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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2006

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Electronic Resources Reviews

NetLibrary Science and Technology E-book Coverage

Beth Roberts
Earth Sciences Librarian
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

Copyright 2006, Beth Roberts. Used with permission.

NetLibrary, a division of OCLC's Computer Library Center since 2002, contains over 121,600 titles as of this writing with a constantly growing collection. Their catalog has grown from only 24,599 items in 2000 (Rosy 2006) to its present number. According to a report by Rich Rosy, Vice President of Content Management of OCLC and NetLibrary, of the top ten subject areas represented in the NetLibrary catalog,

NetLibrary is adding about 21,000 new e-books a year. According to the NetLibrary collection development policy document, "NetLibrary's goal is to be the largest distributor of e-Books and other electronic information resources to libraries throughout the world." NetLibrary contains not only e-books but also audiobooks and e-journals.

This review is limited exclusively to e-book content available in NetLibrary. You can view all of the titles that NetLibrary offers by using TitleSelect, a feature available to both subscribers and non-subscribers.

NetLibrary collects in part according to customer demand. According to NetLibrary's collection development policy, "NetLibrary currently assesses its academic and research library content strengths to be in the subject areas of Technology, Computer Science, and Engineering; Business, Economics, and Management; Medicine and Allied Health; Education; and Social Sciences." The document goes on to say that "Usage and demand by NetLibrary research and academic library customers and users is highest in the following subject areas: Business, Economics, and Management; Computer Science and Information Technology; Social Sciences; Literature; and Medicine." So, while content at present in many areas in the sciences is not strong, if demand for science titles in lesser-developed subject areas goes up NetLibrary indicates it would respond to that need and increase collecting items in the appropriate areas.

NetLibrary also offers for purchase pre-selected sets of books in different subject areas. Librarians select the items for inclusion for each subject area. Currently there are sets available for environmentalism and ecology, biotechnology and bioengineering and alternative energy, and conservation. NetLibrary also offers a public collection of e-books. These items are books in the public domain. A list of these books is available in Excel format.

NetLibrary offers several subscription options for e-books. The first option is for a library to select books individually from TitleSelect. The second way libraries can purchase items is through a shared collection offered by a regional network such as PALINET, NELINET or SOLINET. This method can result in significant savings for libraries. The group decides how it will purchase and select items. The third option for libraries is called patron-driven acquisition. With this option a library commits to spending a particular amount of money such as the minimum amount of $5,000. NetLibrary will then build a collection based on your preferences. Patron usage of a book determines what items get purchased. For example, the first time a patron views a book the item is not purchased, but on the second viewing the book will be automatically purchased up to the monetary limit. TitleSelect shows libraries a book's list price, but librarians should be aware that the cost of purchasing a book also includes an access fee. Access fees are additional and can be pre-paid for five years or paid annually. For more information on pricing structures librarians contact NetLibrary at the address listed below.

At present, in terms of total numbers of titles in the sciences, coverage is strongest in medicine and health, biology, physics, and chemistry. Several thousand titles are listed in health and medicine combined. STM publishers with holdings in NetLibrary include Elsevier, Kluwer, John Wiley & Sons, Marcel Dekker, and Springer. Some of the other publishers represented include CRC Press, Blackwell, CABI, Earthscan and Cambridge International Science. University Press Publishers are also heavily represented in the STM collections. A large number of NetLibrary's recent acquisitions in medicine are CRC titles.

A search on biology returns over 520 titles, physics brings back 493 titles and chemistry 551 titles. For comparison, a subject search in TitleSelect on geology returns only 150 titles while a search on medicine as a subject retrieves 1,306 titles.

Physics: Available series include the NATO Science Series, International Science Lecture Series and Advances in Chemical Physics, and Advances in Nuclear Physics. There is one dictionary, the Hutchinson Pocket Dictionary of Physics, one quotation and maxims book and several handbooks such as the Handbook of Accelerator Physics and Engineering.

Chemistry: Series include the Surfactant Science Series and Chemistry and Physics of Carbon.

Astronomy: One-hundred four titles are available in astronomy. This includes items from the series High Energy Physics, Cosmology and Gravitation. Heavily represented publishers in astronomy are Springer Science & Business Media at 14% of titles, Cambridge University Press at 11.5%, and National Academy Press representing 9% of total titles. The titles in astronomy, as with other available content in NetLibrary span the gamut from juvenile literature to proceedings and syllabi as well as general interest works and textbooks. Some of the more recently published titles include Planets to Cosmology: Essential Science in the Final Years of the Hubble Space Telescope from the Space Telescope Science Institute Symposium Series; and a juvenile item, Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors from the Worlds Beyond series from Lerner Publications.

Materials Science: Materials science is not well represented at present.

Meteorology: These titles are a very small segment of the collection numbering only about 50 items with the largest number of titles (27%) from National Academies Press. An example of a more recent publication included is Dynamics of the Atmosphere: A Course in Theoretical Meteorology from Cambridge University Press.

Geology: There are 58 Geological Society of America Special Publications available. Geological Society of London publications also appear as well as some UN publications.

Agriculture: There are approximately 350 agriculture titles. At present there are 17 CABI titles included in that number. Other books included are titles on sustainable agriculture and agriculture in Africa, World Bank Papers and OECD Reviews such as the OECD Industrial Outlook 2005-2014. World Bank Papers are heavily represented. There are a number of World Bank Technical papers and Country Studies as well as discussion papers. University of California Press titles are also well represented in the list of agriculture titles.

Computer Science and Technology: This area is well represented in NetLibrary. Computer science and technology books seem most conducive to the online format because they are often used as ready reference material for quick answers to short questions. As most STM librarians are aware, computer science books become obsolete almost as soon as they are published. E-books may be a good solution to the problem of storage space for the vast number of new computer manuals being published each year.

Engineering: There are over 1,200 books on engineering generally and almost 20% of those are CRC Press books. There are approximately 20 books available specifically on mechanical engineering and also about the same number each for nuclear and civil engineering and over 40 for chemical engineering. Included in this part of the collection are pocket reference works, building code handbooks/standards, ISO 14000 and ISO 9000 series standards, CAD guidebooks, and a variety of other engineering handbooks.

In terms of searchability and interface design, NetLibrary's 4.0 version is an improvement over earlier versions. Users can search NetLibrary by keyword, title, author, subject and full text. A radio button beneath the search box allows users to limit the search to English, Spanish, French, or German. The advanced search screen offers more options for searching such as ISBN and publisher. The advanced search screen also offers the option to limit results by year or language and to change the results display order.

The search screens offers access to a help page that explains things like usage of Boolean operators and details on searching and using NetLibrary. The search screens have a clean design with minimal distraction. They also save recent searches so they can be easily run again.

Once users run a search they will see a box that contains related topics. Also, after the user views a particular book the system will display a box that contains links to similar items. This is helpful to alert users to related subject areas and more items on their topics. Items that the library does not subscribe to are indicated by a "*" next to the title.

If the user misspells a search term, NetLibrary quite helpfully asks, "Did you mean X?" and provides a hyperlink that will automatically run the search on the correctly spelled topic.

When the user selects a book to view, the system displays an image of the cover (if available) in a frame. The e-book may be viewed in NetLibrary's browser-based online reader. Plugins such as Adobe or DjVu may be required to view certain resources.

The online reader has two frames. The left frame contains the contents of the book while the right frame contains the text of the book. To read a book, one must click on the contents in the left frame to advance to the next section. It is not always a smooth transition because it is necessary to keep clicking on the little "+" sign to open new sections and then click on the appropriate section. It is a bit frustrating to have to keep doing this and not be given more than one page at a time to view. On the other hand it is nice to be able to jump from one section to another quickly. In addition, users can print only one page at a time of a NetLibrary eBook because of copyright law.

Some nice features include the hyperlinked footnotes and the ability to search the full text of the book for a particular keyword. It is also possible to save favorite items in NetLibrary and to save notes about an item. There is also a built-in dictionary so the user can look up unfamiliar terms.

If one user is viewing a book and someone else tries to view that copy at the same time the second user will receive a message saying, "We're sorry, your library's copies of this eContent are currently in use. Either try again later or use one of the options below." This includes being notified when the book is available via e-mail. One can either view an e-book or download and check out a book depending on the type of subscription the library holds.

Reading books online has been slow to catch on with many library customers. In a study at the University of Denver in 2005 the authors found that of e-book users, "Most respondents read only small portions of e-books, suggesting perhaps that print volumes are a better alternative for immersion in the text" (Levine-Clark 2006). Based on studies such as this one and anecdotal evidence, it seems that reference books and computer and technical manuals are some of the most likely candidates for heavy online usage. This works well for many STM subject areas where patrons just need access to a small amount of information contained in the item. Overall NetLibrary's interface is much improved from the early days and fairly straightforward to use and navigate. As more content is added to NetLibrary, librarians can hope to more titles in some of the less represented areas of the sciences.


NetLibrary Division Office
4888 Pearl Circle, Ste 103
Boulder, CO 80301


Levine-Clark, M. 2006. Electronic book usage: a survey at the University of Denver. Portal: Libraries and the Academy 6 (3): 285-300.

NetLibrary, a division of OCLC Collection Development Policy. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed: November 1, 2006].

Rosy, R. 2006. OCLC CJK Users Group. Annual Meeting, San Francisco California. [Online]. Available: {} [Accessed: November 1, 2006].

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