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E-Books: Challenges and Opportunities (16 Oct 2004)
Online journals have firmly established themselves as essential resources for libraries and their users, but—despite the primacy of the book as an information source in most disciplines—electronic books (e-books) have not found the same favour. The potential of e-books to support learning activity has been acknowledged, and new services have emerged (and disappeared) in recent years, but uptake has been slow. Snowhill's overview [1] in the July/August 2001 issue of D-Lib Magazine noted that some elements key to the success of the e-books market were still taking shape, and this article, while primarily a case study, updates progress in many of these areas and reports actual user experience in academic libraries.

In summer 2001 the Librarians of the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities (CHIU) established a working group to assess the e-books market and to examine the potential of this medium for university libraries, along with any constraints. The key findings of the group in April 2002 were that the market was in a state of flux, uptake was inhibited by poor on-screen presentation and limited availability of titles while licencing models were highly varied. There was, however, a definite feeling that e-books could support learning activities in certain subjects (e.g., business, law, computer science) where information is structured in relatively discrete blocks and where a high premium is placed on currency. The group recommended a one-year subscription to an e-books service, and it was decided to focus on business and computing, two closely linked areas with strong teaching programmes at all seven universities [2]. Safari Tech Books Online emerged as the unanimous choice. The group committed itself to using the subscription period to explore issues for libraries, particularly access, licencing and cost-effectiveness, and for users, emphasising the exploitation of Safari for teaching and learning. This article reports findings from library and user perspectives, seeking to relate them to other studies and services and to future e-book development. It begins with an overview of the Safari service.
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