eBooks: Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?

by Elizabeth on April 13, 2010 · 0 comments

in books, librarianship, libraries

For the past two months I’ve been working part-time in a small hospital library.  The library is moving to a newer (albeit much smaller) location, and I was hired on to help with the move.  The library is without a full-time librarian, so I’m helping fill that role along with the current library assistant, another girl who was hired on with me, and the library consultant.  A big part of the job was weeding the current collection in order to fit the smaller size.  After talking to some of the library patrons (almost exclusively residents) we decided to leave all the books as they were and just weed the journal collection.  The doctors shared that they were more likely to use the books to refresh their memories than to use the journals.  Many of our residents are fresh out of medical school, so I can see where books, especially surgical textbooks (we have a lot of surgical residents), would come in handy.  Many of them also expressed the desire to see more ebooks.
We’ve begun some initial research on ebook packages, but have yet to find exactly what we need.  All of this has got me thinking about the usefulness of ebooks, especially in a medical and/or research library.  Because of licensing, the ebooks would only be able to be used on the four library desktops.  More than likely, it will be out of our budget to purchase remote user access, so we will have to limit access just to the four public computers.  How many doctors are going to come in, sit at a computer, and read an ebook?  I can’t foresee that happening all that much.  Because we don’t have remote access to most of our electronic resources, many patrons rely on the library staff to find their articles and email them, so that they can read them on their own time, not in the library.  We definitely have a barrier, but not one I see changing anytime soon.
My university (where I did my undergrad and graduate degrees) had a large library of ebooks, but I never used them.  Why?  Because they had to be read from a computer.  Sure, they are searchable, and often interactive, but I don’t find that any different from using a table of contents or an index to find what I need.  I dislike reading on the computer screen; I prefer to print out my research or use a book.  I like to be able to take my research wherever, and read it when I have a few free moments. Ebooks do not offer that kind of flexiblity.
Let me take a minute to clarify.  I’m not talking about the kind of books you can download on an ereader (like a Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc).  Some textbooks and reference tools are available this way, but there aren’t enough to warrant purchasing the rights so that they can be downloaded as needed.  Many of our doctors have iPhones and iPod Touches and would love to be able to get medical books that way, but for the time being, that is out of the question.  I would love to see this happen in the future though.  The kind of ebooks we are thinking of purchasing would be the kind that have to be read on a computer.  I don’t really see our library patrons using these.  Maybe if we were able to get the remote access rights, but without that, I think it would be a waste.

What do you think?  Are ebooks the way to go?  Does anyone have any experience with purchasing ebooks for small, special libraries? I would love to hear from you!

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