Librarian Problem Solver: Ebooks to the Rescue

By Mary Oberlies - Instruction & Data Services Librarian


Who Needed Help: Professors needing course materials they assigned available in electronic formats.

Librarian Problem Solver: Mary Oberlies

Problem: Getting access to eBooks for courses and student is on all of our minds. This morning, March 30th, I was greeted with three emails asking if we could get additional course materials as eBooks. Looking back to when we began transitioning classes online, I’ve received requests to track down eBooks for 53 titles, 6 films and 2 TV series from faculty in history and government since March 13th. If I were to count graduate students, the number tips into the 60s. Talking with my colleagues on the research team, I’m not alone here and our ILL and Course Reserves teams can report even higher numbers.

Solution: I take it as a personal challenge to uncover every option available to get an item electronic before I share any bad news about not being able to a digital copy of an item. To help with this I’ve setup a workflow:

  1. Check GOBI – our go-to vendor for books. Here I can see whether any vendors we have contracts with provide an eBook license we can purchase. Sometimes I get lucky and there are several providers of unlimited user licenses, while other times all that is available are single user licenses or no options at all. If I’m successful here, I can place a purchase request for the item and my work is done with a happy note to the professor.
  2. Check VitalSource – Barnes & Noble’s temporary platform for eBooks. Publishers are trying to help and have opened up some content here for students to borrow eBooks. It’s free to setup an account and students just need the book ISBN to borrow a title. 
  3. Check Red Desk – similar to VitalSource it’s a temporary platform of eBooks. 
  4. Check Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library – more temporary eBooks. This one has been in the news a lot recently and opinion is divided on it. I’ll say this, it’s been a life saver a couple of times for when I’m not able to find an eBook copy in my first three spots. Students still need to setup free accounts to borrow eBooks which they have access to for 14 days. While there is controversy surrounding the site it has come in handy when we need classes of 25-35 students accessing the same title and can’t get unlimited user licenses. 

Response: In today’s three emails there were four books requested and of those I was able to find one we could purchase. Not quite the success I hope for, but I’ll take the wins we can get. For the remaining titles I encourage the faculty to submit ILL requests for a couple of the chapters they need or ask if we can find substitutions. I appreciate their flexibility and understanding when we are not able to get digital copies.