Advice from a Librarian: marketing eBooks to Academics

Promoting a new or an expanding collection of E-books can be daunting, especially if your librarians are behind the learning curve. Simply put, if your librarians are not enthusiastically on-board, or if they need training so they become more confident users, then the outcome will be less than optimal. They are teachers… a role that almost every single public service librarians fulfills every day… and on a regular basis they teach the general community what the community needs to know so they can conduct thorough and productive library research. Someone has to teach the academic community to use this new e-book resource.  That teaching must be done, and it must be done by skilled and excited academic librarians.

Academic E-books are different from public E-books.  According to her book, “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World” by Naomi S. Baron (2015), 59% of the students she surveyed in 2013 preferred print resources. On the other hand, 41% preferred online: the prevalence of this online preference is when students primarily own such e-book reading devices as tablets, laptops and smart phones. By comparison, 92% of her survey pool shows they prefer paper copies when studying long textual passages.

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While it is common in some institutions that faculty and students who discover their e-books in the library catalog often then request the print copy through Interlibrary Loan, this practice should be discouraged. To allow the academic community to use ILL to replace using an e-book will only increase unease with and perhaps even resentment toward the new format.  Old faculty habits die hard, so to speak. Concomitantly, as research shows most students prefer paper to electronic for several reasons, we need to proactively support the use of our new and expanding repertoire of e-resources.

The old adage holds true: teach the academic patron to fish for a lifetime, instead of just feeding them for the day. To fish, we need to educate, with zest! To feed is to struggle through the maneuvers needed to utilize electronic book resources.  To struggle only exacerbates the feeling of being overwhelmed.

Interestingly, many libraries that use “purchase on demand” might merely place the e-book records into the library catalog. Students and faculty will then stumble upon them, and after opening the book, they sometimes trigger a purchase as they also spend time trying to figure out how to use it. If e-books become part of the instructional sessions, even the one-shot deals, then at least the students and faculty in attendance will understand more fully how e-books can be manipulated and how sections can be printed.

So how do we promote the resource?

  1. Present the new platform as a way to save the trees!  At my institution, students value saving trees so much that they initiated a print management system taking them to a pay-to-print model from a free-print model.
  2. Educate not only your patrons, but your librarians. How many times do libraries subscribe to new resources with a laissez faire attitude, such it is expected that librarians teach themselves?  In my experience, I found the academic e-books difficult to navigate the first few times I used them, making students uneasy with the search, download and print activities. Educating librarians make is easier for them to convey expertise with e-books.
  3. Advertise the new series. Don’t just place links in the library catalog. Host a pizza party for students, a wine and cheese event for faculty, put out balloons, email to lists servs, or make announcements at Faculty Council of Senate meetings. Do whatever your library normally does to promote any other new resource.
  4. Educate, educate and then educate some more. Build into each library instruction session a segment specific to using e-books.
  5. Embrace the e-books because positive word of mouth is a powerful weapon.  Good word spreads additional word, creating that coveted snowball effect.
  6. Support the technology so that there are no glitches that circumvent your efforts at showing students how easy and convenient it is to use e-books.

Above all else, make e-book learning and utilizing fun and exciting. Help your clientele become invigorated by technology. Show, tell, and take your patrons eagerly into the future of e-book formats.  It is the way of the future.


Contributed by:

Debra Lucas-Alfieri

Debra Lucas-Alfieri has been the Head of Reference and Interlibrary Loan at D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY, since 2002. Her book chapters appear in Middle Management in Academic and Public Libraries and the 21st Century Handbook of Anthropology. Dozens of encyclopedia articles appear in the Encyclopedia of Power, the Encyclopedia of Time, the Encyclopedia of Anthropology, and the 20th Century Encyclopedia of Pop Culture. Debra has also published academic journal articles in Collaborative Librarianship, the Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, and the Journal of Library and Information Science. She teaches web-based workshops for Library Juice Academy (http://libraryjuiceacademy.com/) in marketing public and academic libraries, library management, and interlibrary loan. Additionally, she has served as an editor for the Journal of Library Innovation. She has served as a guest lecturer, conference presenter, and keynote speaker in the field of librarianship and research. She is also recognized in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who of American Women. Debra also has a website, www.newlibrarian.org, which details her professional contributions.