To e or not to e?

ebooks at University of Cambridge page

ebooks at University of Cambridge page ;

In a previous post on Overnight Loans, I wrote

Okay, you might be convinced by this, but you might wonder why we don’t buy more ebooks then? There wouldn’t be a need for making a physical book an ONL if we had an ebook.

Well, I never answered that question there, and here it comes – at least from me looking at music titles which are part of ebooks held here at Cambridge. Ebooks might be more easily accessible, but there are a number of factors which make them, some times, less attractive:

  1. Some ebooks are actually not very well made (I will give an example below).
  2. Some of our readers prefer to read on paper.
  3. Some ebooks are very inflexible in what they offer to the reader: often they cannot be downloaded, and sometimes the platform offering access to an ebook is actually not user-friendly: sometimes the font-sizes cannot be manipulated.

Of course, one reason why students (but also some older academics) might be especially keen on ebooks is that one can – sometimes – easily copy and paste a passage of an ebook into another document; this can speed up writing an essay, article or even another book.

Oxford History of Western Music ; e-version

Oxford History of Western Music ; e-version

Coming back to ebooks which are actually not as good as they could be. Richard Taruskin’s The Oxford History of Western Music arrived in 2004 as a physical publication of 6 volumes. Here at Cambridge, undergraduates as well as our MPhil students are advised to read it, and engage with Taruskin’s way of presenting music history, or indeed his historiography.

We have various physical copies at the Pendlebury Library and at the UL, but since May 2011 we also have been able to buy the online copy. Fairly unusually for an ebook, but probably understandbly for a 6 volume publication running to over 4,000 pages, OUP has created an extra web site at [only works by IP-recogniation, i.e. when using through internet access provided by University of Cambriduge, or via a VPN-connection] to cater for the e-version of this publication.

The e-version of this publication is searchable, which makes finding a person’s name or a word and title so much easier. One can toggle between two different font sizes (‘Normal Size’ and ‘Large Size’) from within the platform. Readers can ‘Print’, ‘Save’, ‘Cite’ and ‘Email’ excerpts to themselves. ‘Cite’ might be particularly useful to students.

However, call me old fashioned, but I was dismayed to realise that the e-version of this publication does not give page numbers and if you had a page reference from someone using the physical copy, you could not just enter that online to find the page and passage. (Of course, one can search for the keywords/search terms online, but sometimes references don’t give you any hints, but just refer to the page number.)

This one example shows that I wouldn’t throw out the physical copies too soon just yet. Some ebooks cater for specific needs, such as easy and multiple access; however, they might not provide what a physical book can. Also, of course, the lame old book can be read during the day even if there is no electricity; the ebook needs “juice”, a computer or handheld device and the internet.

So, “to e or not to e?” is a question a bit too existential – I would reply “That depends what you want to achieve with an academic book.”

About cg474

Since August 2010 I have been working as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Since October 2015 I am the librarian at the Faculty of Divinity Library. Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
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1 Response to To e or not to e?

  1. Pingback: What do they want? | divlib

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