11 August 2010

E-books and national e-textbook projects

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The Library is constantly evaluating new technologies and resources which will benefit users and meet the evolving teaching and research needs of staff and students. One result of this has been a significant and growing investment in e-books, which offer obvious benefits such as unrestricted 24/7 access.

Over 12,000 permanent access e-books in many subject areas are now held, ranging from individual titles, and series such as Cambridge Collections Online, to reference works eg. in Oxford Reference Online. (This total would exceed 292,000, if the titles in Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) were included).

Where possible, the Library purchases e-versions of current Multiple Copies and Short Loan items to ensure easier access for users, though many textbooks are not available as e-books yet, due to publishers’ concerns about the impact on print sales.

Local interest in e-books is high, as evidenced by St Andrews providing the second highest number of responses, from Scottish Universities, to the recent JISC National Observatory E-book Project exit survey.  The Library was involved in this 2007-2009 project which examined the many issues surrounding the future provision of textbooks in e-book format. The final report is now available and makes interesting reading.

Phase 2 of the follow-up Study on the Economic Impact of e-Textbook Business Models Trial involved eight leading textbook publishers, three e-book providers and ten University libraries working together to test a range of sustainable business models for e-textbooks. This phase monitored the impact on print sales of the e-book titles made available free, to UK Universities, as part of the initial project.  St Andrews was the only Scottish University Library to be involved in Phase 2.

So far, the data suggests that availability of e-versions has little impact on print sales and that e-textbooks act as a backup to print, at present, and will co-exist. JISC Collections is encouraging publishers to think of e-textbooks as a new and different market, and these findings are likely to inform any future developments.  The report of Phase 2 will be available shortly, and will be publicised here.

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