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NetLibrary Offers 1,500 E-Book Titles to 100 Large Public Libraries in Trial Program
Posted On February 7, 2000
NetLibrary (, the leading supplier of electronic books over the Web, is now offering 1,500 e-books from its collection of close to 12,500 titles to the top 100 public libraries in the U.S. Each library participating in the netLibrary e-book introduction program may choose to receive up to 1,500 e-books free of charge. The trial program lasts for 6 months, after which participating libraries may choose to purchase all or some of the titles. This initiative marks the first netLibrary marketing effort targeted exclusively at public libraries. The company already has an active program aimed at academic libraries and multi-member library consortia. OCLC added netLibrary's collection to its catalog inventory of electronic resources late last year.

The netLibrary staff points out that libraries offering e-books to their patrons effectively extend their hours of operation to 24/7 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) and with no limits on geographical delivery beyond those of the library's self-defined constituency. According to netLibrary president and CEO Timothy Schiewe, "Over the past year, e-books have become more widely accepted by the public; this initiative recognizes the importance of the patrons of public libraries as a growing base of e-book readers."

The list of titles offered to public libraries in the program comes from a careful selection process by netLibrary's staff, designed to target titles with the broadest popular appeal. Candidates for participation can get a list from netLibrary. Subject areas featured in the introductory collection include general reference, careers, business, investing, computers, health, travel, etc. Publishers supplying titles to the collection include ABC-CLIO's reference handbooks, AMACOM books, Cliffs Notes, Health Communications' Chicken Soup series, Harvard Business School Publishing, O'Reilly computer guides, Macmillan's The Complete Idiot's Guides and SAMs computer guides, McGraw-Hill business and computer books, the Rosen Publishing Group's Coping and Careers series, and Scarecrow's Historical Dictionaries. Besides the 1,500 commercially published titles, participating libraries will have access to some 2,500 public domain e-books, with over 600 more in the pipeline. The public domain sources feature classics in literature and history. All netLibrary users can access the public domain collection.

Before participating, public library candidates must agree to purchase and integrate MARC for the 1,500 titles into their online patron access catalog, participate in a training session, and display point-of-use materials in their library locations. netLibrary's account management staff will maintain close contact with public librarians to ensure integration of the e-book collection and to track usage patterns. NetLibrary sells MARC records to go along with its collection, though large libraries may already have access through consortia or OCLC.

"We are very excited about this program because it will introduce highly functional and searchable e-books to a much broader audience," said Schiewe. "When public library patrons begin to experience e-books—some of them for the first time—I believe they will be hooked on this new way of acquiring and using information."

Brian Bell, spokesperson for netLibrary, reports that the company has had very good response to this program already. In fact, non-U.S. libraries have approached netLibrary sales representatives, as have librarians from libraries not among the top 100 U.S. metropolitan libraries, and asked for an expansion of the program.

Begun in 1998, netLibrary offers close to 12,500 e-books from some 120 different publishers, all full-text searchable. Publishers contributing to netLibrary include AMACOM Books, Marcel Dekker, Harvard Business School Publishing, Houghton Mifflin Company, McGraw-Hill, O'Reilly & Associates, and Oxford University Press. There are tens of thousands of library patrons accessing the service, plus 50,000 free subscribers and 1,000 paying subscribers.

The company continues to expand its outreach to libraries. It recently announced new sales and distribution agreements with five large libraries and library service organizations: the Bibliographic Center for Research (BCR), Cleveland Public Library, the MINITEX Library Information Network, Nylink, and Wisconsin Library Services.

Late in 1999, OCLC announced that it would begin adding cataloging for all the netLibrary collection as part of the OCLC PromptCat service, which delivers cataloging records for any title supplied by participating vendors that has a monographic record in WorldCat (the OCLC Online Union Catalog). Records arrive in libraries at the same time as library materials sent by the vendor, while the libraries' holding symbols for the titles go into WorldCat. NetLibrary MARC records include a unique URL for each e-book, allowing a direct link from the catalog to the book.

Under a separate agreement with netLibrary, OCLC will maintain archive copies of the e-books. OCLC has also added netLibrary's records to its OCLC WorldCat Collection Sets (formerly called the OCLC Major Microform Service), which now includes cataloging records representing electronic databases available to libraries. Libraries can download the records into their local online public access catalogs. Records are also available to participants in the OCLC Cooperative Online Resource Catalog (CORC) project. OCLC's cataloging records for electronic books and journals also cover material from Project Muse, Academic Press IDEAL, JSTOR, Kluwer, Documenting the American South, and Elsevier, with cataloging in progress for items from Springer, Wiley, MCB Press, Royal Society of Chemists, Institute of Physics, and American Physical Society.

NetLibrary has also begun developing other sources and types of information. For example, it recently formed an alliance with the University of Virginia (UVA) Library to transfer and preserve historic texts in digital form and distribute them to libraries. This agreement will open up free access to some existing texts from the UVA Electronic Text Center, but will also offer some texts through netLibrary's private electronic collection. This represents the first instance in which the UVA Library has released these historic texts and documents to an outside commercial entity. The focal point of the collection will be the Thomas Jefferson Letters, available now. The commercial collection will consist of some 2,000 titles in areas such as American history, literature, philosophy, history of science, children's literature, African-American history, and Native-American history. Great works of fiction by authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Stephen Crane, and Louisa May Alcott also will be featured.

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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