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Students, faculty experiment with e-books

Daily Planet wire services
Wednesday February 14, 2001

Some best-selling authors may rush into electronic publishing with their latest thrillers, but academic institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley, are cautiously investigating the world of e-books.  

UC Berkeley's library began a modest experiment with electronic books almost a year ago, spending about $50,000 to pick 835 titles mainly from the social sciences and to make them available online to any UC Berkeley student or faculty or staff member with a library card and a personal computer.  

The online collection, chosen from about 15,000 titles available through a company called NetLibrary, is meager compared to the 9 million volumes UC Berkeley keeps on its library shelves. But the electronic project is viewed as a necessary and important step in keeping current with information as well as with the modes of its delivery.  

“The faculty has learned a lot about e-books, and (the librarians) learned about reader behavior, such as that they are intrigued, but not ready to give up print,” said project leader Milton Ternberg, a librarian at the Thomas J. Long Business Library at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. 

He called the program "very successful."  

So far, the "bestsellers" in UC Berkeley's experiment are titles in economics, business and the Internet. Economics and business together scored 777 "hits" between April 2000 and late January of this year, according to tallies for the campus's special electronic titles. The books are accessible online day or night to UC Berkeley users who connect to the campus network from work, labs, libraries, laptops, home offices, dorm rooms, apartments or fraternities and sororities.  

Next in popularity are sociology books with 623 hits, then political science with 334 and anthropology with 276.  

The title recording the most visits - 63 - so far is "Inventing the Internet," followed by "Borders in Cyberspace" and "Game Theory." Rounding out the top five: "Pop Internationalism" and "101 More Best Resumes."  

Ternberg said all the books might be more popular if more people knew about them. Despite efforts to publicize the program on library Web sites and e-mailings to targeted campus audiences, Ternberg and others said many people still are learning about e-books.  

The Teaching Library on campus offers a drop-in course, "Finding Books," that includes instruction about the NetLibrary "self-service" collection.  


"Students seem very interested to learn that we have electronic books 

as part of the library's collection," said Aija Kanbergs, an assistant at UC 

Berkeley's Teaching Library. "I think some students use it, especially 

when our own paper copies of the book are checked out."  


"For example, one anthropology graduate student doing fieldwork in 

Cuba and missing the UC Berkeley library was enthusiastic about the 

possibility of having the library with her in the field," said Suzanne 

Calpestri, librarian for the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library. 

"Other students were enthusiastic about being able to search across the 

full text of many titles and looked forward to having more online."  


Many scholars see benefits for the electronic monograph with their 

research, although they don't see it as a permanent replacement for the 

traditional paper library, said Calpestri, a member of the group evaluating 

the project.  


Also among the advantages is the speed of locating citations in books, 

having the information immediately accessible on a desktop computer, 

and easily printed. Users have credited an online review of an electronic 

book with helping them decide whether to walk or drive to the library 

later to pick up the hard copy.  


Some negatives about the project: only one person can check out, or 

view, an e-book at a time, some users find it annoying that usage is 

tracked, and the software for reading a text online doesn't make for a 

very comfortable experience. Books also can be kept for just one day.  


One of the biggest drawbacks is price. The NetLibrary e-book costs the 

same as a hardback version, plus a sliding fee to make it available for 

viewing or checkout. The electronic book costs 15 percent of the 

purchase cost for the first year. After that, the cost declines all the way 

to 3 percent in the sixth year. Or, an institution can pay the purchase 

price - plus 50 percent of that price tag - to have the book available 

online forever.  


Beth Sibley, a political science and sociology librarian who is working with 

Ternberg to analyze UC Berkeley's e-book experiment, said changes in 

this field are immense and constant.  


Alan Ritch, UC Berkeley associate university library and director of 

collections, said in a recent report that digital transformation of printed 

resources so far is uneven and is "being embraced unequally by scholars, 

of varying experience and proclivities, within the disciplines."  


As UC Berkeley and other institutions - UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa 

Barbara, San Francisco Public Library and Oakland Public Library - 

experiment with the e-book, none plans to stop buying paper versions, 

thus escalating budget demands and at least somewhat constricting the 

variety of materials ultimately available.  


"Eventually, the delivery of information resources (texts, images, sound, 

video) to libraries and users may save staff time and architectural 

space," Ritch said in his report. "However, during this transitional period 

... library operational costs are actually higher than they have ever 



Electronic book boosters include those in the technology field, Ternberg 

said, many of them anxious to have more computer manuals online 

because paper versions wear out so fast.  


At the National Information Service for Earthquake Engineering at UC 

Berkeley, some 10 electronic books have been published and posted at 

the Earthquake Engineering Library. They include works of several UC 

Berkeley professors of structural engineering, and an electronic book 

dictionary of earthquake engineering is due soon.  


Ternberg said e-books should benefit from the passage of time.  


"There's a whole generation coming up that is so tuned in to reading and 

doing everything by computer," he said, predicting it will be less fond of 

the paper book than are many current researchers and readers. And 

others less enamored with the digital age simply will become more 

comfortable with the e-book as they use it more, he said. The software 

available to read electronic books also is steadily improving, he said.  


Ternberg said the program likely will continue for at least the next couple 

of years, but the collections committee has agreed not to add any new 

titles for now.  


Other universities around the country, including the University of Texas 

and Vanderbilt, have purchased between 15,000 and 20,000 e-book 

titles, finding economy and buying power through a consortium of 

university libraries all testing the electronic field.  


"We (UC Berkeley) didn't want to do that, but we might want to in the 

future," Ternberg said.  


Scholarly journals online, meanwhile, are becoming so popular they are 

"off the charts," said Sibley. UC Berkeley professors Robert Cooter, 

Aaron Edlin and Benjamin Hermalin worked with computer programmer 

David Sharnoff to start in 1999 an e-journal operation called It offers online journals featuring cutting-edge research in 

the fields of macroeconomics and theoretical economics. The electronic 

publication caught the attention of scholars and publishers with a 

promise of peer-reviewed publication in as little as eight weeks, rather 

than the typical two-year wait. Sibley said electronic books may be 

slower in gaining popularity and use, but she expects that to gradually 



Ternberg also is a member of a task force studying e-books for the 

California Digital Library. The group is scheduled to make 

recommendations on March 14 about what the nine-campus UC system 

should do with e-books in terms of acquisition of titles, sharing titles, 

principles for licensing and other issues.