eBook Collections in Libraries

The RIPS Law Librarian Blog posted about the ‘Issue’s surrounding eBook collections in law libraries‘ in September 2015.

With the rise of all-digital ‘bookless’ libraries and constant revelations about eBooks, it’s a topic of interest to me, especially as their post referred specifically to the law library context (in which I am currently employed).

At first it seemed everyone was saying the eBook would mean the death of the printed book, and eventually become the primary mode for reading. (See news articles from 2010 – ‘The future of books is a real page-turner‘ and 2013 – ‘Popularity of ebooks spells the demise of printed versions‘). There was almost a mass hysteria predicting these doomsday scenarios for the poor printed book.

But now however, everyone’s changed their tune. The predicted popularity of eBooks was a farce (in the sense that the printed book would ‘die’ that is). The popularity of eBooks is starting to stabilise, and it is clear they are not nearly as popular as print books. The prophecy did not come true. I have noticed this trend myself working in both high schools and universities, with students preferring the print text to eBooks for general information and for fiction. (This trend however appears to only apply to eBooks – students still seem to prefer full text online journal articles rather than print journal articles for scholarly research).

The graph below (from the article ‘Why Authors and Readers Still Want Print‘ does a fine job at highlighting this. (While an American study, I believe it can be generalised to a greater population)


I’m still not sure what I think about this issue, and I seem to hear the same information about it which hasn’t helped me make up my mind.

There’s the benefits of eBooks taking up no physical space, but of course digital space still needs to be available. And the apparent cost benefits are a big motivator for uptake. Most institutions feel the need to jump on the band wagon to at least appear innovative and that they are abreast of new technologies. But usage statistics don’t line up with the perceived excitement over the eBook.

In addition, there are the very real problems of ownership and licensing that are being discussed on this topic. The RIPS Law Librarian Blog post makes some great points about restrictive licensing agreements with publishers.

So what is the answer? Where will this all go in the next few years? Once all the hype subsides, will everything go back to the status quo? Will eBooks remain a utilised source for reading, or subside into the ether with the other technologies that never quite lived up to the all their publicity?

Who knows… perhaps something even more novel will take the place of the eBook!

February 2016 update: A fantastic article by the BBC discussing this topic ‘Are paper books really disappearing?‘ – well worth a read! As well as this study finding ‘92% of college students prefer print books to e-books‘ in the Los Angeles Times.


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