TRLN: Beyond Print

NCSU Libraries Value Statement for the Scholarly Ebook Marketplace

As scholarly monographs shift from primarily print to electronic, the NCSU Libraries seeks to engage both the publishing and library communities in shaping the future of the scholarly ebook marketplace. We believe the following values can form the core of a mutually beneficial market for publishers and libraries that best serves the researchers and students at the heart of the scholarly communication cycle.

We value:

  • Portability between devices, with publishers and aggregator platforms using non-proprietary formats for their ebooks.
  • Consistency of content across the print and electronic format and the incorporation of corresponding supplementary material sometimes available in the print version (i.e CDs, web access).
  • Working jointly with publishers and aggregator platform vendors to develop standards for printing, copy/paste, and saving of ebook content.
  • Quality Full-level MARC bibliographic records that meet current national cataloging standards and practice.
  • The Interlibrary Loan process or comparable way to lend and borrow ebooks between libraries.
  • Perpetual access to purchased and/or subscribed content.
  • ADA compliance.
  • COUNTER compliant usage statistics.
  • Licensing terms which do not limit fair use and first sale doctrines under US copyright law. Adopting SERU as a standard for ebooks would ensure this.
  • Simultaneous format availability of frontlist titles.
  • Alerts that new books have been added to existing collections.
  • Pricing models that are reasonable, flexible and reflect the broad needs of the library market. Restricting ebook access to subscription-only, bundled databases of "all or nothing" content is in direct conflict with reasonable, flexible pricing models.
  • The ability to migrate purchased and/or subscribed content between platforms in the event of the end of life of a platform.
  • The ability to coordinate discovery with third party services such as Serials Solutions and SFX.
  • The ability to incorporate ebook search, discovery, access and purchase into existing workflows.

Originally published May 17, 2011. Last updated June 16, 2011.


University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Recommendations on
How Publishers, Vendors & Libraries Can Move to E-Books

Print version

D R A F T:  Revised 8-20-2011


Libraries are transitioning from collection development to collection services and from collection management to knowledge management.  Within this paradigm, the nature of library collections has evolved from being limited to what is locally owned to what can be made available, with a growing premium placed on providing resources remotely to patrons (via the net for e-products and document delivery for tangible media).  As part of this movement to collections as services major research libraries are shifting to e-books, e-journals, and multi-format databases very quickly.  Other aspects of this transition include developing a view of users as customers and creating innovative discovery mechanisms that bring resources to patrons' attention at point-of-need and in users' spaces rather than library places.

U. S. academic libraries, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), have rapidly and overwhelmingly moved from print to electronic for journals.  As of June 2011 UNC offered 134,335 current and retrospective e-journal files that represented 93,474 unique electronic serials, while its print serial subscriptions numbered fewer than 8,000.  Print subscriptions have consistently declined for over a decade and are projected to continue to do so.  This transition from print to online would be even greater if small publishers and vendors in general and foreign ones in particular offered e-journals under conditions that would be acceptable to libraries and their users.

American libraries and their users now prefer to have journals available via the web rather than in print in nearly all instances.  E-journals backfiles also are very important to American academic libraries, because faculty and students expect to have complete runs available via the web and petition librarians to buy retrospective files.  As is the case with other major libraries, UNC has paid millions of dollars for e-journal backfiles in recent years.  E-journal backfiles often constitute the largest one-time expenditure for North American research libraries, resulting in less funding for tangible media such as print books.


Academic libraries in the U.S. also are rapidly moving to e-books.  For certain categories of monographs librarians prefer to buy e-books—and they want to acquire them now.  At UNC, cataloged monographic resources number well over a million, a count that would more than double with the inclusion of titles offered in aggregator databases but not represented by individual records in the catalog.  These statistics clearly demonstrate that American research libraries are willing to buy e-books when the conditions of sale and access are acceptable, because their users either want or are willing to accept electronic monographs.  These data also indicate that librarians at institutions such as UNC are willing to find funds to make this transition even in a difficult economy marked by fiscal austerity.

The large numbers of e-resources cited above underscore a fundamental transformation in how librarians build research collections in the United States.  Title-by-title selection is no longer the dominant model of book and journal acquisitions.  Increasingly, academic libraries buy categories of resources and budget for them centrally.  They also are more likely to make these purchases consortially rather than individually.  As selectors continue to prefer electronic formats, collective categorical acquisitions (including both purchases and leasing) will continue to grow in both absolute and relative terms.


As libraries increasingly approach the acquisition of e-resources categorically and consortially, small publishers or foreign-language publishers with limited markets will be more competitive if they work together. Small publishers should consider using robust common platforms, such as JSTOR and MUSE for university presses or Editoria Italiana Online (EIO) for foreign presses, that are uniquely positioned to help them move to digital formats (including backfiles of certain retrospective categories of e-books).

The necessary transition will require mutual understanding on the part of publishers, vendors, and libraries and working together to meet critical conditions.  The following sections of this position paper outline recommendations that can facilitate publishers', vendors', and their library customers' move from print to electronic, including special conditions that apply to books.


General Conditions for Transitioning to Electronic

     >> Acceptable license (either in English or a publisher/vendor-provided official translation from other languages)

Libraries do not purchase e-resources until a license for them is approved or unless a publisher or vendor indicates in writing that it does not require a license.  It saves everyone time, effort, and money if a single license covers all publications being offered; otherwise, libraries must negotiate a contract for each sub-set of content in an omnibus platform such as JSTOR, MUSE or EIO, or in the case of an integrated database to which many publishers contribute, such as the ACLS Humanities E-Book.

U. S. libraries need to have an English-language license or at least an official translation, because librarians and publishers and vendors must have a shared authoritative document as the basis for negotiation or adjudication.  Publishers and vendors need to provide the official English translation, to insure that their terms are accurately presented.

Instead of a license, publishers and vendors should consider using the SERU (Shared E-Resource Understanding) option found at  SERU saves everyone time, effort, and money.  The current process of customer-by-customer, bi-laterally negotiated formal legal contracts increases the cost of sales for libraries, publishers, and vendors.  It also is a disservice to the users that all profess to serve, because this process typically delays access to needed e-resources. Moreover, unless an e-resource is essential, libraries will concentrate on approving licenses for the major products, with specialized acquisitions given lower priority.  Small publishers or those with limited markets cannot afford such high up-front costs in time, labor, and delayed sales.

>>  Advantage-neutral/win-win business models

Business models must be acceptable to libraries, publishers, and the vendors and aggregators that connect and serve them.  In an advantage-neutral business model, libraries are willing to pay marginally more for e-versions of journals and appropriate books, because they realize that the digital transition adds to publishing costs and that their users will get more from having the same resources available electronically.

At the same time, libraries are neither willing nor able to pay significantly more for the same print publications to be available via the web.  Moreover, libraries will compensate for the higher price for e-resources in part by no longer buying them in print whenever possible.  Consequently, publishers and vendors should offer multiple acquisitions options, including at least one that does not bundle together print and online.

For books in an advantage-neutral model publishers and vendors should not set prices so as to prejudice the library decision to acquire either electronic or print, although they might offer financial incentives for their library customers to buy products in both formats.  In the case of the traditional monograph, e-books and their print analogs often do not so much compete as complement one another.  Although library patrons are more likely to access e-books than check out print versions, these two types of uses are not necessarily equivalent.  Often readers prefer the electronic versions for certain kinds of quick study and consultation but also use paper versions of the traditional monograph for long, linear reading: that is, users want to interact with the same text in different ways, depending on the task and the stage in the research process.

Within the evolving e-publishing ecology, title-by-title selection is not the dominant selection and acquisition model among U.S. research institutions.  Increasingly, academic libraries acquire categories of resources, and they often do so consortially for more expensive e-products.  Publishers and vendors who sell their products both individually and, when appropriate, as part of larger aggregations of e-resources will maximize library customer choices and potentially maximize their revenue.

By extension, business models may take advantage of multiple shared platforms such as MUSE and EIO to offer choices and their corresponding cost advantages and not force libraries to choose a particular option.  Additionally, a win-win business model would incorporate consortial acquisitions that allow publishers and vendors to maximize revenue and consortia of libraries to maximize their acquisitions at a marginal increase in cost.

In some instances, libraries may need to own e-resources; in other cases, leasing may be acceptable.  The preferred option depends on such factors as the nature of the e-resources, their cost, usage level, conditions of use, terms of sale, and e-archiving arrangements. A library's choice also will be influenced both philosophically and practically by how acceptable is access to ownership.  Publishers and vendors therefore would benefit by offering both purchase and lease options.  Additionally, categorical acquisitions covering both purchasing and leasing result in libraries acquiring more than they would on a title-by-title basis but also getting proportionately more for their money because of large-volume discounts; a consortial option increases these win-win aspects for both publishers and vendors and their library customers.

>>  Adequate archiving and perpetual access guarantees

If libraries are to move to electronic in lieu of print, they and their users must be confident that the e-resources will remain available over the long term. Archiving and perpetual access mechanisms therefore need to cover all major eventualities, be clear and unambiguous, and have substantial credibility.  [N. B.  Archiving and access provisions are not the same thing: that is, digital products can be reliably archived, but without a mechanism for providing access following a trigger event, the archive may prove useless.]

For UNC, full participation in Portico with post-cancellation access represents the ideal. To be explicit, Portico with post-cancellation access covers the following trigger events:  1) when a publisher ceases operations and titles are no longer available from any other source; 2) when a publisher ceases to publish and offer a title and it is not offered by another publisher or entity; 3) when back issues are removed from a publisher's offering and are not available elsewhere; and/or 4) catastrophic failure by a publisher's delivery platform for a sustained period of time.  (See for more information on these triggers.)

UNC would also consider publisher and vendor participation in either LOCKSS ( or CLOCKSS ( an acceptable alternative to full Portico membership.

[UNC will study the acceptability of the OCLC dark archive as well as commercial sector alternatives to library-based models.  In particular, some of the largest vendors such as ProQuest use Iron Mountain Digital (see for their e-archiving. This organization claims to be the "world's leading provider of Storage-as-a-Service solutions for data protection and recovery, archiving, eDiscovery and intellectual property management." Such major e-archiving for-profit companies could be acceptable to UNC, especially since our fundamental concern is the long-term integrity and availability of e-resources.]

Conversely, publisher arrangements with even a trusted non-commercial archiving entity such as the Royal Dutch Library's KB E-Depot are unacceptable to UNC.  As a rule, individual publishers determine these perpetual access arrangements unilaterally, and in the case of the KB, for example, end-user access is restricted to on-site perusal for private research only and on-line access is denied.

When the UNC library purchases e-books that are part of an aggregated database, as is the case with ebrary or EIO, it wants to have ownership and perpetual access rights guaranteed by both the aggregated database vendor and the source publisher.  Such dual rights protect the customer in case either the aggregator or the publisher ceases operation.  UNC also does not want to pay more for this guarantee—and will not—since the arrangement does not incur extra costs for either the vendor or source publisher.

>> Open source and robust technical standards

Publishing systems delivering content through standards-based open source software rather than proprietary products may offer increased chances that e-resources will survive and continue to be available in a world of constant technological change.  Development costs for open source systems may be lower, and maintenance and upgrade costs can be shared among the user community.  Open source delivery systems can allow publishers and vendors to concentrate their resources on producing content rather than technology; they are not technology companies and should not try to be such—especially if doing so increases production and access costs.  Publishers and vendors competing in limited markets need to be especially sensitive to controlling their e-publishing expenses, and as a rule using open source software keeps costs down.

Publishers and vendors need to be aware that disability access is becoming an important legal issue for U.S. colleges and universities and therefore a consideration that they cannot ignore.  All publishers and vendors should try to meet full Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group (WCAG WG) standards found at  Using shared, common platforms for the delivery of specialized academic publications should provide the most cost-effective option for meeting disability standards and certainly would be more economical than each publisher/vendor-specific platform trying to meet these requirements.

Libraries rely on usage data to create patron-focused, evidence-based, and metrically-informed collections for e-resources.  Academic libraries consider the COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources) usage reporting guidelines found at to be the standard.   Consequently, UNC expects all publishers to provide COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, including following the Code of Practice for Books and Reference Works found at  UNC also expects publishers and vendors to implement the SUSHI (Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative) protocol found at so that their COUNTER-compliant statistics can be more automatically retrieved and incorporated into standard usage reports.

Library patrons often fail to distinguish expensive proprietary products from "free" Internet resources.  Consequently, UNC strongly recommends that publishers and vendors allow local branding.  Such branding would permit the subscribing library to create either a gif, png, or jpg file with its name and/or logo that would appear on the product's initial web page.  It could also allow the subscribing institution to place a short greeting on the initial web page, such as, "Access to this database is provided by UNC Libraries."

Libraries expect digital object identifiers (DOIs) for each article in a journal and for monographs at both the level of the entire book and each chapter or article within it, because they are critical for linking to e-resources from online course packs and reading lists and provide persistent URLs for permanent and reliable citations that prevent "link rot."  OpenURL compliance also is expected, in order to allow the user to directly link to e-resources from the library's online catalog.  DOIs and OpenURLs together permit accurate reference linking from citations in bibliographies and footnotes.

UNC expects publisher and vendor e-resources to automatically export citations to standard bibliographical management tools, including RefWorks, Endnote, and Zotero.  In addition, users expect easy and obvious downloading, saving, printing, and email tools.

>> User-focused and robust discovery options

Discovery is fundamental to effective use of e-resources.  It requires user-focused, evidence-based, and metrically-informed approaches, and it begins with understanding the readers and how they want to use e-resources.  Increasingly discovery involves making e-products available to users not only at desktop but also in a mobile computing environment.  Effective discovery mechanisms will also influence usage statistics and hence affect library purchase decisions.

A user-friendly interface that incorporates standard defaults is desirable; commands that conform to user expectations also make the discovery and use of e-resources intuitive.  If publishers and vendors are to effectively meet discovery standards, they should provide at least the following searching/retrieval capabilities:

o       Author/editor and title (including not only each author or editor of a book or an article in a journal but also each person credited for an individually authored article or chapter within a book);

o       Abstract (including an English translation of foreign-language material to increase the chances of discovery), with abstracts for each article in a journal or each chapter or article in a book as well as a summary for the entire book, and ideally supplied by the author(s);

o       Keyword searching of at least abstract and full text;

o       Subject tags (again with English translations);

o       Type of publication (including book, journal, and series) and date of publication delimiters;

o       Publisher delimiters (for aggregated databases and shared platforms with content from many different sources);

o       Other delimiters as appropriate to the product, e. g, geographic location or historical time period;

o       If publishers and vendors offer mobile apps, they should not be limited to specific readers;

o       If the primary language of publication is not English, a prominently displayed option for an English-language interface.

Effective discovery increasingly mandates that libraries, publishers, and vendors meet their customers on the customer's turf.  Faculty and students do not routinely visit library or other scholarly portals.  In fact, surveys clearly indicate that even the largest and most visible publisher portals such as ScienceDirect are not central points for research.  Rather, discovery is about libraries and other information providers imbedding themselves into the instructional and research life of academe.  The use of the verb "embed" is deliberate, because it definitely places the burden on libraries, publishers, and vendors to take a pro-active and calculated approach.  And we need to do so on our users' terms:  that is, we need to be in their space—but not in their face.

Within this context, libraries and the publishers and vendors who sell products to them should develop a mobile presence.  Although UNC libraries offer nearly 1,000 databases, as of summer 2011 fewer than 6% have mobile versions.  Publishers and vendors can also benefit by offering mobile sub-applications, e. g., Elsevier's new iPhone application called Scopus Alerts (Lite) that provides mobile RSS feeds and allows for personal notes. 

>>  A single platform for accessing academic publications

Just as libraries increasingly approach the acquisition and provision of resources consortially, publishers will be more competitive if they work together.  Given the limited size of the market for specialized and nearly all non-English academic publications, it makes economic sense for these publishers—particularly small firms and organizations—to use a common platform rather than trying to create individual ones.  Networked arrangements for networked e-resources also reduces the costs of creating and selling digital publications, while having a fully integrated common platform is beneficial to readers because they do not to have to negotiate different interfaces. A shared platform also minimizes the chances of individual publishers making wrong—and typically expensive—decisions with regard to creating an electronic resource.

For UNC, one of the major attractions of EIO and other foreign-language shared platforms is that they provide much better and particularly more comprehensive indexing for non-English resources than any other tool; in fact, they often provide the only indexing—especially if they index individual chapter-articles in books.  Conversely, journals and books that are not adequately indexed are less likely to get used and less likely to be purchased.  Subscription products with low usage are particularly susceptible to cancellation.

While the focus of EIO and similar shared platforms has been on offering current issues of the e-journals, a complementary direction would be to offer libraries the option of buying backfiles.  Given the limited market for specialized e-resources, the models that would make most sense and represent the most cost-effective means of digitizing and pricing would be ones akin to JSTOR's Current Scholarship Program at  In addition to providing integrated current and retrospectives files on the same platform, this JSTOR program is attractive to libraries because offers both title-by-title and collection acquisition options.

>>  Sufficiently liberal digital rights management (DRM) regimes

Containers that come with unacceptable restrictions on use can trump content in an e-publishing world, thereby making products relatively unattractive and unlikely to be acquired.  Digital rights management software that makes access difficult and/or unnecessarily limits what users and their libraries can do with e-resources makes them less attractive.  Extensive and publisher-specific digital rights restrictions also increase the expense of e-publishing and make the products themselves more costly.  In brief, publishers and vendors place themselves at a competitive disadvantage by insisting on extensive DRM regimes and paying the price to create a system with many digital restrictions.

Specific Conditions for Transitioning to E-Books

In addition to the general conditions above that apply to all e-products, publishers and vendors should try to satisfy the following criteria in order to efficiently and effectively sell e-books.

>>  Format or content is appropriate to the manner of use

Publishers and vendors can contribute to the digital transition by offering e-books when they are most appropriate as an alternative to print.  The kinds of monographs that are most acceptable to libraries and their users as e-books currently are reference works and related publications that are consulted rather than read cover-to-cover or those monographs that consist of articles (as is the case with collected works of individually authored chapters, conference proceedings, and festschriften).  Within this context, one of the major reasons that UNC converted its acquisition of Springer monographs from print to electronic beginning in 2005 was precisely because so many of these titles consisted of article-chapters rather the traditional long, linear read; hence, these books were ideal candidates to convert from print—and to get users' acceptance.  (Of the nearly 30,000 Springer e-books that UNC owns, users have requested less than a dozen be duplicated in print.)  Short monographs under 50-75 pages also are ideal candidates for e-books.

>>  Simultaneous release of print and electronic formats

E-books represent not only the future for publishers and vendors but even now are critical for them to maintain their current position within the academy.  Simultaneous release of e-books with print—and preferably earlier if possible—is a prerequisite for adoption.  It is the content—along with ease of access—that readers increasingly care about.

Libraries need to be able to substitute e-books for print titles from publishers and vendors under the following conditions:  a) when appropriate in terms of nature of the work and how it is used; b) when users will accept this transition; and c) when it is cost effective.  While U.S. libraries will not force users to accept e-books, they will prefer print to electronic if users are willing to accept this transition—and simultaneous availability of print and electronic editions is critical to user acceptance.

>>  Unlimited simultaneous users as the norm

Without unlimited simultaneous users (SU) the whole purpose of making a text available electronically is severely undermined.  While libraries may pay a marginal premium for e-books, they also expect the extras inherent in e-books.  As a rule, libraries also are not going to pay extra for unlimited SU.

>>  Ability to download and print chapters

Whereas print books represent a product that has long been perfected, e-books are dramatically evolving in terms of becoming more robust and superior to print by incorporating features that readers find necessary and useful.  Although the desideratum should be adopting those capabilities inherent in the latest technology that make e-books superior to print, at a minimum this strategy embodies replicating those aspects of the print text that users value.  Conversely, failure or slowness to respond places one at a competitive disadvantage; it can even result in libraries not switching from print to e-books.

Following its success in converting all Springer books from print to electronic, in 2009 UNC began investigating which traditional monographs it could switch to e-books in the sciences.  UNC choose Oxford University Press (OUP) as the next major publisher to begin converting monographs from print to electronic, because of the high standards that this press had for its e-books and its openness to working with librarians to learn what users want and would accept.

What surprised both UNC and OUP was that scientists—and by extension almost certainly readers in other fields—wanted the ability to download and print chapters from monographs as PDFs.  This feature turned out to be a deal breaker.  Subsequently, OUP incorporated this capability and made it easy for readers to do so.  In response UNC moved it acquisitions to e-books in biology, mathematics, and physics via Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO).

Because librarians receive a steady stream of user complaints about e-books from publishers and vendors that do not allow for entire chapters to be downloaded and printed, failure to provide these features has a negative effect on UNC acquiring such electronic monographs.  The bottom line in converting from print to e-books is reader acceptance.  Although as a rule UNC libraries will never force groups of faculty and students to accept e-books in lieu of print, it will convert to electronic when readers generally will accept this transition.  Within this context, publishers and vendors need to understand and attempt to meet minimal user criteria for accepting electronic in lieu of print for standard scholarly monographs.

>>  Additional Robust Technical and Metadata Standards for e-books

While UNC expects publishers to be able to provide the text of e-journals in both PDF and HTML and considers this dual presentation acceptable, it recommends a combination of PDF andmdashXML as the ideal for e-books.  In brief, XML is a powerful medium for delivering digital monographs, and it provides the best means of turning the contents of e-books into sortable, adjustable, and hierarchical collections of components.  As such, XML maximizes the ability of publishers and vendors to make the contents of books discoverable and accessible with metadata while making it easier for users to navigate the text.  In terms of XML e-books, UNC considers Oxford University Press's e-books in its Oxford Scholarship Online program to be setting the standard.

>>  Additional Discovery Options

UNC expects publishers and vendors to make arrangements to provide MARC21 records for each e-book, preferably free of charge and at the time of a title's release.  Ideally, cataloging should be full level according to AACR2 guidelines. It also should be compliant with NACO and SACO and relevant Library of Congress (LC) guidelines for e-books and updating databases, and (especially if they have corresponding print analogs) contain LC and Dewey call numbers in MARC21 format with MARC8 character encoding.

>>  Functional requirements for e-book library vendors and their customer databases to effectively sell e-books:

o       Provide selectors with comprehensive coverage of all editions or versions of print and electronic books (including information on current, new, and forth-coming titles), while controlling for co-publication, co-distribution, and co-vending;

o       Offer and readily identify choices of e-book ownership/licensing models for each edition/version of a title;

o       Handle publisher offers that bundle electronic with print and/or allow for print-on-demand (POD) with the acquisition of electronic books (and potentially provide the library with PODs);

o       Control e-books at the level of specific e-copies as well as provide linked information on the corresponding leasing/ownership conditions and their status particular to each library or consortium;

o       Control for any accidental duplication in terms of approval plans, new title notifications, and firms orders;

o       Indicate what the library has purchased in terms both print and electronic titles (including loading holdings for e-copies of titles purchased consortially);

o       Monitor individual titles that are part of publisher or aggregator packages and identify those the library has or will acquire automatically via standing orders or database subscription;

o       Provide library selectors with notifications of new print and electronic books from specified publishers and vendors, including being able to offer preference options for e-copies of titles on the model of what is currently provided for print, e. g., distinguishing domestic/foreign and offering version preferences analogous to the hardback/paperback formats for print, while excluding those e-copies that the library will get automatically;

o       Allow library selectors to view the entire contents of an e-book before selecting or ordering it so as to make the best possible collection development decision;

o       Allow library selectors to order without mediation or having to worry about licensing issues;

o       Provide all this information in a single database that allows selectors and other library staff to see all versions/formats/e-copies of a book and know what the library and its consortial partners have done with each title.



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last modified: August 5
, 2011