Acquiring E-Books

So you want to acquire some e-books for your library? Overdrive isn’t the only game in town. There is a huge and growing number of ways for libraries to acquire e-books. I thought I’d compile a list. The main pathways I see (although the boundaries between them are by no means solid) are aggregators, vendors, and publishers. This list is far from complete. My knowledge is primarily in the North American academic library arena. If you have information to add, post a comment.


Aggregators gather titles from a variety of publishers and present them on a single platform. Titles can typically be licensed on a rental or purchase model and are available in subject packages or on a title-by-title basis. The delivery platforms vary as to their features and functions.

ACLS Humanities E-Book:
The American Council of Learned Societies. Primarily a subscription service. Files: page image, PDF, txt.

Business, finance, and IT focused collections. Files: HTML (all web-based platform).

Credo Reference:
Over 500 reference books. Files: HTML (all web-based platform).

Dawson Era:
From British bookseller Dawson Books. Don’t know much about them.

Aggregator of Spanish-language e-books from Spain, Caribbean, and Latin America. Variety of purchase and lease plans, including subject collections. Files: PDF, HTML.

Australian company (but widely available). Multi-publisher, multi-subject collections. Strong on academic material. Variety of purchase options, including user driven. EBL was an early developer of the “short-term loan” for e-books. Files: PDF, EPUB, multiple concurrent users, and downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

Ebrary (Proquest):
Wide variety of publishers with materials for academic, public, and school libraries (although academic is the main strength). Variety of use options, including user driven and short-term loan.  Variety of use options, including user driven acquisitions. Files: PDF, downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

“E-book collection from Ebscohost” – includes the former NetLibrary collections. Variety of use options, including user driven and short-term loan. Files: PDF. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

Pay-per-use model from Library Ideas. Popular reading? File: EPUB?

Not yet available. Will include aggregation from major university and commercial scholarly presses.

MyiLibrary (Ingram/Coutts):
Aggregation platform serving Ingram and Coutts customers (public, school, academic, and professional libraries). Variety of use options, including user driven acquisitions. Files: PDF, downloadable. Download requires Adobe Digital Editions.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Primarily life science and healthcare titles, most with free download and purchase on demand. Files: HTML, selective PDF.

NetLibrary (See Ebsco)

Widely used in the public library world. Various purchase options available. Files: PDF, EPUB, Kindle, audio.

Primarily science and medicine topics. Files: ?

Project MUSE:
Platform host for the University Press E-book Consortium. Various purchase options. Content integrates in with Muse journals. Files: PDF (DRM-free).

Safari Books (direct and through Proquest):
Direct from Safari is designed more for individuals or as an enterprise model. Through Proquest there are a variety of purchase models. Files: HTML?

A new player in the e-book market, although not new to library services. The 3m Cloud Library has a lot of unique features, link kiosks and dedicated ereaders, but not a big track record. Files: EPUB?

Aggregator platform of bookseller Casalini Libri of Italy. Includes Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish e-books. Variety of use options. See also EIO – Editoria Italiana Online for Italian titles only. Files: ?




As with print books, vendors function as a mediator between the library and the publisher or aggregator. You can buy and pay for your e-books from a single source, but actually get access from multiple providers. Some vendors like Ingram/Coutts and Dawson serve as both the vendor and the aggregator.

Baker & Taylor:

Dawson Books:

Casalini Libri
European book vendor. See Torrossa aggregator.

Coutts (academic division Ingram):




W.T. Cox:

YBP (academic division of Baker & Taylor):




Many publishers offer their books through aggregators and vendors but also through their own platform or storefront. I’ve listed here mainly publishers that offer a hosted platform for libraries. A couple, like California and Michigan, are really storefronts intended for end users. Some, like Cambridge and Oxford, are actually beginning to function as aggregators of other publishers’ e-books. There are many others that I have not listed. Feel free to note those in the comments.

American Psychological Association:

Cambridge University Press:

De Gruyter:




MIT Press:

Morgan & Claypool Publishers:

National Academies Press:

Oxford University Press:

Palgrave Macmillan:

Sage Publishing (primarily offered through aggregators):


Taylor & Francis:

University of California Press (mainly intended for individual users not libraries):

University of Michigan Press (mainly intended for individual users not libraries):

Wiley Blackwell:


Occupy Elsevier

There is an academic boycott of Elsevier going on now that is getting a lot of press and social media chatter. (See “The Cost of Knowledge.”) I know Rick Anderson has written a post about the boycott over at Scholarly Kitchen, but I am going to refrain from reading his thoughts until I get this post down. (Perhaps a follow-up after I read it.) In the interest of disclosure, I should say that I work in a library that is a big customer of Elsevier. In fact, we recently licensed the “Freedom Collection” of bundled journals from that publisher.

The point of the boycott is to encourage scientists and scholars to sign a pledge not to publish in, referee for, or do editorial work with any Elsevier journals. The rationale given on the web page is three-fold (my paraphrase): 1) their prices are high, 2) their practice of bundling journals saddles libraries with a lot of titles they don’t want, 3) they support SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act.

I do not deny that each of these points is bad for libraries and for scholarly communication generally, nor that they apply to Elsevier. But I do want to raise a couple of points of concern about the boycott.

  • The boycott seems a bit like déjà vu all over again. Our discourse regarding scholarly communication has been vilifying Elsevier specifically for at least 20 years. I often have conversations with faculty in which they say, “I know Elsevier is bad, but…” or “I thought we were supposed to avoid Elsevier…” And, yet, with that knowledge, faculty continue to publish in Elsevier journals and serve on Elsevier editorial boards. In short, all that negative publicity has done little to affect the bottom line of Elsevier, but more importantly, has not changed the high rating and impact of many Elsevier journals.
  • All three of the issues raised by the boycott apply equally to dozens of other scholarly publishers. Why are they not included in the boycott? What can the boycott hope to achieve if other publishers simple take up what Elsevier loses? Are we to believe that an open access paradise will be achieved by taking on the large scholarly publishers one at a time? We will have a sequence of boycotts for Wiley, Springer, Sage, Taylor & Francis?
  • I have always thought that libraries were always stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding high-priced scholarly journals. The solution has never been that libraries should simply cancel their subscriptions. The very process of promotion and tenure in higher education requires that faculty publish in the highest rated journals, regardless of the sales practices of those journals. I don’t think, however, that the boycott as it is currently organized presents a coordinated effort that will get the desired results.

I admit to be at a loss to how this boycott ought to be organized. The rot here goes to the very heart of the P&T system in higher eduction. Individual scientists can sign the boycott, but that will have little impact if, at the point of tenure review, entire academic departments (or even entire universities) do not discount the value high-price journals and take predatory publishing into account. It is difficult to see how that kind of journal evaluation can take hold without coordination that goes even beyond department and university, encompassing entire academic disciplines and all the journals serving those disciplines.

Academic Kindle

ALA Midwinter 2012: I don’t know if this is common knowledge, but a source at Ebsco tells me that Amazon will soon start offering Kindle downloadable content through academic e-book aggregators like Ebsco, Ebrary, and EBL. I didn’t hear a timeframe on this other than “soon.” Obviously, the Kindle program through OverDrive was considered a beta project. Amazon seems ready to expand library lending beyond the public library market.

As it was described to me, the Kindle academic lending would operate somewhat differently than the OverDrive program, which actually redirects users to affect the loan through the Amazon store. It sounds like the academic plan is to allow a seamless and direct load to the Kindle Fire. Other Kindle devices would require download to a computer and then transfer to the device. That procedure sounds a lot like Adobe DRM-protected files, where an e-book is downloaded and authorized through Adobe Digital Editions and then transferred to a registered device. One assumes that Amazon won’t using Adobe DRM. So, what is the transfer mechanism? Just a drag and drop file management process also seems unlikely. So, I don’t know how much all this is vapor ware , but my source seemed pretty confident it would hit the shelf fairly soon. Looking forward to seeing how it works out.

It’s time for productivity not publicity

I’ve written here a time or two about apps developed by libraries to highlight unique collections. Three prominent examples:

All of these are well-designed and effectively promote their respective libraries to a readership that is increasingly online and mobile. As a first step to demonstrate, at least partly, what is possible in the mobile world, they are impressive.

Suddenly, however, I begin to have issues with these sorts of library products. Part of my misgiving about them is that they are demonstrations. They are tools for promoting the library collections but they are not the library collections themselves. They are surrogates and even billboards for tangible collections sitting on library shelves.

Obviously, a great deal of the digitizing that libraries have done to date has been focused on unique and valuable collections. Digitization has always been advertising for what was great and special about any particular library. It has been a means of creating online exhibits, as it were. But it is precisely that goal that makes library digitizing and app development of limited value to library users. Advertising and exhibits can be interesting, informative, and motivational, but, in the end, they do not take the place of actually using the library. They do not even especially aid or enhance use of the library in any immediate sense.

Part of what makes the Google Book project so interesting is that it has the audacity to digitize the entire library (many libraries, in fact). It is the library in a way that most library digital projects and products are not. Aside from lacking a collection scope that would serve more user needs, most library digital products are also short on functionality. They are not intended to enable users to do things with information. I think it is time that we start to build apps that will help users do things with information.

Some of what I envision has, up to now, been left to vendors and commercial interests to develop. Some may be beyond the financial means of libraries. Some is just plain hard to do. I think we shouldn’t let those things stand in the way of trying. Collectively, we ought to be able to push the envelope more than we have thus far.

Some of the things library mobile apps ought to enable:

  • Discovery of library collections across all kinds of formats
  • Authentication for and use of licensed digital collections
  • Annotation and note taking
  • Citation management
  • Sharing and conversation via social media
  • Remixing and mash-up of content

We can talk a lot about the digital library, the virtual library, but until the tools we offer to users actually enable use, we are only advertising for the physical library and hypothesizing about a digital future. It’s time to give users real productivity tools and make the digital library a reality.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

The library world has two kinds of trolls stalking it lately. Unfortunately, these trolls often have access to major editorial pages from which to pour vitriol down upon us.

Troll #1: We don’t need libraries anymore! These trolls are addicted to those dangerous “everything is on the Internet” hallucinogens. Public libraries are most often in the sights of these kinds of trolls, but other kinds of libraries also come under attack. Newspaper editorial pages are full of their opinion pieces about how no one uses libraries anymore. “We don’t need help finding things anymore. We have Google and Bing.” Or, “We can just buy whatever we want for our Kindle. Information is cheap!” Forget that everything is not free and available to Google’s eyes or Kindle download. Forget that a lot of the information libraries provide is expensive, highly vetted, and still used extensively by library customers. Forget that the service of training users to effectively discover and use information is highly valued in all of our communities. These trolls won’t listen to those arguments.

Troll #2: Don’t you dare change my library of 40 years ago! These trolls are stuck in a time warp. They have fond memories of 1974, when they completed their Ph.D and bought a Chevy Vega. Academic libraries that try innovative new approaches to information delivery will likely raise the ire of these trolls. They will make smug comments about learning commons, remote storage, and any kind of technology that involves electrons in their editorial diatribes. “Any fool knows you need to look at the print journal volumes to do real research.” Which would surprise the other library users who download to the tune of [over] a million journal articles a year, while the bound volumes sit quietly – peacefully in the basement, rarely reshelved, infrequently discovered sitting next to the photocopier. They proudly give research assignments to undergraduates with the instructions NO ELECTRONIC RESOURCES WILL BE ACCEPTABLE. “It is imperative that students know how to use Poole’s Index to Periodicals if they hope to understand the research process.”  Forget that some of your electronic resources include Poole’s (and a lot more) anyway. Forget that academic publishers are plunging headlong into a new digital world. Forget that scholarship itself is embracing and exploring new ways of sharing discoveries, many of which never grace the pages of a print journal. They know what is best and what is best never changes.

My advice is not to feed the trolls. Despite the prominence of their editorial invective, they are the minority. We don’t need to counter their arguments when 90% of the community disagrees with them anyway. Let your gate-counts, check-outs, and downloads do their own talking. If anyone who matters asks, have those data at hand. Talk about your programs that are well attended. Show your letters of thanks and survey responses that tell a different story than what the trolls spin. Know in your heart that you are serving the needs of the community and talk about that with enthusiasm to those who want to listen. But don’t feed the trolls. It’s not worth it.

New Wine in New Bottles

(OK! I’m on again about renting versus owning!) I was engaged in a recent discussion on Google+ about the idea of micro-payments for information based on circulation. It was the basis of a presentation at Internet Library, which I did not attend. (Apparently, the e-book sessions at IL were huge this year.) Anyway, I’m surprise at how tenaciously we librarians cling to the idea of owning information–sometimes coming from the same people who say information wants to be free. I once felt that way. “Not another thing that requires a subscription!”

Now, however, I will cling as tenaciously to the idea that all of our library collection ownership models were developed to handle discrete, physical containers of information. Digital information doesn’t fit the model. It warrants new approaches. I think we should be working our tails off developing new models and presenting those to vendors and publishers. Because, you know, they are going to invent their own systems, if left to their own devices.

We need a sandbox, a laboratory, as it were, for developing new information ownership/access models. Some place to test them out in a safe way. And we need people in our ranks who understand economic and ecological modelling to work on these ideas.


photo courtesy of Claire Schmitt

Berlin Declaration

The Berlin Declaration on open access was written in 2003 under the direction of the Max Planck Society in Germany. Many organizations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America have signed the declaration, but North American organizations have been rather thin on the list of signatories. The main thrust of the statement is that open access is good for scholars and that they should strive to resolve that problems that arise when open access and traditional academic promotion and tenure come together.

With the Berlin 9 Open Access Conference scheduled to occur in Washington D.C. in November, 2011, many North American universities and academic organizations have been hoping to show greater American participation. My university got on board. As the out-going chair of the Faculty Senate Library Committee, I was asked to draft a resolution about the Berlin Declaration. I wrote something up and presented it to the Faculty Senate. They accepted it and passed it on for our Provost to sign, which he has promised to do.

I thought the text of my resolution might be useful for others who would like their university to endorse the Declaration. I’ve attached a generic version of what I wrote. The specific names and titles have been replaced. Feel free to use any portion of this resolution that you like. No acknowledgment required.

ALCTS Online Courses

ALCTS has several online training courses coming up:

Fundamentals of Acquisitions (October 3‑October 28)
This four‑week online course provides a broad overview of the operations
involved in acquiring materials after the selection decision is made.

Fundamentals of Collection Development/Management (October
24‑November 18)
This four‑week online course addresses the basic components of
collection development and management (CDM) in libraries.
Sponsored by Coutts‑Ingram.

Fundamentals of Electronic Resources Acquisitions (November
14‑December 9)
This four‑week online course provides an overview of acquiring,
providing access to, administering, supporting, and monitoring access to
electronic resources.
Sponsored by Harrassowitz.

Fundamentals of Preservation (October 17‑November 11)
This four‑week online course introduces participants to the principles,
policies and practices of preservation in libraries and archives.

See more info at:


Project Muse Beta

Project Muse is rolling out a beta site that demonstrates their future integration of journals and ebooks. (You’ll need a campus subscription to Project Muse to get to the beta.) The ebook product should go live in January 2012. We can certainly expect the ebooks to be a quality product, like the journals. Muse is collaborating with the University Press Content Consortium to provide “digital books” from about 65 different publishers. According to Project Muse newsletter, the digital and print versions of books will be released by the publishers simultaneously. The ebooks will also offer unlimited simultaneous use and will have no DRM. The files will be PDF.

If the beta site is any indication, each book will divided up into individual PDF files for each chapter. I know the intent is to keep the file sizes manageable and to make each book consumable in smaller bites. I think this actually works in a negative way towards download of books to mobile readers. Does anyone actually want to download and manage 15 different files in order to read a single book? There should be a choice to download the entire book. In fact, I’m rather disappointed there won’t be a file option other than PDF. EPUB would work more seamlessly with mobile readers (well, Kindle excepted).

One of the points I’m interested in is whether users will really embrace a journals-n-ebooks collection mix. I know several scientific publishers have already been offering this for several years. (See Elsevier and Springer for example.) And the great push in libraryland is to develop discovery layers that integrate everything into one search interface. Still, platforms like Project Muse and JSTOR that have done such a good job with providing journal access are venturing into new territory. (JSTOR will have an ebook product available on about the same timeframe as Muse.) Platforms like this have always been a selective subset of journals. In such a selective environment, does it make sense to integrate journals and books? Of course, their users will love these platforms. The user population for Muse comes primarily from book-centric humanities disciplines. They will likely love having more content and having books added to the mix.

Conference Round-up

Some upcoming conferences (online and face-to-face) that may be of interest to collections and acquisitions folks:

July 21, 2011
Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives
Webinar, hosted by the Greater Western Library Alliance

July 27-28, 2011
Handheld Librarian Online Conference
Totally online conference dealing with mobile technology in libraries.

August 18, 2011
Current Trends in E-Journals: SERIG Summer Program, Boston, MA
ACRL New England sponsored

September 15-18, 2011
ALA affiliate involved in developing Spanish-language collections and services

September 29-October 2, 2011
LITA National Forum, St. Louis, MO
ALA affiliate involved in library technology

October 17-19, 2011
Internet Librarian, Monterery, CA
Sponsored by Information Today

November 2-5, 2011
Charleston Conference, Charleston, SC
31st annual conference for library collections and acquisitions

December 5-7, 2011
International Digital Curation Conference, Bristol, UK
Sponsored by the Digital Curation Centre

March 21-23, 2012
Computers in Libraries, Washington, DC
Call for speakers deadline, September 9, 2011

March 29-April 2, 2012
ARLIS/NA, Toronto, ON
Art Libraries Society of North America

April 2-4, 2012
Electronic Resources & Libraries, Austin, TX
The e-resources crowd

May 19-22, 2012
Acquisitions Institute at Timberline, Timberline Lodge, OR


Please post any others you know of in the comments.