(Editor’s Note: This article is largely excerpted, with permission, from “Health Sciences Ebooks in 2021: Availability, Challenges, and Trends,” published in Against the Grain volume 33 issue #4.)
In 2002, Linda Walton and Ramune Kubilius reported that 99 percent of 120 academic health sciences libraries’ websites they examined showed the availability of web-based textbooks. However, their survey of the Brandon/Hill list, the core title list at the time, revealed that online format was only available for 19 percent of the titles recommended in that list (1). Though core title lists may not address all a library’s collection needs, criteria-based and regularly maintained core lists can provide samples of titles for collection studies. For this brief review, the authors used Doody’s Core Titles (DCT), a current day core list, to examine the state of health sciences ebooks and their associated landscape.
For 40 years (1965-2004), the Brandon/Hill lists were “selected lists” of important print book and journal titles recommended for small medical and hospital libraries, and libraries of all sizes relied on the lists to make informed acquisition decisions (2). Doody’s Core Titles, first published in 2004 after it was announced that the Brandon/Hill lists would no longer be published, is an annual refereed list of books in the health sciences (3). While DCT continues and expands the legacy of the Brandon/Hill lists, it differs in that it does not include journals.
The 2,246 titles selected for the 2021 edition of DCT comprise more than three and a half times the size of the Brandon/Hill list used for the 2002 study. To establish the availability of core titles as ebooks, the authors analyzed data from DCT’s ebook discoverability program, an opt-in feature for publishers and aggregators to provide DCT users links to source ebooks for institutional licensing or as part of a collection (4). As of May 2021, e-versions of 1,847 DCT titles (82%) were available for online institutional licensing, more than four times the percentage of core titles available as ebooks (19%) in the 2002 study. The substantial increase is partially due to the growing number of ebook licensing platforms: eight aggregators were identified in the 2002 study, while DCT 2021 includes data from 36 licensing platforms from 17 aggregators.
Continuity exists within the industry: six of the eight 2002 study aggregators still host DCT titles in 2021 (with some corporate and product name changes): LWW, Ovid, McGraw Hill, Elsevier (MD Consult in 2002), Teton Data Systems, and Wiley. While in 2002 health sciences ebook aggregators were also core title publishers, in 2021 the greatest selection of ebooks are hosted on platforms of third-party library service providers and book distributors. EBSCO’s GOBI includes 1,611 (87%) of the 2021 core title ebooks, and ProQuest’s Ebook Central includes 1,233 (67%). Rittenhouse’s R2 Digital Library includes 404 (22%), while Ovid provides access to 353 (19%), the largest offering of the six 2002 study aggregators that host DCT 2021 titles.
It isn’t only library service providers that have moved into offering ebook content. Society publishers also offer institutional licensing packages, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatric Care Online) and the American Psychiatric Association (Psychiatry Online). Commercial publishers have expanded their offerings. McGraw Hill, for instance, now offers more than a dozen subject-specific subscription collection options, many of which include DCT 2021 titles.
Challenges & Opportunities
At the time of review, 399 DCT 2021 titles (18%) were not marked as available in ebook format. These titles are published by 76 different publishers (roughly 61% of publishers with DCT 2021 titles). Some of the titles may not be available as ebooks. If they are, information may not be provided by DCT online discoverability partners, or availability may be on platforms that are not traditionally licensed by libraries, such as learning management or clinical health information systems. This represents a significant gap in title availability — on publishers’ proprietary platforms and in what they offer through aggregators — which poses challenges for libraries wishing to provide online access to core titles. This also suggests opportunities for aggregators to seek arrangements with more partner publishers to diversify their institutional ebook licensing portfolios. Admittedly, expanded availability of health sciences ebooks from third-party aggregators still may not include titles critical to a specific library’s needs. Local practices, policies, and procedures determine choices and preferred routes for licensing ebooks.
While this analysis indicates substantial shifts in the health sciences ebook landscape since 2002, there is little doubt that more changes are forthcoming. Innovation at publisher, consortial, institutional, and local levels includes experimentation with ebook feature enhancement as well as new funding models, Open Access books, and Open Educational Resources (OER). Additionally, pivots made in response to the events of 2020/2021 will likely have ripple effects. Publishers offered free trials and expanded access during the COVID-19 pandemic, and libraries needed to manage access to and discovery of this content. Publishers and third-party providers responded to national and world events by expanding ebook offerings in certain areas, including diversity, foreign medical language learning, the history of medicine (pandemics), and global health. Some, including Doody’s, responded to new needs by creating various “special topics” collections and lists (5). Libraries continue to seek solutions that satisfy their institutions’ demands and needs and adhere to fiscal realities, while adapting to publishers’ ever changing ebook business models. Continuing evolution is guaranteed. Time will tell what changes seen in recent years will persist, particularly in the immediate aftermath of tumultuous years.
- Kubilius, Ramune and Linda Walton. 2002. “E-Books/Web-Based Medical Textbooks.” Handout presented at Health Sciences Lively Lunch at the Charleston Conference: Issues in Book and Serial Acquisition. Charleston, SC, November 1, 2002. https://doi.org/10.18131/g3-rbk4-sj05
- Hill, Dorothy R. and Henry N. Stickell. n.d. “A History of the Brandon/Hill Selected Lists.” Accessed May 20, 2021. https://web.archive.org/web/20080808135219/http:/www.mssm.edu/library/brandon-hill/history.shtml
- Doody’s Core Titles, n.d. “History.” Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.doody.com/DCT/Content/DCTHistory.asp
- Doody’s Core Titles. n.d. “eBook Aggregator Partners.” Accessed May 20, 2021. https://www.doody.com/DCT/Content/DCTAggregators.asp
- Doody Enterprises. n.d. “Doody Special Topics Lists.” Accessed May 20, 2021. http://corp.doody.com/doodys-special-topics-lists/
DCT Featured Article – October 12, 2021