the parts of the research experience that technology cannot. And this requires more than simply touting each new resource as “authoritative” or “vetted.”

This requires a whole new mindset. And it starts with a new level of appreciation for (and support of) those who mold and shape the content in its infancy. This is the time for publishers and content producers to invest in the creative side; to nurture writers, editors, and subject specialists and encourage them to produce content they know a great deal about. To fully utilize their knowledge of the content and let them (not content management systems) re-purpose it as they see fit.

The truth is: SEO experts and other IT professionals will never be able to master what has driven publishing for centuries without the input from those on the creative side. Our industry will always need good writers and great editors. It will always need the ideas of passionate, creative individuals. And not only their ideas but also their knowledge.

Wikipedia immediately comes to mind: Would it be what it is today without the army of editors monitoring its growth and accuracy? Who has helped make Wikipedia a force to be reckoned with? The wiki software or the brains of skilled editors? Who, then, should be mastering the development of reference products?

More TK.


Library Blog Directory

Back in 2011, Salem Press approached me about helping them create a web directory that would pull all (or most) of the great library blog content in cyberspace in one place. My first thought was that creating a discovery tool (of sorts) for librarians looking to keep up with great blog content online was an impossible task, but as I slowly got into it, I was able to come up with a unique way of categorizing the blogs by their “focus,” “audience” and “type.” This is the background information on how the resource was created and how to use it.

Click on the blog bubble to go straight to the Directory.

Lessons learned

As noted on the homepage of this resource, thousands of librarians in the United States and abroad are taking advantage of the tools available to them to communicate their thoughts about the direction of library and information science. Some have been around for years; others are still finding their niche. Some are written for fellow librarians; others are geared at local patrons. Some are updated frequently; others are abandoned after a while but remain available to serve as repositories of past discussions.

Bottom line: as the number of library blogs continues to grow, so does the challenge to keep up. Blog readers need a tool to help them map out the content available to them beyond professional organizations or trade publications they have grown accustomed to reading. In fact, after scouring the web for library blogs for several months and reading hundreds of blog posts, I can go on record and say, without hesitation, that some of the best librarian expression online is no longer found in trade publications but on organically grown web sites, where librarians and other information professionals passionately share their thoughts about the state of their profession — in their own voice.

Not all blogs are created equal, of course. To quote the wise words of a former colleague, “just because everyone’s doing it, it doesn’t mean that everyone else should do it.” Blogging takes time and commitment. More than that, it takes a great writer to become a great blogger. As I got deeper into this project, I realized that no matter how grand the ideas, if the writing didn’t hold, the blog’s impact quickly faded.

Which is all to say: not all blogs in this directory (currently consisting of 1300 entries) are worth every librarian’s time. But librarians and information professionals looking to enhance their knowledge of various LIS issues (click on Focus below to explore the list of topics) may use this tool to discover some new blogs they never knew existed. Further, LIS students may use the tool to get inspiration for their school assignments. Even librarians well beyond the U.S. borders may find it a useful resource for keeping up with English-language LIS topics. It’s a (really) small world after all. As someone who travels frequently outside the U.S. borders, I know this to be true: “they” look to “you” to lead the way.

Stars & awards

The blogs in this database may be searched or browsed by any of the following (click on each to be taken to a page with more information on how it works).

We also developed a starring system for the blogs akin to those used by book reviewing publications. The criteria for starring blogs is straightforward. Any blog that was previously nominated or that won a Library Blog Award automatically receives a star. In addition, any existing or new blog that catches the attention of the staff for its innovative content, unique approach, and prolific writing is also given a star.  Think of starred library blogs as your highly recommended reading.

In short: The Library Blog Directory embodies what “free resources” need to be about: no-strings-attached, no-registration-necessary access to freely available, high-quality content. This carefully crafted listings of library blogs, designed to help any LIS professional — anywhere –  navigate the world of library grants, will continue to grow over time and more functionalities will be added down the line.



Why circulate reference ebooks?

While publishers continue to package or re-package reference content in ebook format and make it portable (and compatible with the reading devices on the market), I continue to wonder if the future of research content is in ebook format. I understand the benefits of librarians being able to customize their collections, but can research content ever really “flow” the same way on any kind of an aggregated ebook platform as it could when part of an online resource born digital?

Since many of these new reference “ebooks” are also promoted as affordable resources for circulating collections, it leads me to ask: why would a library patron want to check out a stand-alone reference ebook? What benefit is there in accessing one reference ebook on a Nook or a Kindle when one can access an entire online resource on the same subject using the same reading device? Why limit the research experience?

Unlike the world of trade books, where autonomy and authorship reign, research content begs to belong to some larger family of related content. And it begs to be updated as often as needed (not as often as possible). The world we inhabit has already developed a low tolerance for outdated information. And “outdated” in many disciplines includes content produced “a year ago.” If ebooks are the future of trade publishing, why do they need to be the future of reference publishing?

Questions about whether reference books make sense as ebooks (particularly when larger sets are chopped up into single volumes and re-published as ebooks) come up in all my conversations with librarians these days. Below is a list (in no particular order) of some thoughts on this. [The parts in brackets are my random, half-baked conclusions that should morph into more coherent ideas in future posts.]

Most students are (still) not experienced in researching content, regardless of their age. Some will consult librarians for assistance but the vast majority remain “lost” and “on their own.” [Allowing students to check out individual reference ebooks from libraries will alienate them even more from the library resources available to them.]

Students can’t or don’t care to differentiate between an article online and a chapter from an ebook. They just want to get to the content. [Containers will continue to disappear; content types will continue to merge; and reference will continue to blend with nonfiction.]

End users don’t care if the identity of the print book/authored work is preserved online or if the content online is born digital or partially culled from existing publications.

If publishers offered a discount on an updated edition of an ebook for owners of the previous edition, librarians would be more inclined to buy more ebooks. [Discount or no discount, reference content should not have to be "re-published." It should be perpetually updated. The notion of a "new edition" of a reference product should soon be the thing of the past.]

The average cost for an e-book is cost of print plus 50% (plus platforming fees), which greatly diminishes librarians’ purchasing power.

A print reference book can circulate (if allowed to circulate) way more times than an ebook without needing “mending.”

Options available to libraries regarding acquisition of ebooks are still not good enough. The restrictions vendors place on their products often outweigh the benefits of purchasing ebooks. This discourages libraries to purchase them in the first place.

Students haven’t enthusiastically embraced ebooks as a separate entity from databases, which is why the combined or bundled approach to content is ideal. [Is it?]

Publishers need to work on the functionality, features, and navigation aspects of e-book versions of reference books to make them more appealing. Searching/scanning/marginal “notationing” in an e-book is difficult, time consuming, or impossible.

Buy the e-book, pay the platform fee. Quit paying the platform fee, and the ebook disappears. Publishers can “stop strong-arming librarians with their licensing agreements and let them actually own something rather than lease it.” It is easier to do this with ebooks than databases, so that’s what works in their favor if they want to pursue the ebook model. [Ownership over access after all?]

A conventional ebook, if it was assigned as a textbook, might have dozens of students trying to access it, sometimes simultaneously. [When is reference content acceptable textbook material? Who decides? Reference ebooks as e-textbooks: what are the implications?]

A reference ebook will attract people only occasionally and usually there will only be one user at a time. The pricing for reference ebooks should reflect this much more infrequent use. [To a large extend, it already does. But is the model working?]

More TK.

Collection development: The weakest link in the chain

© Sutashiku | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Perhaps to re-think categorization of content as we know it (and as I contemplated in a previous post; see Categorization: Can we break through it?) would be a difficult task for everyone involved. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me, librarians and publishers alike. At least that’s what I’ve accepted for now. But I do not accept that we can’t improve the way content is developed and presented to end users.As things stand now, too many reference books and digital resources sound alike and a large number of publishers are failing to recognize the real value of multi-disciplinary approach to research. As a result, reference collections in libraries, even if fully digitized, remain largely discipline-specific or encourage a one-dimensional approach to research, while collection development practices remain static and unchallenged.

Are librarians and publishers keeping up with how traditional categories are evolving before their eyes? Do they pay attention to how big words become small words that work just as well (and don’t make those who use them appear less credible)? Are editors doing enough to defy traditional categorization when amassing the content? Should librarians be the ones encouraging them to create more inter-disciplinary content and break out of the familiar mold?

Some would argue that it’s the scholars writing the content who stifle the progress the most, with little in re-defining what is considered “authoritative.” Case in point: Is an academic refusing to change “mathematics” to “math” in the title for the purposes of marketing his or her own book just being a pain? Put simply: Who’s the weakest link in the content and collection development chain? This chain, as I see it, consists of the following (notice the chain begins and ends with the same group):

  • Creation of content (researchers, scholars, writers, editors)
  • Packaging of content (publishers, aggregators, vendors)
  • Marketing of content (reviewers, library publications, librarians)
  • Consumption of content (end users; original content creators)

Here’s what two librarians in a focus group had to say about this:

LIBRARIAN 1: I have to start from the bottom: I would say the end users are the least to blame. I also think they’re getting the short end of the stick despite being the ultimate target. If end users were king/queen, then Gale’s Health Reference Center Academic would look like Health & Wellness Resource Center. Neither skimp on functionality or cross-referencing, as far as I can tell. The search experience is very different, but one’s categorization doesn’t seem better or more efficient than the other’s. What student would prefer a doctor’s office lobby over an Information Tomorrowland (relatively speaking)? If the end-users are the goal, where’s the appeal to differing learning styles or searching/browsing preferences? Folksonomies are important, in my mind. You cross-reference the standardized terms and strings with the end user’s search term inclinations and you kind of have it all.

This may seem disproportionately about the visual, but to me presentation is key to how useful the categorization ultimately is. I think the evolution of categories is there, it’s just not very evident. Some resources just don’t appear to have much fluidity because they’re not offering many options. More options (visual), more opportunities to explore the maybe-already-robust categorization and fluidity that may otherwise go unnoticed when minimalism (like sarcasm) is the new black. I tend to want to look for a “purchasing of content” category too, also of librarians, which I think would separate some of the librarians in the “marketing of content” category; if that were the case, I’d group Purchasing of Content (librarians) and Consumption (end users) as the more blameless. I would include reviewers in the blameless category, too – even though reviews ultimately promote or discourage works reviewed, the evaluation to me falls more in the purchasers/consumers just because of intent.

Vendors work to please the purchasers, in my mind. But the purchasers as they see them are the ones in the Creation of Content category – faculty, researchers, writers. Those are the squeaky wheels (wonderful as they may be) that get the grease. And that’s where I feel the fluidity stagnates, where the disconnect with end users seems to begin. So in one way I guess I’m saying that group is the weakest link – but even then I wouldn’t say it’s the individuals, I’d say it’s more the overall mindset of what’s seen as valid and value-added, authoritative (i.e., great info) and authoritarian (i.e., I Mean Business).

Maybe it’s to honor standards of efficiency in categorization that may have been necessary in isolation at one time, or in development, but not really necessary (in isolation) in the digital age. Or maybe it’s traditional distinction between the informees and Those That Inform. The content creators guide the rest to what’s “really” right. The publishers and the librarians see Mathematics and never Math, they assume that Math must be kinda uninformed. So do end users. So if I had to choose the weaker link, I think I would say group 1. Vendors think they’re wanting to please the librarians (they say ‘consumers’, but they really mean librarians – the ones spending the money), and they think the Creation of Content group best tell them what’s wanted, all the way down the line.

LIBRARIAN 2: If I had a gun and was forced to shoot one person in this collection development chain, I’d probably shoot the librarians. They are the weakest link not because they are bad at marketing (that’s a whole different conversation right there), but because they are stuck in the middle between library members and publishers/content creators. The writers/researchers just make their content with varying degrees of market mindfulness. The suits package the content and send it down the road; it’s their widget and they are good at making that widget (but not the eWidget version, but again, a whole different conversation). Librarians come into the chain and with a completely different set of motivations. While content creators and the suits are motivated by money and measuring profitability (more or less), librarians are in it for other principles. It’s not a bookstore mentality in which they are trying to take the widget and get it to the consumer; no, it’s something different. I’ve long believed that marketing in libraries needs to catch up because for the longest time they were the only knowledge game in town; now, they are part of the chorus. It’s just a brand new world and one that requires people to do some catching up.

Although, I won’t say librarians are hopeless. The current cataloging bruhaha about RDA taking over AARC2 looks to move the ball from the stoic stodgy rules to something a bit more… fluid. I don’t understand cataloger speak, but that’s the gist of what I get out of that conversation.

On the other hand, for librarians I think the content flow now is like drinking from the fire hose. There is a lot to keep up on so changing the way things are cataloged or categorized is not a top priority unless it inhibits workflow. Hence, the reliance on many outside sources (members, suits, creators) to have things categorized for them. Hence, there is a weakness that originates from their position in the chain.

In tossing something back to workflow, it’s like that old adage: be like a reed. bend in the wind, but do not break. Some fluid and flow is good, but it shouldn’t be a complete change.

Categorization: Can we break through it?

Photo Credit © Akud | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

During my years as a book review editor, I spent hundreds of hours sorting through books (then physical objects only) to figure out what goes where. When I first started my editorial career (in the mid 1990s), those categories made a lot more sense than they did when I left the book review job in the spring of 2010. At that time, it seemed, everything started blurring. I can’t count the times I went back and forth with my colleagues about whether a newly arrived galley belonged in my or someone else’s “pile.”

My point: suddenly the publishing world became one big inter-disciplinary mess.Then I started handling reference products (books and databases). They were a little bit easier to figure out. SCOPUS really is science. SAGE really is social science. Well, kind of. “Social science” by its definition is anything but clear-cut. I remember my interview with H. James Birx, the editor of SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Time, where entries ranged from covering time as a “scientific” phenomenon to those discussing literary novels that explored the issue of time.

I could spend hours citing similar examples that point to reference books and products getting harder to categorize. Which has led me to wonder: Is there a way to modernize (for the lack of a better word) the way research content is categorized? More precisely: is there a way to make the discovery of such content more in tune with the multi-disciplinary nature of the world we live in? Is this the time to get rid of categories as we know them and completely re-wire ourselves to come up with new research methods?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I have persistent thoughts about why our seemingly organized world of research content is limiting our research experience. I have persistent thoughts about why much of what I see in a “social science” resource like SAGE’s Encyclopedia of Time could be valuable to students in other disciplines, some barely related to “social sciences.”

I engaged in a lively back-and-forth on this topic with a group of librarians while working on a tool of sorts a while back. Here are the highlights from the discussion. There is a lot more where this came from (and a lot more to come).

LIBRARIAN 1: I think search engines have made categories obsolete in terms of information location. If I want to find something on zebras, I don’t click through a series of categories (Animal -> Mammal -> etc -> Zebra) to get where I’m going anymore. That was the benefit of the Yahoo! categories back in the day before the Google monster reared its head. Now, I just type zebra into a search box and away I go to zebras. However, categories are not obsolete in terms of information *browsing.* They still count for serendipity and being able to find sources and resources that are near to what someone is looking for; in fact, I would argue that it would be vital to someone looking at zebras to be given a glimpse of related topics (such as horses, African animals, conservation, and so forth). They might be more interested in how other topics relate to their search term rather than a rote return on the search term itself.

The common complaint is that the digital age takes away the serendipitous browsing of the physical space. Amazon can make recommendations based on what other people who bought an item also bought, but that doesn’t mean you’d find them right next to each other on the shelf. Yes, there is value to their recommendations, but it still doesn’t provide a proper “shelf view” of a topic.

LIBRARIAN 2: The thing that always comes to mind when people mention categories is Yahoo categories – when people used to browse the web hierarchically. Alas, we don’t do that anymore. It’s all about keywords, metadata and relevance. The beauty of cross searching reference tools is that you find new perspectives on a topic from a variety of disciplines because you don’t lock yourself into a category at the start of your search. That being said, librarians expect some type of categories and organization because that is our nature. My humanities librarian who may be searching for new sources won’t want to see the STEM reference tools. She will prefer to search/browse only those in her areas. However, if she needs a source to answer a STEM question, she will want to search the entire collection to get a better understanding of the concept and what tools might help to answer the question (i.e., Reference Universe model).

LIBRARIAN 3: I like a relatively limited number of larger categories but I have to confess to loving as much selectable, cross-referenced mini-categories as possible. An example of this would be Gale’s “What Do I Read Next?” You search for Book X which you enjoyed, and it gives reading suggestions based on similarity in the subjects attached and how they’re catalogued in there. But you could also go to the subjects attached to the book – all subjects (main and sub) have check boxes – so you could check the main boxes for Mystery and Award Winner, or maybe just check 3 boxes for “Military Families”, “1800’s”, and “Conspiracies” and it would give you all books sharing those three subjects. At least that’s how it worked a few years ago. I’m sure a lot of online resources work that way now. For me, the more boxes I had to choose from, the happier I was because it gave me more options. If I wanted just the baser options, I could still limit to those. I’d rather have more and not need them than have less but want more.


What is reference? Part 2


This article continues my previous attempt to define reference content  (see What is reference?)

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I’ve heard on more than one occasion that “reference”—the word itself—has become meaningless in the world of publishing and librarianship and should simply be replaced with “information.”  After all, the word “information” is more in line with the thinking of today’s students and lay researchers. Which explains, at least in the case of my local library here in New York, why the sign above what used to be “The Reference Desk” has long been replaced with a sign that says “Information.”Since the brave new world we inhabit challenges us to re-define research with each passing decade, this journey of discovery we call “reference” (or research) means different things today than it did at the turn of the century. Students no longer look things up and walk away. They expect to be engaged during their research. If they are learning a foreign language, they want to hear how a word is spoken by a native. If they don’t know the meaning of a word, they want to get the translation by simply placing a cursor over it. If they are studying a poem, they want to be able to hear it read to them the way it would be read in a literature class. If they are studying a war, they want to see pictures and even videos of battlefields.

All of this confirms that reference sources of today no longer resemble reference sources of yesterday. The more I consider it, the more I am convinced that the word “reference” is a classic among other words tossed around in the publishing (and library) industry that have lost their original meaning. Take “nonfiction,” for example. I am not familiar with the origin of the word, and I can only guess how long it’s been around, but the same industry that no longer likes the word “reference” has long been engaging in the habit of defining books that are “not fiction” as nonfiction. We have in the last several decades witnessed a remarkable proliferation of all sorts of “other than fiction” genres, yet we are still content to refer to them generally as “nonfiction.”

Bottom line: reference content, like all content, changes over time. It expands and grows. But unlike fiction and other creative forms of writing, where the trends are usually set by the publisher (or author), reference is all about following trends. Which is probably why it resists becoming obsolete. Reference is about responding to user demands. At its most creative, reference content challenges user expectations by giving them more than expected, even at the cost of temporary failure (more on this later).

So, to conclude, reference sources include all products that aid library patrons in their research. Some are produced by traditional publishers; others are produced by companies amassing content from all over and re-distributing it in a new format; and some are designed to serve as tools  to help patrons and librarians locate the content across products and libraries.

Reference products come in different containers, but they all continue to evolve (with varying degrees of success) alongside technological advances and research habits.

They include, but are not limited to:

  • traditional multi-volume A-Z encyclopedias
  • electronic versions of traditional encyclopedias
  • single-volume, authored scholarly treatments of a variety of subjects
  • encyclopedias with chronological arrangement
  • monographs
  • journals and collections of journals
  • dictionaries
  • almanacs
  • atlases
  • directories
  • catalogs
  • discographies
  • filmographies
  • glossaries
  • handbooks
  • manuals
  • research guides
  • edited collections of essays centered around a topic
  • subject-specific digital resources by single publishers
  • general databases
  • indexes
  • bibliographic sources
  • ebook platforms (by single or multiple publishers)
  • discovery tools
  • open access reference works
  • freely available web sites

More TK.

To gain that which is worth having

While I recognize the need to sustain business models and applaud the creativity required to come up with new, affordable ways of packaging research content for libraries, I am torn between understanding why having choices is helping libraries spend their money wisely while helping publishers remain profitable and wondering if all these choices will soon be overwhelming everyone involved. But more than that: I wonder if the choices and our fixation on them are preventing publishers and librarians from getting closer to a model that would open up a whole new world of (universal) possibilities—the kind we may not even be able to fully conceive of yet.

Burnadette Devlinonce once said: “To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.” I think about this often as I engage in activities that require re-purposing of reference content. Where will all these choices lead us? Will some need to be sacrificed to make room for the new ones already emerging? Are ebooks really the answer for reference publishers? What if ebooks needed to be sacrificed for the sake of new kind of digital resources that would allow content to flow continuously and with a purpose?

Will all these different “format” paths publishers are taking eventually merge or will they raise frustration levels even more for those trying to keep up? And what will it all mean for future generations of researchers who will not want to be more than a click away from the information they need?

I keep wondering: What if the reference industry and all the players in it had the means and vested interest to lose “everything else” so that they could focus on the one format and the one product worth “having” and improving? And what if that one format/product was all that any library and any patron ever needed from that publisher?

We’ve come a mighty long way since the days print reference sets came bundled with CD-ROMS, but we have a long way to go before we reach a point (as an industry) at which having choices no longer impresses us or satisfies the needs of everyone involved: content producers, librarians, and users alike. As our world becomes more chaotic, our industry will, no doubt, strive for a new normal. And in that new normal, I see simplicity reigning over complexity and quality of content taking center stage again. I see a smaller number of high-quality digital platforms standing the test of time the way reference ebooks will not be able to.

For now, though, we are still lured by the power of quantity and choices. And we still vacillate in indecision.

What is reference?

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With all the talk about formats and platforms, the evolution of reference content seems to be getting little attention. Even when publishers merge and new products are unveiled, the focus remains on the formats, the bells and whistles, the business models, or the multitudes of purchasing options for libraries. Meanwhile, the look of reference content keeps changing. This is the part that fascinates me the most: not that reference is becoming everything else but that everything else is becoming reference.

For decades, it seemed, “reference” review sections in publications catering to publishers and librarians focused on the most obvious types of reference books: encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, and directories. What they all had in common, above all, was the A-Z (or, in some cases, chronological) arrangement. Then came digital resources and things started to shift as publishers began experimenting with ways in which scholarly content stretching beyond encyclopedia entries could be dissected, interrelated, and packaged (or re-packaged). More and more, traditional reference publishers moved away from A-Z and toward the edited collection model (which, as my experience has taught me, has serious advantages and disadvantages).

But the “edited collection” model is not where the evolution of reference content is at anymore. The “authored” model has entered the picture, too, with the unveilings of new university press content platforms in recent months, some of which merge monograph with journal content (e.g., JSTOR, Project MUSE). Fusing monographs with journals on such platforms also signals a shift in the direction toward blending everything else into reference.

Browsing through a review section of any library publication makes one wonder, then: how long before other types of “nonfiction” books make their way into various “reference” platforms online. Where would we draw the line? Would a new Steve Jobs biography (years from now), however popular on the commercial front, find its way into a biography database? And who would decide? The implications of all this could be enormous for everyone in the industry. But they could also be invigorating. And I have no doubt that this is the direction we are heading toward.

So how do we define “reference” content as it appears now? My simple answer: any content that can be applied—in both random and purposeful way—to a person’s research is reference content. Further, any type of vetted content (or reasonably curated content; more on this later) that enriches a person’s inquiry is reference content. Reference, then, is synonymous with research. No other word in my mind comes closer to defining reference than research.

More TK. [See What is reference? Part 2.]

Monographs go digital (and merge with journals)

A while back I wrote a long feature on digitization of monographs for a magazine. Life intervened and this long version (with ample quotes from publishing insiders and librarians) never got published as intended. I’m giving it a home on this site.–MR

The need to update scholarly publishing has given rise to four distinct digitization initiatives supporting the academic and library market: Oxford University Press’ (OUP) University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO); Cambridge University Press’ (CUP) University Publishing Online (UPO); University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) Book Collections on Project MUSE; and Books at JSTOR.

University presses as leaders

Oxford’s UPSO and Cambridge’s UPO launched in Fall 2011, representing the efforts of two leading university presses taking on the leadership role and using their existing platforms as the foundation for further digitization efforts. UPSO is a partnership between OUP and several university presses (including Fordham and University of Florida) to aggregate monograph content into a single, cross-searchable platform featuring XML format, setting it apart from the competing platforms still featuring PDF. “By tapping into the advantages of XML, UPSO provides superior search results and is able to create a content journey,” said Rebecca Seger, OUP’s Director of Institutional Sales for the Americas.

OUP set the stage for digitization of scholarly content in 2003 with the launch of Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO), now integrated with the book content of the partner presses on the new UPSO platform. UPSO is also the only platform not integrating journals with books. “Our platform is geared toward long-form scholarship,” added Seger. “The full book is an argument, and we want to preserve that.”

UPO also is hosted by a university press with a long history of scholarly publishing, but it casts the net wider. The result of a joint venture between CUP and partner publishers (including Liverpool University and Mathematical Association of America), UPO integrates scholarly books (including textbooks and professional books) with journal articles on a single platform. “Our goal is to remain as flexible as possible in terms of the type of content we provide,” said Hannah Perrett, CUP’s Strategic Development Director for Digital Publishing.

Aggregator perspectives

Project MUSE and JSTOR models represent the initiatives of well-known aggregators in the library community who saw an opportunity to build a bridge between librarians and university partners at a time when their means to digitize their own content were limited at best. While hoping to emulate the successes they’ve had with the journals, both Project MUSE and JSTOR see an opportunity to breathe new life into the existing models by going beyond marrying scholarly books to the journal side and incorporating other types of content in the near future.

The Project MUSE initiative is the result of a partnership with the University Press Ebook Consortium, which includes Johns Hopkins University Press (the host institution), New York University, and over 60 others. The new business model allows participating publishers to select the titles they want to offer annually on the MUSE platform. “We developed the name University Press Content Consortium [for the partnership] to signal to the market that book and journal content coming together was only the beginning,” said Dean Smith, Director of Project MUSE. “In the future, we will transform the platform yet again to include reference works, datasets, multimedia, annotation, collaboration, and commenting features.”

The last in line for release (set for release in summer 2012), Books at JSTOR is an initiative by several university presses (including Yale and Princeton) to make their ebooks available as part of JSTOR, a widely-used digital platform of scholarly content founded in 1995 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Once incorporated, the book content is cross-searchable with millions of journal articles and primary sources already on JSTOR. “Librarians have been telling us for some time now to add scholarly books,” said Frank Smith, Director of Books at JSTOR.

Power of scale

As these partnerships continue to solidify, the future of small university presses is called into question: are these new agreements giving them the power of scale or are they giving the leaders more control? “A bit of both,” said Perrett (CUP), adding that Cambridge’s history of book publishing, as opposed to the history of content aggregation on the distributor side, makes them more attuned to the needs of their partners. Seger (OUP) agrees, stressing the importance of the spirit of collaboration between content producers: “We understand where they are coming from.”

For others, it’s not a question of power but of survival and an opportunity to re-energize business models. From a small university press standpoint, these partnerships are about increasing the frequency and breadth of the content usage. According to Peter Dougherty, Director of Princeton University Press, “This will lead to more scholars reading our books. As we get experience in the integrated scholarly aggregations, we will be able to work with publishers, aggregators, authors, and readers to develop new applications flowing from the basic innovation.”

Disappearing containers

Merging book content with the journal side is largely perceived as a natural progression, with many citing librarians as the driving force behind the trend. Whether via advisory boards or through feedback provided to their vendor representatives, librarians had a lot to do with how these platforms turned out. This explains, at least in part, why merging books and journals is seen as the next most significant movement in collection development.

Alice Crosetto, Coordinator of Collection Development for University Libraries at the University of Toledo (OH) recognizes that “giving the faculty and students everything they could use in one location reduces the frustration levels and time spent in conducting research.”

Other librarians see the merging of different types of sources as simply the nature of the beast spawned by technology. “I like this beast and I bet lots of librarians focusing on information literacy instruction like it,” said Tiffany J. McGregor, Interim Director of Library Services at Neumann University (PA). “By not having to explore different vehicles for each kind of information source, instructors can focus on teaching better strategies for using the information itself.”

The overlap dilemma

The non-exclusive nature of these deals has led to content overlap, which makes it challenging for libraries unable to own all four platforms to decide which once to settle on. “We drove the exclusivity angle in the beginning, but in reality publishers don’t want to go there,” said Smith (Project MUSE), citing the fear of loss of course adoption revenues as one of the reasons behind it.

On the other hand, allowing partner presses to “double-dip” means their content will remain widely available and it ultimately gives them more control. “Publishers these days have so many more tools at their disposal than when journals were going online,” added Smith (Project MUSE).

The overlap is frustrating to librarians, particularly those examining their budgets under a magnifying glass, but it is to be expected. “I would be more surprised if there wasn’t any overlap,” said Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo). “It doesn’t mean that we’re happy about paying twice for the same content.”

McGregor (Neumann Univ.) sees non-exclusivity as a way to allow for competitive pricing and less of a monopoly on access as well as an opportunity for librarians to rethink their own practices: “Overlap is something that librarians already deal with, and often a savvy approach to collection development can help minimize the sting.”

Options galore

The multitude of options available to librarians may indeed pave the way for new approaches to collection development as some gravitate toward cafeteria-style purchasing while others opt for pre-packaged collections. And it is precisely in the realm of pricing and purchasing options that the differences between the four platforms come to light.

Oxford’s discipline-driven approach (with title-by-title purchasing on the horizon) allows librarians to buy (by publisher) in one, several, or all of the 22 main subject modules or among the 270 sub-disciplines, which include books across all presses. Divided into five large subject areas, Cambridge’s model allows for title-by-title purchasing (after a first-time purchase of 25 titles) from a single publisher or mixing and matching across all subjects and publishers.

Project MUSE has bundled the book content into three distinct collections: Complete Collections, Subject Collections, and Archival Collections. Within those three bundles, 47 different purchasing options are available. Finally, JSTOR offers pre-built collections as well, but its big pitch to librarians is “buy whatever you want,” allowing them to purchase across subjects, publishers, and publication years.

Platform fatigue

While the available options may encourage individualized approaches to collection development, they may also contribute to more “platform fatigue” for both librarians deciding what to buy and for the researchers needing to learn new platforms on top of those their library already owns.

Does this lead to librarians wishing for a single repository of scholarly content? Contrary to what may seem intuitive, librarians recognize the flip side to platform fatigue: more value in the long run and less anxiety. Not only are they willing to set up new vendor accounts, if necessary, they remain focused on the patrons. “When I buy materials, I always remember Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory model— we learn differently,” explains Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo). “In order to address this, we need to provide a variety of resources, including a variety of access points.”

Having choices may alleviate the anxiety of being stuck in an undesirable situation, but it also raises the issue of the time required to choose which platform to buy and train everyone who will use it. “An ultimate repository would make it easy to quickly identify a destination, but what happens if we don’t like what we find at this destination?” asks McGregor (Neumann Univ.).

Great strides

Despite the overlap and visible differences, great strides have been to improve functionalities and discoverability of content across the board. All platforms feature sophisticated search and browse capabilities, multiple remote access points, and are fully mobile-device optimized. And library support tools like COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, MARC records, and OpenURL compliance, as well as integration of multiple citation tools and DOIs (digital object identifiers) at book and chapter level have become the norm.

From a user perspective, the future looks bright. From an industry perspective, however, it remains unclear. Now that monographs have found their new homes online, will commercial aggregator sites be pushed aside? Will the conglomeration of English-language scholarly content—now available to audiences well beyond English-language borders—lead to further globalization of scholarly resources? And will this globalization eventually lead to an Open Access model for which many scholars have been pushing?

The industry may not be ready to make predictions, but librarians seem equally poised as the university presses to handle the changes. “The key is to continue providing a variety of purchase options at a time when academic libraries have little money left to spend on books,” said Sue Polanka, creator of No ShelfRequired® blog and Head of Reference and Instruction at Wright State University Libraries (OH).

Polanka sees a future in which PDA (Patron Driven Acquisitions) and short-term loans take center stage and book chapters hold their own. “Just in time collections will reign,” she adds. “And access over ownership may be the next norm.”

“This is a challenging time for all in higher education,” concludes Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo), pointing to more uncertainty for everyone who has a stake in the future of the scholarly book. “Are the decisions we are making today going to stand the test of time? Or will future scholars and information specialists look back and ask themselves what were we thinking?”