On January 24, 2002, OCLC Online Computer Library Center acquired netLibrary, a major electronic books (e-books) company. OCLC's acquisition includes the e-book Division of netLibrary, which OCLC has integrated as a division of OCLC, and netLibrary's MetaText eTextbook Division, which has become a for-profit subsidiary of OCLC. This article describes the rationale and background of the acquisition, the overall vision of the information environment that is being pursued, and the benefits that libraries may experience as a result.
Donald Hawkins, Clifford Lynch, and Ruth Wilson, among others, have each published excellent overviews of the e-book arena, and so this information is not replicated here . Nevertheless, a few definitions are in order. There are three major components that contribute to the e-book reading experience: content, hardware, and software.
In this article, we use the term "e-book" to represent content that has been made available digitally and electronically.
The term, "reading appliances" refers to the hardware one uses for reading e-books. There are three general models of e-book reading appliances in the marketplace today: portable dedicated devices such as the Gemstar REB 1200; portable, small, multi-use devices such as personal digital assistants like Palm, handheld PCs, Tablets; and desktop computers or laptops. netLibrary is presently PC and laptop based.
The final component of the reading experience is software that facilitates the searching, navigation, font appearance, functionality, and presentation of information. We refer to this as "reading software". Some e-book companies require the use of proprietary client-side reading software to view and manage their books independently of the Web. netLibrary has experimented with several models and its e-book reading software today is browser based and its content is hosted centrally by netLibrary and distributed via Web technologies.
E-book publishers' respective combination of hardware and software components undoubtedly impacts e-book consumers' selection of content and usage patterns of the content. It is, for example, a different matter to read something on one's PC or laptop surrounded, perhaps, by neatly organized piles of paper representing the user's accompanying active cognitive engagements, as opposed to reading material that can be carried in, say, one's purse without the intellectual annex that a desk represents . The present netLibrary model facilitates learners, scholars, and teachers who are working at their desks or on a portable desk--the laptop computer--and who are searching, studying, researching, printing, and copying portions of text, and reading, generally with academic intent.
The advantages of e-books in this context are straightforward and include: easy access to content; on-demand availability (accessible anytime from anywhere at anytime); capabilities to search within a book and across a collection of books; links to other resources, including dictionaries and thesauri; no risk of loss, damage, theft, or misplacement; no physical space requirements; no device requirements for access to the content; accessibility to content using standard web browsers; customizable search interfaces; and ease in transportability.
Many books --especially reference works--already have a long history of electronic usage. In fact, one of the earliest applications of computers was for automated literature searching, replacing cumbersome print indexes. Since then, thousands of reference books, from general encyclopedias and dictionaries to specialized sources, have been digitized and are commonly used online or as a CD-ROM.
There are strong indications in libraries during the last two to three years that circulation is down, reference questions are down, and in-library printing is down. With the advent of the Web, students are organizing their materials and looking for information differently from before. They are using the Web from their homes for a significant amount of their research activity. By all reports, patrons will stop seeking when they have gathered the minimum amount of information that achieves their needs. This has come to mean that users will settle for the items conveniently available as full text electronic documents while ignoring robust paper-based information sources. Some patrons have also expressed the belief that everything is available via the Web. Recognition of this puts more pressure on libraries to integrate paper and electronic collection catalogs, and to ensure that paper resources are as conveniently available as electronic.
Because few monographic books have been made available electronically, monographs have not been part of the Web distribution revolution. They have been neither part of the surface web nor the deep web; they have not been on the web at all. Use of journal full-text content has predominated over monographic books, in the context of the students' activities described above. The emergence of e-books is necessary to ensure that books have a presence in the Web world, and a presence in students' emerging research behaviors.
According to a Forrester report published in 2000, e-book technologies indicate significant promise for the textbook industry as an enabler for publishers, faculty and students . Publishers will be able to make last-minute changes to content, and will be able to tailor the content to reflect regional preferences. Teachers will be able to compile and tailor their curriculum materials, using interactive functionality, and provide enhanced levels of detail by linking to added content on the web. Students, in lieu of toting multiple heavy, large, hardbound textbooks across campus, in the future will need to only tote a lightweight reading appliance loaded with electronic textbooks. Distance learning--one of the fastest growing educational business areas in the U.S.--requires getting information to students who do not always have ready access to university libraries, and e-books are looked to as a major solution. The e-textbook area is predicted to have a $7.8 billion potential by 2005 . In this new e-textbook environment, libraries may be better integrated into the courseware and instructional material environment than heretofore, as types of information (textbook, "learning objects", primary sources, secondary sources, various media) become linked and moving between them becomes seamless in the workflows of faculty and students.
A recent study by Columbia found that "scholars read relatively little of most of the books that they review for their work…The introduction, a few pages to a couple [of] chapters, and the bibliography, footnotes, and index are browsed or read in some other books…Only a few books are read at great length…They want to be able to flip between pages, to follow the line of reasoning, to move from reference to footnote, from index to text easily…They feel that given navigational flexibility, speed, and design that takes advantage of interactivity, as well as substantial collections, scholars would increase their use of online books" [7 cited in 8]. From a collection management standpoint, the e-book affords libraries a rich storehouse of usage information previously unavailable. The e-book's content management system can potentially enable one to track not merely what is being circulated, but also what parts of books are used for what lengths of time. One can provide access to e-books more efficiently, since the usage of high-demand texts can be interleaved between patrons much as usage of high demand items is today optimized by a reserve desk.
E-books have also prompted new interest in patron-initiated acquisition models. Commonplace in interlibrary loan, several consortia are experimenting with a demand, then acquire workflow in the e-book arena and have reported success. At a recent ALA workshop, one library director made the point that, given the shortage of funds and the predicted shortage of librarians, one might usefully forgo subject bibliographer salaries for patron-selected electronic books . E-book management systems would facilitate the evaluation of these approaches. Coupled with normal approval and selection programs, the approach can reduce the number of unused titles warehoused by libraries.
netLibrary has been dedicated to providing electronic book services to the library community since it began operations in July 1998. It is committed to encouraging the creation of the electronic version of the monograph, and to serving these up through libraries. netLibrary provides academic, public, special/corporate and school libraries with solutions for the purchase, management, and use of digital learning content, specifically e-books. It digitized its first e-book in January 1999, launched its Web site in March 1999 and sold its first title in May 1999. Today, netLibrary's e-book offering is the most broadly adopted in the market, representing the content of 315 publishers and serving more than 6,700 libraries, with a catalog of more than 41,000 titles.
netLibrary has experimented with various roles in the electronic book arena during its life span. Though primarily focused on the library market, for a brief period it owned Peanut Press, a company devoted to the publication of retail e-books for PDA devices using proprietary reading software. (netLibrary subsequently sold Peanut Press to Palm, which changed the name of the software to Palm Reader.) netLibrary has also provided conversion services to publishers, to reduce entry barriers that publishers might otherwise encounter. It continues to do so, though increasingly publishers are able to manage these conversions themselves. netLibrary has also experimented with several reading software models, only recently discontinuing PC-based proprietary reading software in favor of a browser-based, centrally-hosted, model.
netLibrary's e-book offering presently includes:
- an integrated catalog of more than 41,000 titles which grows daily, for which netLibrary has acquired content distribution and management rights from publishers,
- a collection management platform,
- a suite of content support services
The publisher of the content determines the e-book price, but the majority of the e-book titles are the same price as the hard copy book. An access fee is charged to libraries and institutions to cover the costs of maintaining a digital library, such as use of search capabilities and related Web-based features. The access fee can be paid as a one-time charge for ongoing access to the e-book title, or can be paid on an annual basis. The latter allows libraries to deselect the titles, and may be of interest to non-research libraries for technology and computer science titles that become outdated.
TitleSelect™, netLibrary's online collection development tool, allows librarians to access netLibrary's entire e-book catalogue. This useful interactive instrument allows the selection of individual titles, to create title lists and to order e-books that best fit specific library needs. TitleSelect, also offers an ownership-awareness feature that can help librarians quickly identify owned titles within their collections. netLibrary provides a variety of usage reports, as well as reports of titles that are not used, which enable librarians to monitor and adjust their collection strategies and circulation models. It is possible to assign circulation periods by title and/or collections and to access netLibrary's collection development tools for reviewing and acquiring new content.
TitleDirect™ is a new collection development tool that helps libraries with large e-book collections more efficiently and effectively manage the e-book selection and review process. Offered for libraries with expanding e-book collections of 3,000 or more titles, TitleDirect provides automatic notification of new titles matching library-specified content profiles.
netLibrary has continued to balance the needs of libraries with the needs of publishers, to ensure that libraries continue to be empowered in the e-book world. netLibrary also continues to focus on 1) utility; 2) integration with libraries' existing systems; and 3) ease of use, for the library community. netLibrary enhances the utility of learning content through digital functionality, content management tools, and a suite of content support services. The e-book solution enriches the underlying value of learning content through online features such as search and bookmark.
netLibrary customers are able to use the same distribution vendors for e-books as they do for print publications. They can continue to use the same library automation software systems for netLibrary items as they do for the rest of their content collections.
netLibrary supports remote patron authentication, so patrons need not visit a library building to search the library's collection or to check out a netLibrary title. netLibrary's e-book metadata records can be integrated with the library's online catalog for linked access to the title.
netLibrary had an agreement with OCLC several years prior to OCLC's acquisition of netLibrary, to enable netLibrary customers to acquire OCLC MARC catalog records, to set their netLibrary holdings in WorldCat (if they were OCLC member libraries), and also to enable netLibrary subscribers to opt for an escrow agreement to preserve their purchases should netLibrary encounter problems. Awareness and accessibility of e-book content is crucial to usage and many libraries have found that within three weeks of integrating MARC records into the online public access catalogue for their e-books, circulation for e-book titles triples . This suggests that e-books should be integrated into library processes, policies, and services, and not isolated or treated as a different format than other content, especially when the e-book content can be accessed through the online catalog in a web-based environment, requiring no additional hardware or software.
A comparison of circulation of identical titles available at the University of Pittsburgh in e-book and print book format indicates that e-book circulation is higher than print book circulation. During a four-month period each e-book title was accessed an average of 3.7 times compared to an average of 1.4 accesses per print book title. Thirty percent of the titles in the e-book collection were accessed during this period while only ten percent of the print collection was accessed .
Some e-book content is in more demand. These include current subject matter within certain disciplines and content that is generally not read in its entirety, i.e., scholarly, professional, and reference content.
Current netLibrary e-book usage patterns suggest highest subject usage within the economics and business; computer science; literature; medicine, health and wellness; technology; history; education; sociology; and religion collections. These e-book content areas are similar to those identified by librarians.
In June 2001, netLibrary emailed questionnaires about e-book content to 1900 academic, public, and special librarians. The sample was equally distributed among the three types of librarians. One hundred eighty-one responses were returned. Eighty-four percent of the responses were from academic librarians, fourteen percent were from public librarians, and two percent were from special librarians. Business, medicine, computer and information science, technology, and career content were the highest ranked subject areas for e-book collections. Digital reference content was also ranked highly .
netLibrary acquires content from publishers to provide to libraries and institutions, rather than directly to end-users. The resources and services available through netLibrary are developed to integrate into library systems. netLibrary's focus on providing content and services to libraries strongly complements OCLC's member-based services.
Prior to the acquisition of netLibrary, OCLC's offerings have predominantly consisted of four service areas that help librarians manage their collections and provide services to end users: cataloguing and metadata; interlibrary loan; digital preservation and access; and reference. Libraries and OCLC cooperatively build and maintain WorldCat, which includes more than 49 million bibliographic records and more than 800 million library holdings. FirstSearch also serves as an interface for end users to journal databases. The goal in offering FirstSearch has long been to leverage the membership's investment by providing an end-user interface to WorldCat (recently augmented with decision support such as cover art, reviews, tables of contents, and so forth), and to further leverage that investment by integrating access to other information databases under the same interface.
In short, OCLC's goals for its end-user service have been:
- increase availability of library resources to users of libraries,
- reduce library costs,
- provide end-user access to WorldCat,
- integrate bibliographic information (monographs, serials, journal articles, etc.) under one interface,
- integrate information resources under the same interface as their bibliographic metadata surrogates.
Though the WorldCat database has traditionally housed metadata records representing books, serial titles, maps, manuscript and archive collections, realia, and so forth, it did not historically provide access to the full text of documents. Like other bibliographic databases, the WorldCat metadata provided location information enabling users to find the item, which was separate from the metadata. This changed gradually over the last 10 years, as OCLC's Internet Cataloging project and then OCLC's CORC (Cooperative Online Resource Catalog) project explored and facilitated cataloging of electronic materials. Powered by the World Wide Web, free web-accessible electronic documents such as web pages could be just a click away from the bibliographic record.
The entire WorldCat database, with cataloging records for electronic documents available on the Web, is available both to OCLC catalogers, and to end-users under the FirstSearch interface. Full text electronic documents are accessible through FirstSearch whenever permitted by the content publishers. OCLC, like other journal aggregators, has been able to make free web pages, and electronic journal articles rights to which have been negotiated, available to the public through libraries under these sorts of interfaces, but not monographs. Journal full-text items have of course predominated because e-books have not yet achieved parity in the marketplace.
OCLC is supplementing its rich metadata repository with a digital library offering. Its acquisition of netLibrary is another step in this direction. netLibrary provides additional opportunities for an enhanced information environment with a sound navigation and information architecture to make the entire environment function as a seamless and friendly package of resources for end-users. They will be able to not only access full-text journals, but also a collection of full-text monographs and reference materials from one interface.
OCLC has longtime experience in archiving its WorldCat database of 49 million records with accompanying transaction records. Since 1991, OCLC has provided preservation services, including contract microfilming and digitization services, delivered to the library with accompanying metadata. It is anticipated that OCLC's stewardship of netLibrary e-books content will be handled just as responsibly.
If libraries are to thrive in an electronic world, an e-book company focused on the needs of libraries is requisite. Libraries are a different audience from that of consumer electronics, and have different priorities. They have a higher dependency on standards than retail customers because they serve a wide variety of patrons, publishers, distributors, and locations, under ADA guidelines, and must do so at an extremely cost-effective level. They also have a stronger need for standards-based technologies to ensure that the goals of open scholarly exchange and learning can be met between user communities and between institutions. Academic researchers need to rely on authenticity and integrity of content; e-book content should match any print content and include all its elements (text, graphs, and illustrations). Content needs to be separable from access and manipulation features, and needs to be transferable, in a non-proprietary format, into a variety of reading appliances. Interoperability of files between systems is important, as is digital rights management software to enforce control over intellectual property . All of these specialised needs foretell an e-book service by libraries and for libraries.
Librarians are facing significant challenges in providing information in this digital age. These include, but are not limited to, shrinking budgets; limited shelving and space; reduced or no funding for additional space and new buildings; rising costs to repair or replace damaged, lost, or stolen books, some of which are out of print; users' dependence upon and demands for resources in electronic format; the rising costs of interlibrary loan services; the increased need for developing resource-sharing and purchasing groups to increase buying power; and the demand to support distance or distributed learning and other remote users.
The relationship between netLibrary and OCLC offers many benefits. The first and most immediate benefit is, of course, preserving libraries' investment in their netLibrary agreements. Another benefit is further integration of information resources under the same interface as their bibliographic metadata surrogates--including electronic journals, and now also monographs. A final, and perhaps most important benefit is that, by coming together as a collective to own netLibrary, members can more effectively safeguard libraries' institutional role of managing information collections on behalf of their funding institutions, regardless of format, even as traditional information transforms into electronic form. netLibrary's integrated content linking capabilities strengthens OCLC's integrated data and content services to do just that on behalf of its members.
References and Bibliography
-  Donald T. Hawkins (2000) "Electronic Books: A Major Publishing Revolution: Part 1: General Considerations and Issues," Online, 24 (July/August 2000): 14-28
-  Donald T. Hawkins (2000) "Electronic Books: A Major Publishing Revolution: Part 2: The Marketplace," Online, 24 (September/October 2000): 18-36
-  Clifford Lynch (2001) "The Battle to Define the Future of the Book in the Digital World", firstmonday 6 (6), 1-49.
-  Ruth Wilson (2001) "Evolution of Portable Electronic Books", Ariadne Issue 29, October 2, 2001. Available: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue29/wilson/
-  Malcolm Gladwell (2002) "The Social Life of Paper: looking for method in the mess", New Yorker, March 25, 2002.
-  Forrester Research (2000). "Books Unbound" Available: www.forrester.com
-  M. Summerfield (1999), "Online Books Evaluation Project", a memo, available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/digital/olbdocs/focus_spring99.html>
-  Carol Ann Hughes and Nancy L. Buchanan (2001). "Use of Electronic Monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences", Library Hi Tech 19, (4), 368-375
-  Unnamed Respondent (2002), attended the session, "eBook Access Trends: Exploring Alternative Models", ALA Midwinter Conference, January 20, New Orleans, LA.
-  Lynn Silipigni Connaway (2001). "A Web-Based Electronic Book (eBook) Library: The netLibrary Model" Library Hi Tech 19, (4), 340-349.
-  Lynn Silipigni Connaway (2002). "The Integration and Use of Electronic Books (E-books) in the Digital Library" in Computers in Libraries 2002: Proceedings. Medford NJ: Information Today, 18-25.
-  Lucia Snowhill (2001) "E-books and their Future in Academic Libraries", D-Lib Magazine 7 (7/8).
Communications and Business Transitions Director
Office of Research, OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.
Dublin OH, USA.
Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D.
Vice President of Research and Library Services
netLibrary, a Division of OCLC, Inc.
Boulder CO, USA