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December 24, 2008

Finding eBook Neverland

Or "why publishers need to unlock more than their imagination".

At the JISC IE and e-Research Call briefing day last week John Smith of UKC mentioned that discovering the availability of eBook titles is way harder than it should be. The lack of any single point of aggregation of information about eBooks means that libraries are basically left manually searching/browsing multiple suppliers to see who has what.

I just took a very quick look at NetLibrary, Dawsonera, MyiLibrary and Books@Ovid, wondering what information I could find from each about a search API, RSS feed or anything vaguely machine-to-machine oriented.

Nadda.

Apologies if I missed something obvious.

I mean, come on guys... this is the bread and butter of the Web these days isn't it?  Throw us a frickin' bone :-).  I'm not asking you to make your eBook content openly available, just offer an interface that lets me write code to see what you have available without having to manually browse or search your Web pages.

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What I find even more galling (as a librarian responsible for ensuring we deliver the content effectively to our users) is that within a ebook package we often find that the content can be update e.g. A new edition of one of the texts is added. We have no way to know thishas happened - noalert whatsoever. When we approached one provider about this, they suggested we could check their website for such information (how often they expect us to do this is unclear to me)! I can't begin to say how poor I think this is. However it is extremely similar to the early days of ejournals where we had difficulty getting basic information out of providers - like what titles we had access to within a package! In the case if journals 3rd parties stepped in and started to manage some of this information (for a fee of course). I guess we will see something similar with ebooks.

Just writing to connect this up with post on if:book made me think of this. Maybe _Your Name Here_ is reading for those PDF-writers!

"Reading Your Name Here is an interesting experience: though it's nearly 600 8.5'' x 11'' pages long, I found it surprisingly legible on the screen. I never had the impulse to print it out, which is still my default impulse when I get a long PDF. DeWitt's book works on screen, I think, because knowledge of how we read on screen informed the language of the book"

Wonder if Helen consults! (No, I don't know her!)

I agree this is a huge problem, and it's equally true in the trade ebook world (which I'm more familiar with). Since Amazon insists on distributing only Kindle-format ebooks, there's no single source for even immensely popular bestsellers.

Off the top of my head I'd think the right distribution format for this kind of catalog would be the Atom Publishing Protocol. At least subscription-only publishers could broadcast, "Hey, I have these titles here."

Well, it's somewhat annoying/upsetting, that dearly acquired lore from librarians, about the difficulties — and solutions — to help potential readers identify the relevants items which could meet their needs/wishes is so thoroughly ignored by arrogant/ignorant newbies...
When these newbies get as powerful as main search engines, it gives the frills...

OK, here's a bone.

http://xisbn.worldcat.org/xisbnadmin/doc/api.htm#searchinalibrary

The ebook "library" allows you to find ebook manifestations of a given ISBN. We're still working to expand coverage.

Eric

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