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University libraries and the e-books revolution


Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) launched in 2003 with 700 titles. Now, on its tenth birthday, it’s the online home of over 9,000 titles from Oxford University Press’s distinguished academic list. To celebrate OSO turning ten, we’ve invited a host of people to reflect on the past ten years of online academic publishing, and what the next ten might bring.

By Luke Swindler

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Libraries, it took well over a century, from the university’s founding in 1789, to reach a collection of one million volumes. In the last five years alone, the campus has added nearly one million “volume-equivalents”, mainly due to massive e-book acquisitions. As a consequence, last year UNC’s e-books acquisitions were three times greater than print books. This transformation includes acquiring older titles, with most large US research libraries now offering digital versions of all English-language books that date from the invention of the printing press in the 15th century. Because of this technology, UNC has a digital copy of the first book published by what would become OUP in 1478—Runinus’s Expositio in symbolum apostolorum—while not surprisingly it lacks the print version.

Runinus’s Expositio in symbolum apostolorum, courtesy of Luke Swindler
Runinus’s Expositio in symbolum apostolorum, courtesy of Luke Swindler

As one of the first major e-book platforms, Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO) has been part of the explosive growth in e-books that has greatly expanded library collections and, in tandem, enhanced their ability to support instruction and research across the disciplinary spectrum. From a world of (relative) book scarcity to a universe of plenty for both new and older titles, nowhere has this transformation been so evident as in the scale and scope of library monographic collections.

Libraries are also transforming their purchase of resources moving from title-by-title selection that characterized print book acquisition to en bloc acquisition of e-books. Within this context, OUP has fostered this trend by crafting consortial agreements with Manhattan Research Libraries (MaRLI) and Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) to take advantage of the economics of wholesale e-books acquisitions, meaning these two library groups own all titles on OSO and OUP’s expanded University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO). In the case of UNC, which is a member of TRLN, this project has led to nearly nine thousand OUP e-books becoming available to faculty and students over the past 18 months.

E-books done right can be a great value proposition beyond the intellectual and informational content they provide. OUP’s platform, for example, is still one of very few to offer e-books in both PDF and XML formats, which aids in reader acceptance. Readers can search and render automatic reflowable files developed for digital publishing. The e-books can adapt their presentation to the device, allowing easy download and accurate display on a wide range of mobile devices with variable screen sizes. Finally, at a time when discovery is such a paramount concern OSO and UPSO’s enhanced metadata, such as book and chapter abstracts, coupled with a long history of working with indexing services, are important not only for allowing readers to find e-books but also to evaluate their relevance. All in all, not bad for a resource created a decade ago—which in terms of e-books publishing history is tantamount to having been created in antediluvian times.

Luke Swindler is Collections Management Officer at the University of North Carolina Libraries.

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  1. […] A guest post on the Oxford University Press blog today by Luke Swindler, Collections Management Officer at the University of North Carolina Libraries includes a mention about how two library consortia (MaRLI and TRLN) are making “en bloc” purchases of ebooks for their libraries. […]

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  3. Rajat Chabra

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