LexisNexis and OverDrive announced that they have agreed to create customized ebook lending and management services, offering “the largest collection of authoritative legal ebook content on all major mobile devices and desktop platforms.” I have to admit that I like both companies. As a law librarian, I have used LexisNexis for decades and taught more than a thousand law students to use it. OverDrive has made it easy for me to download my favorite ebooks, and especially audiobooks from my public library—freeing me from sitting in my car in some parking structure, waiting for my car’s CD player to finish a chapter.
So, when these two corporate friends announced that they got together on a digital library, I delved into the announcement with high anticipation. The LexisNexis Digital Library offers access to LexisNexis’ growing collection of more than 1,100 ebooks through OverDrive. That means, like my public library, a subscribing law library is able to acquire Lexis ebook titles, and “lend” each of them to a patron at a time. The library sets its own checkout and renewal terms. When a patron “returns” the title, then another patron can check it out. The patron doesn’t even have to bring the ebook back to the library, for as the press release points out, “each eBook title has a check out expiration deadline that automatically returns it to the library for use by others.” Is there a waiting list for a title? The library can buy multiple ebook copies to meet a greater demand.
How much do ebooks cost? According to LexisNexis spokesperson Marc Osborn, “individual LexisNexis eBooks range in price from $14 to $1,000+ and select titles are available by subscription. LexisNexis Digital Library pricing varies and ranges from a single user, single copy approach to an unlimited use pricing model. This type of flexible pricing allows organizations to migrate to digital at their own pace and increase savings as they progress along the digital continuum.” For the price, there are updates, as Osborn points out, “In terms of updating information in the digital library, LexisNexis eBooks in the digital library platform are updated via the creation of a new file that replaces existing content. eBooks will be updated with the current LexisNexis Print schedule and will be made available to customers as close to the shipment date as possible. Also, we heard from customers that at times they may need to access past editions of publications; incorporating this feedback into our product development, users now may access past editions in an archival folder within the LexisNexis Digital Library.”
So, future updates and archival versions are covered. What else could this librarian want? Hyperlinks in the ebooks to “live” information online, of course. Osborn says, “LexisNexis currently offers 125+ titles with citelinks to Lexis.com and that will be expanding over time. In late summer, LexisNexis eBooks will incorporate citelinks to Lexis Advance. Once a live link within the eBook is clicked, the user will leave the digital reader and be directed to Lexis.com (or Lexis Advance as relevant) where online functionality will remain the same.”
When I asked about the hyperlinks and updates when a user does not also have a subscription to Lexis.com or Lexis Advance, Osborn confirmed that, “access to content from within Lexis Advance or lexis.com via linkage in an eBook would require a subscription to one of those services.”
So, is this the best thing since CD-ROM?
Well, this isn’t a giant leap of technology or even a really big jump for either company. LexisNexis and competitor Westlaw have had ebooks for some time—as well as mobile access to their vast online resources from any number of popular devices. “LexisNexis eBooks are compatible with a wide variety of major devices, including Windows PC, Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Kindle (U.S. only), Sony Reader, NOOK, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. Similarly, LexisNexis Digital Library websites and mobile apps will work on all major devices.”
Curious, I asked Osborn whether there was any preference for a particular technology, and he noted, “based on feedback we’ve received from customer meetings and in-person seminars, the Apple iPad appears to be the prevalent device in the legal market. However, our device-agnostic approach to content conversion gives customers the option to read LexisNexis eBooks on their device of choice, be it the iPad, Amazon Kindle, Sony NOOK, or other tablet/e-reading device. LexisNexis eBooks can also be read on desktop and laptop computers using e-reader software—offering even more flexibility for customers to research how and when they want.”
The new capability of the LexisNexis/OverDrive service is that it enables a librarian to acquire individual etitles—irrespective of the electronic device one thinks will be used to download or display it. Patrons will have access to these titles through their own library site, using OverDrive’s proven delivery system. It was smart of LexisNexis to find a capable partner that has earned the trust of the library community, with a cross-platform delivery system that library patrons have become familiar with—rather than trying to come up with some proprietary or custom service.
The press release notes: “The core of LexisNexis Digital Library is a website created by OverDrive and customized for each law firm or organization. A librarian or designated administrator serves as the manager of a virtual library, ordering titles and supervising lending of all electronic content. This arrangement is more efficient compared to each individual eBook user purchasing and managing his or her own digital content. Additionally, the site enables the administrator to generate detailed reports to better understand eBook usage patterns and to inform better digital content decisions for the firm or organization”
I appreciate that they think a librarian might be administrating the digital library (eyes rolling up); but in the law firm, government, and law school libraries where I have worked, no individual user ever purchased their own digital content—they asked the library to buy it for them—digital, print, or other media. Users know that they will have access to everything they request through the library, and the dean or firm’s executive knows that the librarian is on top of exactly how many, what, where, and how much the institution spends on information products and in which types of media. Frankly, only the library has that kind of money. Law ebooks, p-books, and databases are frightfully expensive, and to control these costs, purchasing authority is centralized.
Different law librarians are going to have different reactions to this new ebook delivery system
As a librarian with a flat fee LexisNexis contract, I know my users can access all of these ebook titles online, along with the rest of the vast LexisNexis datafiles, with any device that has internet access. Kevin Gerson of UCLA Law Library agrees, at this point. “I would say that we probably wouldn’t be interested in it. Our students/faculty can access everything in the Lexis digital library through our Lexis subscription, much or all of which is becoming more mobile friendly through Advance. Also, WestlawNext provides an even better mobile (iPad, in particular) interface that allows access to most everything on Westlaw.”
[Note: The folks at UCLA are focusing on integrating legal research apps into the 1L program. Vicki Steiner has a terrific LibGuide on those apps here.]
A librarian that is still paying hourly, transactional, or some other variable rate, on the other hand, will appreciate the fixed cost of the LexisNexis ebooks available through OverDrive. Law library patrons will appreciate the fact that through OverDrive they can open and read any of these ebooks using whatever reader, tablet, laptop, or other device they currently use. And, with a network of more than 18,000 libraries worldwide, chances are these law library patrons are already familiar with the OverDrive offerings and process at their local public library.
As of now, the promotional literature is only aimed at law firm libraries. I understand from friends that at least one public law library has been approached in exploratory meetings, but LexisNexis has not perfected how they will allow a public library to circulate ebooks. Joe Hodnicki at Law Librarian Blog is so impressed that he asserts, “LexisNexis is Going to Win the First Round in Providing a Circulation Solution for Commercial Law eBooks.”
I asked David Curle, director & lead analyst, at Outsell, Inc. for his thoughts since he provides analytic coverage of the Legal, Tax & Regulatory information segment, including legal publishing and law practice workflow tools. He sees two issues.
First, there is the risk of a platform war that doesn’t serve users well. In the print world, lawyers and libraries can buy from anyone. In the ebook world, will they find it frustrating to have to adopt a new platform for every publisher they purchase from? In the long term, there will either be a winning platform, or a lot of fragmented and frustrated users.
Second, it’s not at all clear to me that most legal works such as books, treatises, or practice guides will even survive in recognizable form in the long term. I believe lawyers will stop turning to book-length works for the specialized analytical information they need, and they’ll start looking for more and more specialized, narrowly targeted works. Imagine an app designed around a specific kind of lawsuit, for example. It might contain forms, content from a treatise, a workflow checklist, opportunities to collaborate with experts in the field, links to a case law database, etc.
Professional works are different than mass market ebooks in that they are not typically read through; they are consumed on a just-in-time or as-needed basis. I think it’s likely that the content now in books will be broken down into smaller chunks and embedded into other kinds of workflow tools.
So in that sense I think today’s current professional ebook platforms may be just a pass-through phase on the way to something else.
I have to agree with Curle as to ebooks being a step to the future—much like CD-ROMs when they were new. CD-ROMs duplicated what was online; they were light and easy to carry in that they eliminated the need to carry big heavy law books around; they required their own technology to be readable (CD drive and reader software); you could read the book straight through, or do a word search of the whole CD; they could be checked out at the library for use in places where there was no internet access (although unlike the Lexis/OverDrive digital law library you had to physically go to the library); they eventually provided live links to cited cases and codes within the CD-ROM title, and where there was an internet connection, one could Shepardize (this was pre-KeyCite) the cited cases and codes.
Ultimately, with wireless home networks, Wi-Fi in coffeehouses and offices, in restaurants, even Wi-Fi in airplanes—and now portable hotspots—not to mention a proliferation of Internet Service Providers, widespread broadband technology and flat price contracts, it became easier to go back to online access to use all of a vendor’s datafiles, than just buy access to what was on a particular CD-ROM. Now with cloud storage, I think hardware dependence, especially upon dedicated readers, is soon to be as “old school” as CD towers.
These are interesting times. They are hard times for legal researchers—whether in downsizing, merging or struggling law firms; or in state, court, or county government jobs with libraries facing more and bigger cutbacks each fiscal year, along with pay cuts and furloughs; or in law schools with shrinking applicant pools due to lowered expectations of high-paying legal jobs. No one is immune.
Whether this is a good time to buy yet more copies of econtent that may already be on your library’s shelves and/or already searchable through the major computer assisted legal research systems to which you already subscribe, each library will have to decide. It is no doubt a good time for CALR companies to find new ways to monetize existing information products, that is almost free to reproduce, does not have to be warehoused, packed or shipped, won’t get lost or damaged in transit, and can be sold over and over again in the blink of an eye.
For the library that has run out of room for books, however, it must be a godsend to be able to purchase multiple copies of a high-demand title so that with the wave of a hand it can be accessed by one, some or all of your patrons—whether in the library, in remote branch offices, or in pajamas researching at home.
Louis Mirando is the chief law librarian at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, and he is rebuilding the law library and posting a series of thought provoking articles on developing a library collection development policy for the law library of the future. Mirando is concerned about ebook costs, but understands that, “these cost concerns should be balanced with the realization that, in the current print acquisition model, we buy way too many books that are never read or even opened by anyone. It’s always preferable to pay for something that will be used. Also, as in so many library operations, we tend to ignore the ancillary costs of the acquisitions process—staff time spent evaluating lists, processing orders, tracking orders, receiving orders, processing orders, paying invoices, processing materials for the collection, etc. These costs are huge! Ditto that for circulation and shelving. The concept of the circulating ebook library and the OverDrive platform is very attractive, letting us concentrate on the provision of value-added library services, not just belaboring the process of physically maintaining and accessing analog collections of current materials. The final consideration, of course, is space. My library is not going to get any bigger. If we keep acquiring print texts, where will they go?”
As more law libraries consider ebook purchase and lease programs, I can recommend a DigitalShift article from Library Journal by Sue Polanka, “A Primer on Ebooks for Libraries Just Starting With Downloadable Media,” which provides an excellent overview of ebook advantages and disadvantages; sources of free ebooks as well as fee ebooks; and she shares various evaluation criteria for comparing services, software, and technology; the number of titles available from each vendor, and the range of subjects in holdings; contract and access terms, such as licensing vs. ownership; cost calculations; and links to the other in-depth articles in the series focusing on particular vendors. I learned a lot from this article even though I have been downloading ebooks and audiobooks from several of my regional public libraries for years.
Whether being able to quickly and easily acquire and circulate ebooks among your patrons is an answer to some of your problems or not, it is the next baby step in the evolution of new services in our hi-tech library world.