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Frequently Asked Questions:

Using eBooks

UQ Library: Collection Management

Please do not hesitate to contact your librarian with feedback, or if UQ Library may be of further assistance.

E-Preferred purchasing

UQ Library has an e-preferred collection management policy. It acquires resources (such as bibliographic indexes, books and journals) in electronic format, where possible.

The eBook marketplace is young and rapidly evolving. It is around 10 years behind electronic journals. UQ Library acknowledges that not all subject areas are suited to electronic formats. Also, not all clients find digital versions appropriate, at all times.

As such, clients may still request the purchase of materials in print. Your librarian will investigate the request, and if appropriate, discuss options and issues with you.

The disadvantages of eBooks include:

  • user lockouts due to licencing limitations, publisher site maintenance, usage breaches, remote IT access issues
  • varied quality of images
  • inadequacy of page referencing
  • 'extended book' model of digital non-equivalency, where the electronic version does not equate to the print
  • changed mental model: unable to have multiple books open to dip into on desk/bed/other study surface
  • in some cases, need to download eBook reader program in order to access content
  • no on-selling
  • different rights/usage models used by each publisher or platform.

eTextbook Basics

UQ Library promotes the incorporation of electronic textbooks by academics into teaching and learning. In addition to the advantages listed above, eTextbooks generally come with features not available to print equivalents:

  • assessments, such as quizzes
  • lecture slides
  • social media channels, facilitating student interaction.

What is not widely known in academic communities is that publishers generally do not make these features available for purchase by libraries.

More importantly, many publishers do not licence (i.e. sell) eTextbooks to libraries. They are sold to individuals only.

Those that do sell to libraries charge per enrolled student, making the cost prohibitive within library budgets.

If libraries were to buy eTextbooks for selected courses only, its role in assuring equity in access for students may be compromised (in keeping with Higher Education Support Act 2003 Guidelines, covered in UQ' s Policy and Procedure Library procedure 3.40.02; and referenced in UQ Library's Collection Development Policy).

Funding eTextbook access for every student in a course would mark a fundamental change in Library service levels.The Library has compiled the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), which it hopes will guide academics pursuing the inclusion of eTextbooks in their curriculum.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an eTextbook?

eTextbooks are a subset of the eBook format.  eTextbooks are written for students, published for use by educational institutions. They cover core course content. This contrasts with eBooks bought by the Library that support research, or to supplement the learning experience.

Until recently, eTextbooks have been digital equivalents of printed books offered by campus booksellers, listed on course reading lists. There is an increasing trend for eTextbooks to be born digital, and to not be released in print.

Where publishers have sold multiple copies of print equivalents, it can be guaranteed that the digital version will be deemed an eTextbook. This protects the publisher's revenue stream, with sales keeping use at 1:1, not 1:M (many) as facilitated by library lending.

What's the difference between putting an eBook, versus an eTextbook, on a reading list?

It is the publisher or vendor that deems the books status. A title's status as eBook versus eTextbook will determine whether:

  • libraries are able to buy it
  • how much of its content they will be able to buy (e.g. the assessment components?)
  • if it will be available for sale to individuals only.

This has implications for students:

  • can they rely on access via the Library?
  • must each student purchase access?

If through the Library, considerations include:

  • is access limited to one person at a time - and how long are others locked out (1 day, 3 days, 14 days?)
  • is content complete?
  • how much may be printed or downloaded within a stated period?

Some publishers or vendors generate unique user IDs the first time a reader accesses a title. They are thus able to track and block the amount of reading, printing and downloading performed by that user.

So, an eTextbook differs from an eBook at the publisher's discretion. As described earlier, an eTextbook is often defined by its print equivalent status, or by the publisher's assessment of its application to teaching. If a publisher representative partnering with an academic has one of their titles listed as required reading on a course profile, that title will be deemed an eTextbook. This preserves the sales/usage ratio of 1:1, rather than 1:M (many).

Do publishers partner with libraries with respect to eTextbooks?

In UQ Library's experience: no, they do not. This is also reported by other Council of Australian University Librarians members.

eTextbook publisher representatives do not contact UQ Library. They deal directly with academics.

UQ Library usually learns of these partnerships when students fail to locate the eTextbook in UQ Library Search, the Library's discovery tool.

So all eBooks listed on course profiles are classified by publishers as eTextbooks?

Usually, however, there are exceptions. An illustration:

Lecturers may not wish to use an existing eTextbook, or may not find suitable eTextbooks on offer when the area is emerging. They may choose an eBook assessed by publishers to have limited application to teaching. Instead, it may be deemed to be better suited to research, and thus having a lower sales volume. The academic may be the only one to use the title in their area.

If the student cohort is low, the publisher's revenue stream will not diminish (it may even increase). It is unlikely that the title would be reclassified as an eTextbook. A sales/usage ratio of 1:M can be offered.

However, the Library has encountered instances where spikes in eBook usage has brought titles to the attention of publishers or vendors, and those titles have been withdrawn from collections subscribed to or leased by the Library. They later appear as eTextbooks available for purchase by individuals only.

Leased collections? Doesn't the Library purchase all its eBooks?

No. UQ Library acquires access to eBooks by three means:

  • annual subscription or lease
  • outright purchase
  • seamless Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA).

With the PDA model, titles appear in UQ Library Search, the Library's discovery tool, and are triggered for purchase or short term loan by the clients through:

  • opening the eBook, or a certain number of its pages
  • downloading
  • printing
  • saving.

The reader is not aware that they have triggered a financial transaction.

Can I bank on an eBook access remaining throughout the year, or into the next year?

Yes: if the title has been purchased by UQ Library.

No: if the title belongs to a package subscribed to or leased by UQ Library via a third party.

How can I tell if an eBook/eTextbook is purchased or subscribed/leased?

Check the title via UQ Library Search or ask your librarian

UQ Library's leased (subscribed) services include: AccessMedicine and Knovel. There is no permanent access to these titles.

The Library also subscribes to, and purchases titles from, third party aggregators, such as Ebook Library (EBL), ebrary, and EBSCOhost. These titles may appear/disappear at the publisher/aggregator's discretion.

UQ Library purchases permanent access subject collections, or entire year collections from publishers. These include Springer, Wiley, ScienceDirect, OUP, and CSIRO.

Why is access to some eBooks limited? This disadvantages students accessing required readings

Publishers set the terms of access, not libraries. 

Ebooks bought outright from publishers versus third party vendors have more flexible digital rights management conditions. Typically, purchased eBooks offer:

  • unlimited, simultaneous access by multiple users
  • full download to portable devices
  • unlimited printing/copying.

Ebooks leased or purchased from third party vendors come with varied and stringent conditions. Each publisher has their own menu. These may include:

  • limited number of uses per year - e.g. 325 uses, before an additional licence must be purchased. A 14 day loan = 14 uses
  • limited amount of printing, copying or downloading - e.g. 20% of the total, or one chapter (whichever is smaller)
  • no downloading to portable devices
  • single, short term use, where other users are locked out until 1, 3 or 14 days have elapsed
  • one to three simultaneous users, where other users are locked out until a 'seat' is vacated.

Can libraries purchase copies of customised, mashed-up eTextbooks? i.e. where academics partner with a publisher to choose chapters from a selection of books, presented as a single 'text' for their subject

No. These can only be purchased by individuals.

What questions should I be asking publishers' representatives who approach me with eTextbook deals?

Though not an exhaustible list, UQ Library suggests the following:

  • Is the assessment module customisable?
  • Can my own assessments be included?
  • Is it Blackboard compatible?
  • Is access purchased or leased by students?
  • What is the cost relative to the print equivalent? 30%, 50%?