Demystifying the library: Ebook availability and use
CMU Libraries collects materials to support the research needs of the students, faculty, and staff here. The variety of materials is vast including videos, music CDs, maps, etc. The most familiar items are books and journals. In this iteration of “Demystifying the library”, we will discuss the acquisition of ebooks and how patrons can get the most out of these materials.
Acquiring books is what libraries do, right? For centuries, libraries have collected and housed books. Books were typically only available in print and audio forms. In 1971 a man named Michael Hart decided that the most referred books should be available to the public via the “computer network”, now the Internet. Project Gutenburg is the oldest digital library and provides free access to over 65,000 books. There are many book titles available in both print and ebook form. The CMU Libraries currently allows users access to either or both, where available.
Electronic books have evolved greatly since 1971. Central Michigan University Libraries purchased its first package of ebooks in the late 1990s. The NetLibrary collection is still available via SmartSearch. In the mid-2000s the librarians regularly selected ebooks to add to the collection. The libraries now provide access to over 1 million ebooks, both purchased and free. That number exceeds our print collection which is approximately 630,000 titles.
Why would a user prefer an ebook over a print book? Some prefer print books, especially if they are going to read the book cover to cover. Ebooks provide the ability to search for specific content. A user may not need to read the entire book, but just a chapter or two. This makes an ebook so much more useful than a print book. That usefulness comes at a price though. Ebooks are generally more expensive than their print counterparts. Sometimes ebooks cost 3 to 4 times more than print books and can strain library budgets.
But are all ebooks available to everyone all at once? No, there are some restrictions that the user should be aware of when trying to access an ebook from the libraries’ website. Some ebook providers and publishers give libraries options when purchasing access to a title. Typically, there are 1-user, 3-user, and unlimited user access models. Most of these titles are protected from mass downloading using Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM restricts the user from modifying or distributing the content of an ebook. Ebook providers will allow you to download/print a certain percentage of the book for a specified period.
When a user finds an ebook that they would like to read, the site will state, in most cases, how many user copies the library owns. If another user is accessing the book on a 1-user copy, a message may appear that the book is currently in use by another patron and to check back later. If a faculty member assigns an ebook for class use, they should contact the library to ensure that access will be available for the assignment. This can prevent the students from hitting roadblocks when trying to access these materials. If you encounter access problems, please contact the CMU Libraries reference librarians for assistance.
Access to ebooks provides researchers with a convenient path to finding information for their projects. They are searchable and available 24/7 from anywhere. Although they may never totally replace their print counterparts, the availability will continue to grow across all disciplines. CMU Libraries is committed to making ebooks available to CMU patrons for the foreseeable future.