As libraries and library users look with eager anticipation toward the 21st century, electronic full-text access to publications is becoming more and more prevalent and accepted, perhaps even expected. NetLibrary has entered the electronic environment slowly but surely with 8 employees upon its founding in August 1998, growing to 270 employees and counting in November 1999.
NetLibrary is an Internet-based electronic library that provides full-text, online access to over 9,000 scholarly, reference and professional texts. Their target audience includes researchers and scholars who want quick, easy access to professional publications. Searchers are able to search the entire text of eBooks for key words and phases, print selected pages, highlight and copy important text, paste references into other documents as needed; in other words, search and manipulate text in ways not possible with a printed book. Access to the netLibrary collection is split into the free, Public Collection (2,000+ public domain titles and growing) and the fee-based Private Collection (6,000+ titles and growing). The Private Collection titles are provided from over 100 leading publishers, including Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Ohio University Press, Cambridge University Press, ABC-CLIO, Facts on File, and many more.
Using netLibrary is fairly simple: patrons search for eBooks and then have the option of checking out an eBook, viewing it online, or download it for offline viewing using the free netLibrary eBook reader (coming soon), which will allow the user to highlight, bookmark or annotate the text on their own desktop.
Users can browse subject categories for available eBooks, conduct a "quick search" or a more advanced "power search". Full-text searching is also available. Searching is free to registered users. After performing a search, titles will be displayed alphabetically ten at a time, giving the title, author, and publication date, as well as options to View (for a 15 minute preview), or Borrow (access the eBook for the amount of time allotted by their library - usually two hours for reference titles, and eight to 24 hours for other titles.)
Clicking on a specific title will provide additional publication information, and lead the user into specific viewing options. Once viewing an eBook, options listed at the top of the screen include viewing the table of contents, viewing the document (page by page), viewing both table of contents and document side by side, searching the eBook (by keyword), closing the eBook and returning to the home page. Keyword searches bracket the word or phrase searched in red: << >> for a quick visual cue. One can view an eBook online or "check it out". Online, only one person can borrow a book at a time. Libraries may choose, however, to purchase several copies of one e-title.
Libraries and library consortia subscribing to netLibrary's services include OhioLink, PALINET, the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries, and the Alliance Library System. The number of libraries signing up for netLibrary's service will no doubt grow once current subscribers share success stories with others. It is important to note that netLibrary is focusing on the university and online education market; academic libraries will want to pay attention to netLibrary's services and future service potential. Can the netLibrary subscriptions be integrated into a library's catalog? It's possible, but it won't be cheap. NetLibrary is working with OCLC in terms of cataloging titles, for a fee. Subscription users also have to register individually on the netLibrary web site to be able to borrow netLibrary titles.
Overall, the site's layout is clean and easy to navigate. There are banner ads near the top search result screens, and additional graphics near the bottom of selected web pages that advertise sponsors and publisher partners.
Several colleagues I've been in touch with hold back on final judgements for this service - it's too new to make any bold observations, they tell me. NetLibrary has ambitious plans: adding 15,000 books per year by 2004, and, according to information on their web site, providing access to approximately 26% of the books published in the United States. Time will tell as to how successful and valuable this company will be, and how many other e-book businesses will follow in their footsteps. This reviewer can only imagine the impact e-book technology will have on future generations of library users and information-seekers.
Caroline L. Gilson
November 30, 1999