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Library e-Book Guide

by Valerie Forrestal on 2023-08-31T16:04:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

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This guide was written and compiled by:

  • Prof. Kerry A. Falloon, Associate Professor, Library Acquisitions Unit
  • Prof. Catherine Healey, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Library Acquisitions Unit


When academic instruction changed to a fully digital environment during the pandemic, library e-books further evolved into an acceptable, usable format in the classroom. However, there are still many questions related to availability, type, access, and use of e-books. This guide will explain some basic information about Library e-books, like the different types and the limits to acquiring them, as well as e-book user access, downloads, and printing, and e-textbooks/e-reserves.

Table of Contents:

What is the difference between a proprietary institutional e-book and a non-proprietary digitized or scanned e-book?

A proprietary institutional e-book is a functional product, hosted and sharable across campus, usually with digital rights management (DRM) restrictions determined by the publisher and distributed by a vendor. However, a new subset of proprietary library e-books with no DRM restrictions is becoming available. DRM-free e-books are device and accessibility friendly. Once downloaded, they are owned forever. Such books have unlimited user licenses, making them an asset for faculty and their courses. The Library has already invested in these books and will acquire more as availability allows. In some cases, proprietary institutional e-books may simply be web pages of links and text on a publisher platform.

A non-proprietary digitized or scanned e-book can be defined as either self-created, out of copyright or with little copyright, and/or easily shareable. Higher quality digitized e-books can be found on sites like Project Guttenberg and Internet Archive, while lesser quality scanned books under copyright can be found on sites like Open Library. In general, a book under copyright cannot be fully scanned and distributed legally, although there are some exceptions for libraries.

For more further information about e-books, visit these Library research guides:

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What factors may limit the Library in purchasing e-books?

Not all print books are available as e-books, and for those that are, the Library is limited in its acquisition based on several factors which include:

  • Publishers determine which books are available to libraries in e-book format. Therefore, not all books are available for institutional purchase as e-books.
  • Prices for e-book licenses vary widely and can have a significant impact on the Library’s budget, particularly when cost versus accessibility is considered. In some cases, e-books are not available as a la carte titles, but as part of a larger, costly collection from the publisher.
  • Some of the e-books already available in the Library collection are not permanently owned; rather, they are part of a subscription database package. However rare, from time to time, some titles are removed from the package at the vendor’s discretion—something the Library has no control over. There is no guarantee that an e-book available in a particular semester will remain available in subsequent semesters and/or academic years.
  • It is suggested that, prior to each semester, faculty confirm the availability of any digital resource needed for a course before assigning it.
  • The Library can only purchase and/or subscribe to proprietary, institutional e-books that are available on a hosted, searchable platform available to the CSI community with authentication (e.g., from E-book Central, EBSCO, JSTOR, etc.).
  • E-books available from other online sources, such as Kindle and Nook; direct e-book purchases with PDF downloads or private logins; e-textbook rental sites; and e-book sites like Red Shelf are not available for purchase by the Library.

Faculty can recommend an e-book for the Library’s general collection by submitting a Library Materials Request Form.

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When the Library purchases an e-book, can it set the e-book's user options?

  • When a book is available for purchase as an e-book, publishers—not the Library—set digital rights management (DRM) restrictions that determine the overall options including the number of users at a particular time. While there are four basic types of e-book license agreements, (one user per session; three users per session; non-linear or 365 uses over a year; and unlimited or multiple users per session), user options are not the same for every e-book. For e-books with limited user access, the Library participates in user license auto-upgrades and notifications to prevent access turn-away.
  • For maximum access, the Library suggests informing students to view e-books for classes in an e-reader directly on the platform (i.e., use the read online option) and not the download e-book option if there is a choice. This is because downloads trigger a check out session of twenty-four hours or more when the book is unavailable to others.


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Can e-book content be downloaded and/or printed?

  • Digital Rights Management (DRM) restricts the use and sharing of content whether downloading, printing, or copying.
  • Printing is subject to rules set by different entities, including publishers (on content) and the Office of Information Technology (on page limits if printing on campus). Each publisher establishes its own restrictions to protect their content from being distributed, redistributed, and altered, thus limiting the ability to copy/paste and/or fully print a proprietary e-book.
  • Most DRM limits can usually be found on the first screen of an individual e-book—see the three examples below. 

Example 1: DRM restrictions for an E-book Central Book: 1 User (4 copies); download for up to 7 days; download up to 53 pages; copy 22 pages

Screenshot of an ebook titled, Nat Turner, by Kyle Baker. The text on the screen says, “Availability: your institution has access to 4 copies of this book,” with the following options underneath: 1. Read online. - 2. Download book. (Get all pages; requires third-party software; Check out this book for up to 7 days.) - 3. Download PDF chapter. (Get up to 53 pages; use any PDF software; does not expire.) - 4. 22 of 22 pages remaining for copy; - 5. 53 of 53 pages remaining for PDF/chapter download.

Example 2: DRM restrictions for an EBSCO e-book: Unlimited users; unlimited copy and paste; print/email/save 100 pages at a time. Most EBSCO e-books are accessibility-friendly PDFs or E-Publications.

EBSCO book record with the following publisher permissions: print, email, save 100 pages, unlimited copy/paste, and unlimited user access. Also shows download links (to the left of book info) for PDF, ePub, and full download (requires Adobe Digital Editions).

Example 3: Salem e-book: Unlimited users (database platform); unlimited print/copying of web pages

Salem ebook record with the following options listed under the book cover image: article citation, email this article, save to Google drive, and copy permalink to this article to clipboard.

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What are the general advantages and disadvantages of Library e-books?

Advantages include:

  • E-books are searchable by keyword or phrase, and many e-readers contain hyperlinks to other resources (dictionary, thesaurus, citation manager) as well as highlighting and notetaking options.
  • Persistent or permanent e-book links can be embedded in a course’s Blackboard page, in syllabi, or set up as an E-Reserve link for a course.
  • E-books can be accessed anywhere; can never be lost or stolen if purchased permanently; require no preservation; can benefit multiple users at the same time; and are more accessible for the vision impaired when compared to print books.

Disadvantages include:

  • Not all e-books have the same properties (i.e., number of users).
  • Not every monograph ever printed is available as an e-book.
  • Traditional textbooks are often not available to libraries in e-book format.
  • DRM often restricts how an e-book can be used, accessed, and shared.
  • E-book costs still outpace the cost of print, and the higher the user license, the greater the overall cost.
  • One-user e-books may not be a practical choice for a course, thus increasing the need for additional expenditures such as print.
  • Technical and/or access issues may occur with e-books.

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Are e-textbooks available at the Library?

Unfortunately, many recent-edition course textbooks are unavailable to the Library as e-textbooks because textbook publishers often do not permit libraries to purchase e-book copies of their traditional print publications. In fact, at least two-thirds of current edition textbooks are simply not available for institutional e-book purchase. However, the Library has a more successful chance of acquiring non-traditional course-required readings as e-books.

Examples of publishers that libraries can have difficulty obtaining the latest editions of e-textbooks from include:

  • Pearson
  • Cengage
  • McGraw Hill
  • Oxford University Press
  • Lippincott

It is recommended that faculty wishing to use e-books for courses complete a Reserves Request Form so that e-availability and best access to content can be determined.

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What if an institutional e-textbook is not available for a course?

The Library has success with finding current edition digitized textbooks on Open Library. It is a free service available with account creation through a check in, check out system. The site operates through controlled lending practices managed by libraries.

The Library’s new E-Reserves system can offer online digitized versions of chapters or small portions of text from print books purchased or owned by the Library. Course packs can also be digitized and made available in this manner. If the course pack is not copyrighted, the entire course pack can be digitized. To explore E-Reserves options, please submit an E-Reserves Request Form. For further information about E-Reserves, visit the link below.


The Library’s primary mission remains supporting overall curriculum content. When faculty inform the Library of specific course materials to be placed on Course Reserve or E-Reserve for students, the Library can support specific course content through a variety of options and services.

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What are the benefits of OER e-textbooks?

Open Educational Resource (OER) e-textbooks allow educators to access, re-use, and redistribute resources with little to no copyright restrictions. OER textbooks are essentially non-proprietary digital e-books that can be self-created, distributed, uploaded, and re-created, if the original creator is noted. CSI OER e-textbooks can be linked into the library catalog and can potentially be uploaded to other systems such as E-Reserves and CUNY Academic Commons.

The benefit of OER e-textbooks for faculty is the ability to manage and create their own specific course content. The benefit for students is significant cost savings. For more information on implementing OER for a CSI course, visit these Library research guides:

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