Librarians, Producers, and Vendors: The netLibrary Experience

by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D.
Vice President of Research and Library Systems
netLibrary, Inc.

Final version


In her presentation, "The Catalog as Portal to the Internet," during this conference on Wednesday, November 15, 2000, Sarah Thomas identified what's hot and what's not in terms of information and libraries. As I review this list, I can understand why vendors of electronic information and systems feel schizophrenic in today's environments. The web is hot, but libraries are not; eBooks are hot, but tree books are not; metadata is hot, but cataloging is not; portals are hot, but catalogs are not.

netLibrary, an eBook provider, offers published books on the web, but functions as a library in many ways, which I will discuss, and receives two tree book copies of every paper-published book that is offered as an eBook. Metadata is a term that is much used by netLibrary engineers, yet almost all of netLibrary's eBook metadata is provided by a machine-readable cataloging (MARC) record. netLibrary is considered a portal, but uses an Innovative Interfaces, Inc. cataloging system to track our eBooks and tree books.

What is an eBook?

There are many types of and definitions for eBooks. Some definitions, according to Walt Crawford [1], are: proprietary eBooks - Glassbook, Rocketbook; open eBooks - Open Ebook Forum specifications; public domain eBooks - Bartleby, Project Gutenberg; circulating eBooks - netLibrary; print-on-demand - Xerox, IBM, Sprout, Lightning Source, Hewlett Packard; vanity and self-publishing - various sources; diskette and CD-ROM - Modern Age Books; and extended books - Voyager.

What is a netLibrary eBook?

A netLibrary eBook most often has a print counterpart and has a defined beginning and end. It can be a monograph, reference book, edited volume, or multi-volume set. eBooks are searchable in two ways: within the specific eBook and across the collection of eBooks. The eBook can be enhanced with links and cross references to other electronic resources and with multimedia.

netLibrary provides an embedded look-up feature of Houghton-Mifflin's The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition that enables a user to highlight or double click a word and to view its definition and pronunciation while online. The Fourth Edition also provides pronunciations in audio format. An audio icon appears in the definition when a word pronunciation is available. When the audio icon is clicked, the user can listen to the pronunciation of the word. netLibrary provides digital rights management (DRM) software to protect its affiliated publishers' copyrighted content. This software allows users to copy and print limited information from within eBooks without violating copyright restrictions.

Why did netLibrary decide to catalog its eBooks?

netLibrary decided to provide cataloging for its eBooks because our library customers requested eBook MARC records. As a former head of a technical services department and a former cataloging professor, I did not fully understand or appreciate this request. I believed that cataloging multiple formats was the responsibility of professional catalog librarians, many of whom I had guided and educated to do exactly this.

As I continued to work with our library customers, I realized that it was imperative that netLibrary, as a vendor, partner with librarians to provide cataloging for eBooks. I was tasked with the responsibility of setting up a netLibrary technical services department.

The creation of the eBook MARC record allowed netLibrary to provide an eBook and MARC record package for our library customers. netLibrary was then able to develop relationships with bibliographic vendors, such as OCLC and RLIN, and library automation vendors, such as III, Sirsi, Epixtech, Endeavor, and DRA. These alliances enable our library customers and their users to access eBooks through their integrated library systems as they do with other library resources. The eBooks can not only be included in the online public access catalog module, but also in libraries' acquisition and circulation modules.

The inclusion of netLibrary eBook circulation statistics currently must be manually adapted to the circulation modules of the integrated library systems. This requires the library customer to dedicate time and resources to circulation integration. The integration of eBooks to acquisition and cataloging modules is more seamless.

Since netLibrary owns the eBook bibliographic records or metadata, it became apparent that this information could be used for internal processes. neLibrary uses the bibliographic data for: statistical analyses of collection and usage data; collection development that includes collection assessment and collection customization for library customers; and access points for the netLibrary search, retrieval, browse, and collocation.

As netLibrary began cataloging eBooks we soon could identify issues that have not been addressed by library bibliographic standards and formats, such as Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, 2nd ed. Rev. (AACR2R) and MARC Bibliographic Standards. netLibrary's early work in eBook cataloging has given us the opportunity to assist in the development of eBook cataloging and metadata standards, such as our participation in this conference and our upcoming work with the newly formed OEB Metadata SIG and the AAP Metadata Standards ebook project. We have also recently been accepted as a NACO participant in the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC).

What are the eBook cataloging challenges?

Cataloging Suppliers

The first challenge is to determine who should do the eBook cataloging - individual library catalogers, eBook providers, and/or bibliographic utilities. Today both individual library catalogers and eBook providers catalog eBooks and make them available through bibliographic utilities or directly through the eBook providers. Sharing the responsibility of cataloging enables all parties to be involved to efficiently provide cataloging for eBooks.

Standards and Schemes

The determination of metadata schemes and standards is currently one of the biggest challenges of cataloging eBooks. Publishers, librarians, technology providers, eBook distributors and vendors, and end users have some similar, yet distinct needs for describing and retrieving electronic resources. These distinct needs impact the schemes and standards used to code and display electronic resources. Librarians have traditionally used AACR2R to catalog bibliographic items and have encoded this information into the MARC format. Neither of these standards or formats has been widely used by publishers, technologists, or users. The Dublin Core was developed to identify metadata element sets for interoperability. ONIX was developed to identify and code the specifications utilized by the book trade industry. The OEB Forum has organized a Metadata SIG to review the most widely used standards, formats, and specifications.

As I continue to work with publishers and technology providers, it becomes obvious that there must be an integration of the different standards, formats, and specifications used to describe eBooks. This integration and collaboration is imperative to meet the needs of those associated with the creation, distribution, dissemination, and utilization of eBooks.

AACR2R has not adequately addressed the eBook format, although this may be the result of us, librarians, not interpreting the rules to accommodate eBooks. The MARC Bibliographic Standards seem to be more expansive and accommodating.

netLibrary Cataloging

At netLibrary all eBook cataloging is done with the print book in hand. The MARC record is part of the eBook package that is loaded to the netLibrary site. Since the netLibrary cataloging team catalogs only eBooks, its entire staff is trained and dedicated to this process. Both professional catalogers and cataloging assistants are trained and educated to copy catalog eBook titles included in the copyrighted and publicly accessible collections. Cataloging assistants are responsible for copy cataloging and professional catalogers are responsible for original cataloging.

The books format of the MARC Bibliographic Standards and chapter nine, computer files, of the AACR2R can be and are used for the cataloging of eBooks. The eBook is treated as a computer file and documented in the General Materials Designation (GMD). A 256 field also identifies the item as a computer file. Consequently, other cataloging conventions take precedence over the books MARC format. The GMD for the eBook will change from computer file to electronic resource, because of the work of the Committee on Cataloging: Description and Access (CC:DA).

Using these rules, there is no 300 field for physical description, although the netLibrary eBook retains the exact pagination and illustrative material as the print version of the book. A 007 field is used to describe the physical description of the eBook. A 538 note identifies the mode of access.

According to the cataloging rules, netLibrary is considered the publisher of the eBooks, although the content of all netLibrary eBooks is produced by a publishing house. netLibrary does not function as a traditional publisher, but converts the publishers' print or electronic files to the netLibrary electronic format. Regardless, netLibrary, Inc. becomes the publisher in the 260 field of the MARC record. Boulder, Colo. becomes the place of publication and the date of publication becomes the date of digitization.

A 776 note describes the publication information and physical description of the print copy of the eBook. Series notes are also included in this 776 field, since the 4xx fields are deleted in the e-book MARC record. The 4xx fields are deleted because the series statement identifies a print series, not an electronic series. A 500 note is included in the netLibrary MARC record to identify the original publisher and date of publication of the print book.

Publishers package many print books with supplemental materials, such as compact discs, maps, computer disks, realia, etc. It often is not possible to include these supplemental materials in the electronic environment of the eBook for various reasons, which may include rights, which brings up another inadequacy of AACR2R in cataloging eBooks. There is no provision for digital rights management (DRM) information. Catalogers must attach disclaimer notes to the netLibrary MARC records for eBooks that do not contain the supplemental information that is available with the print version of the book.

The use of chapter nine of the AACR2R may not concern libraries that follow the Library of Congress Rule Interpretations (LCRI). OCLC, on behalf of netLibrary, worked with the Library of Congress and proposed LCRI 1.11A, which treats an eBook as a reproduction of the print version, much as a microform is treated in relation to the print version of a work. The LCRI allows the 260 field to retain the print publisher information, the physical description of the book to be retained in the 300 field, and the series statement to be retained in the 4xx fields. A 533 field, reproduction note, is added to identify the item as an electronic reproduction and to document the electronic publisher, date of digitization, and the mode of access.

Holdings Records

A library can attach its holdings to a record for netLibrary eBooks because it purchases them just as the library purchases print books. If, when attaching holdings to an eBook, a location is required for display in the integrated library system, the determination of the location should explicitly identify the item as an electronic full-text book available on the Internet through a browser. Attaching holdings to eBooks may further confuse staff and patrons when requesting materials through interlibrary loan (ILL) systems. If the eBook contract does not allow for ILL, this also must be clearly documented in the record.


Linking bibliographic items can also be challenging in the eBook environment since it is optimal to link the text about an item with photographs, images, and audio and video segments of the item. Determining and including identifiers in the MARC record, such as the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Visual Resources Association Core (VRA), Persistent Uniform Resource Locator (PURL), Digital Object Identifier (DOI), and Encoded Archival Descriptions (EAD), will greatly enhance the collocation of bibliographic items.

Incorporating authority control, controlled vocabularies, and subject codes, such as BASIC/BIC and the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), will allow users from different backgrounds and disciplines to retrieve more relevant and precise information. Applying classification numbers to eBooks also enables collocation and precision, although it is time consuming and may cause confusion for the users. There is a concern among librarians that if classification numbers for eBooks are displayed to users, they will go to the physical shelves of the library to secure the items and be discouraged and frustrated when these items are not on the shelves.


Unanswered questions still remain concerning the reporting and counting of eBooks. The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) currently is developing policies for libraries to count and report eBook statistics. Since libraries can purchase netLibrary eBooks in perpetuity, experts believe that these eBooks should be counted and reported as expenditures and volumes added to the collection and as part of the circulation statistics, as other formats and types of materials are counted and reported. Subscription eBooks may be counted and reported as expenditures, but not as volumes added to the collection.

Staffing and Processes

Technical services department librarians need to evaluate their current processes and staffing before integrating eBook cataloging into their work flows. A library can merge eBook cataloging into its centralized cataloging processes, determine whether the titles are monographs or serials, and process them accordingly. A specialized electronic resource librarian or a media cataloger can handle acquisitions, licensing, and cataloging of eBooks. The technical services manager must decide whether both copy and original catalogers should catalog eBooks, or if one cataloger is sufficient to handle both copy and original cataloging. Staffing and workflow must be tested to identify the best solution for each technical services department.

Training and Education

Library staff, as well as library patrons, must be educated and trained to access and utilize eBooks. Librarians often are most concerned with educating and training patrons; they forget about the education and training of staff. Staff will accept new responsibilities, new formats, and new technologies more readily if they are comfortable with and knowledgeable about the changes. If staff are confident handling new technologies, they become more apt to share their enthusiasm and expertise with library patrons.

What are netLibrary eBook cataloging challenges?

As stated above, the netLibrary cataloging team has experienced changes within the past eighteen months. The cataloging team physically moved to the netLibrary Publishing Building with the production team. The cataloging team works closely with production engineers to create an eBook and MARC record package for our library customers and for internal use.

We have become very involved and interested in the assignment of ISBNs to the different formats of eBooks, such as netLibrary, Peanut Press, Glassbook, Rocketbook, MetaText, Microsoft, etc. We work with several representations of different electronic versions of the same material. This goes back to an issue discussed throughout this conference - the content vs. the carrier.

netLibrary has decided to create and store separate and distinct records for each format, because we may need them separated in the future. If a library wishes to combine records for different formats, it is done at the institutional level. Thus, netLibrary may have multiple records for any given title.

netLibrary has created eBook collection sets, such as the Choice Outstanding Academic Titles and the Oxford University Press collections. Ideally, these collections can be identified in some way within the MARC record to collocate all titles within these collections, without jeopardizing the integrity of the individual eBook titles' MARC records for those libraries that do not purchase the entire collection sets. This is only one example of the challenges faced by a vendor that is cataloging for multiple libraries and multiple systems, with different requirements and needs.

netLibrary delivers eBook MARC records to multiple library customers who use various integrated library systems. These systems have various indexing and loading requirements so netLibrary must work closely with the integrated library system vendors and our library customers to facilitate the loading of eBook MARC records. This means that netLibrary staff must be knowledgeable in the requirements of the various integrated library systems and maintain accurate and up-to-date help files and FAQs for library customers.

Quality control requires time, as well as human and technology resources. As standards for eBook cataloging change, netLibrary must be prepared to change our cataloging practices and processes, as well as retroactively change all MARC records and make them available to our library customers.

What are netLibrary eBook cataloging benefits?

With all of the challenges associated with eBook cataloging mentioned above, one may ask why netLibrary or any other eBook provider chooses to embark on this endeavor. netLibrary began cataloging eBooks in response to our library customers' requests. We believe it is imperative for librarians, publishers, bibliographic utilities, vendors, and eBook providers to work together to integrate eBooks into the digital library. Cataloging eBooks has not only enabled netLibrary to work cooperatively with for librarians, publishers, bibliographic utilities, vendors, and other eBook providers, but has also provided us with metadata that streamlines our internal processes and information retrieval on our site.

The netLibrary cataloging team has cataloged approximately 39,000 eBooks since April 2000. We have delivered over 75,000 eBook MARC records to libraries, vendors, and bibliographic utilities. These figures alone indicate that eBook cataloging does demand partnerships and cooperation. No one entity could possibly accomplish this alone.

What's next?

I believe that we must utilize the capabilities of the eBook. It is more than an alternative to a paper book. We, librarians, must think beyond the paper book. Let us not make the mistake that we made when moving the paper card catalog to the online environment - simply digitizing the catalog card, without considering the new possibilities for search and retrieval. We should include links from the eBook to dictionaries, thesauri, related images, photographs, electronic text, and audio and video segments.

Now is also the time to enhance the bibliographic record. We should utilize the table of contents and book indices in the bibliographic record since these are already digitized in the eBook format. We should also include links to book reviews, electronic resources that are referenced in the book, and book summaries. We need to work with publishers, technology providers, and eBook providers to not only map standards and schemes, such as the Dublin Core and ONIX, but to integrate these into the MARC format.

The incorporation of full-text search capabilities of eBooks should be integrated into our library online public access catalogs to enable users to search within the library's electronic collection, as well as across other available electronic collections. CORC can be used as an example to move in this direction, since it enables users to search across all types of electronic information, i.e., web sites, electronic journals, eBooks, newspapers, advertisements, etc. Library systems should also enable the integration of semantic searches that map and retrieve concepts and ideas in addition to keyword and known searches.

These advances will move libraries into the digital world of our users. With the advancement of wireless technologies available through Yahoo,, and car manufacturers, library users' expectations are changing and they are more wired and more dependent upon technology. E-cars, high-tech automobiles with Internet access, will allow individuals to check e-mail, monitor stocks, and keep up with sports scores without taking their hands off of the steering wheel because of telematics, a new wireless technology that transmits information to and from a vehicle. Telematics is available in 2001 automobiles from Mercedes-Benz and General Motors and includes voice-activated features.[2]

The popularity of napster and MP3 have given users the capability to aggregate their electronic content into private digital libraries. The popularity of peer-to-peer technology, such as gnutella, fashioned after napster but that allows all types of files to be shared between individuals, is facilitating this aggregation.

If individuals are aggregating content to create their own information stores, will libraries and librarians become obsolete? The literature indicates that librarians will be needed to assist individual users with the retrieval and evaluation of electronic information.[3] John Lombardi also anticipates that the role of the librarian as gatekeeper will change as individuals become their own gatekeepers. He believes that librarians will digitize unique special collections and maintain and manage these collections. He also envisions librarians creating a "mega" library union catalog and developing library portals to compete against commercial services.[4]

In her presentation at the Computers in Libraries 2000 Conference, Rebecca Jones of Dysart and Associates, stated that librarians will not be "disintermediated by end-users searching the Web since search Web search engines index only 55% of the web." Rebecca believes that librarians will function as "metamediaries."[5]

John Lombardi has outlined his "Rules for Digital Survival." They are: objects are not as important as the content; helping clients find resources in a "digitally chaotic world is the first priority"; and "for the next ten years, if it works well, is reliable, and you know how to use it, it is obsolete"[6] With this, I would like to end with a quote from Future Shock, because I believe that if we, as librarians, adhere to this quote by Toffler, we will become obsolete. "The illiterate of the year 2000 is not the one who cannot read and write, but the one who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn."[7]

  1. Crawford, Walt. "Nine Models, One Name: Untangling the eBook Muddle." American Libraries (September 2000): 56-9.
  2. Hales, Dianne. "E-Cars take to the Road." Parade Magazine (October 1, 2000): 18-9.
  3. Keller, Larry. "Looking It Up." (November 28, 2000).
  4. Lombardi, John. "20/20 Vision for the Future." Paper presented annual meeting of the American Library Association, University Libraries Section and The College Libraries Section of ACRL. Chicago, July 2000.
  5. Jones, Rebecca. "The Library of the Future and the World Network." Paper presented at the Computers in Libraries 2000 Conference. Washington, D.C., March 15-17, 2000.
  6. Lombardi, John. "20/20 Vision for the Future."
  7. Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970.

Library of Congress
December 19, 2000
Library of Congress Help Desk