‘Tech 4’ research: Electronic Library

CC licensed image by Flickr user Starless Nights
Image by Flickr user Starless Nights, shared under CC

Accessibility to literature is crucial when researching. I recently wrote about the role of university libraries and this post’s topic relates to a different issue, but builds on the importance of library facilities.

Among the many technologies we have available these days, there are some great tools for digital library research. I know many are familiar with electronic libraries and this will sound basic and even obvious. But I also noticed that students who have access to it frequently don’t use it enough (or at all!). For this reason I decided to start the ‘tech 4′ with this ‘light’ – but hopefully helpful – topic. The perspective presented here is restricted to my own experience with ebrary. However I am sure that there are plenty of other very useful features for corporates, organizations, institutions and government, but my own experience is in the academic sphere.

Soon after I started my doctorate studies and while I was doing a preliminary literature review to develop my research proposal I came across the ebrary. When searching for a book on the university’s online catalogue I saw a link to electronic resource that connected with the ebrary website.

I use the service very frequently and like the facilities provided, but I can’t see it substituting physical libraries. Below I listed some pros and cons of adopting ebrary in your research process.


  • No waiting time: Most books are available at all times as long as your university has bought the title.
  • Library organization: When you sign up you will have your bookshelves available. You can then organize the books you use in your research according to topics, authors or any other system you wish.
  • Highlight text and add notes: Ebrary has features such as highlighting text and adding notes, you can also copy sections and the copyright is copied with the content into your text.
  • Citation manager interface: Ebrary has embedded tools that allow exportation of citation directly to citation managers such as Endnote and Mendeley.
  • Access from anywhere: If you are working from home, a café or any other place where you have access to internet,  ebrary (and all your bookshelves) will be available. So it saves lots of trips to the library.
  • Environmental friendly: Of course… Less printed books, more trees saved!


  • Internet connection: The ebrary is not like an ebook where we buy the titles, download it and read it from anywhere. To access the ebrary it is necessary to have internet connection if you are accessing a library catalogue.
  • “Put back on the shelf”: Some titles will have just ‘one exemplar’, which means that while a person is using it no other person can have access. I just came across this once, with a specific book. In these cases after you use it you have to put it back on the shelf.
  • Your bookshelf and the end of your studies: I have been thinking of it but haven’t checked this yet. Because my bookshelves and membership are attached to Lincoln University Library (@LincolnULibrary), I am not sure what will happen when I finish my studies. Hopefully the access to the notes will still be available.
  • Varied kinds information: For text-based books the ebrary is great. Even for architecture and design books ebrary is much better than an eReader as we can easily navigate in its pages.
  • Compare pages: For books where we have to go forward and backwards – such as to compare photos with maps and façades with plans – the physical book still seems to be the best option.
  • Exploring: When doing research we frequently experience that feeling of going to the library to get a book and finding 50 others as good as – or even better than – the one we were looking for. This is a whole dimension of research that is lost when using ebraries.

The connection between ebraries and ebooks is also still very limited. A colleague once said that if the university decides to buy just ebooks they would have to provide eReaders. However, because of the requirement of having internet in order to access ebrary books from a catalogue, eReaders might not be the solution. I have a Sony eReader with wi-fi, but the ebrary still works much better on the computer. Therefore, unfortunately computer, tablets and smart phones are the only options available. Some books can be downloaded using the ebrary application, but that option is not available if you are assessing a library catalogue.

Considering these ‘cons’ and because of varied book styles and information requirements (text, photos, maps, plans etc.) I wonder how the BiblioTech in Santo Antonio (US) will work. Following this idea I recently heard that universities’ next move might be to buy most books in electronic versions. I particularly think they are not exclusive and both ebrary and physical books have their advantages. Ideally we should have both.

These are my impressions about the features I have been using. If you are an ebrary user you certainly your personal impressions. I would love to hear about it.

Further reading:

Is a Bookless Library Still a Library? 

The Future of Libraries: Short on Books, Long on Tech

New Digital Library Launches: Internet + Ancient Library of Alexandria

3 thoughts on “‘Tech 4’ research: Electronic Library”

  1. I’ve been looking into the question of your bookshelves and notes. As far as I know these wouldn’t be accessible after you leave the institution because you’d no longer be able to log in. But you can export them before you leave in a couple of ways.

    One is to just copy the notes into a text document (if you’re doing this, make sure you’ve expanded any links that say eg “5 more annotations” first). You’ll only get the first few words of any text you’ve highlighted though, and the formatting is lost so it’s not clear what’s a highlight and what’s your own notes.

    Another one takes a bit more setup but gets you more information. To do this:
    * go to the Bookshelf tab
    * add a folder
    * click and drag the bookcover for each of your books onto the name of your new folder. It will move all the notes and highlights for that book into your folder. (You can’t click and drag the title, just the bookcover image)
    * click on the folder name to open it
    * click “Email this folder” and send it to yourself – you’ll get all your notes and highlights sent together. Again it doesn’t make clear which are notes and which are highlights, but at least you get the full text of each.

    (Note that the Endnote option seems to only export the bibliographic information, not the notes, though I’ve only tried with Zotero not Endnote. And the ‘share this folder’ only works to share it with people who can already log in to ebrary.)

    I hope this helps! You may also be interested to know that ebrary is getting a redesign with a major focus on usability. Currently the vendors are planning this for the 2nd quarter of 2014. So watch this space. 🙂


  2. As a student, I understand that the “change in times” requires much to be electronic, so here are a few of my pros and cons:

    You can search for a word if the book is of a supported format – like an index, but faster.
    You need to pay less- and as a full-time student, I don’t want to spend a considerable amount of my weekly allowance copying pages from reference books
    Easy to look for supporting material immediately

    I would prefer holding pages in my hand and making notes. Typing out always seems to change my stream of thought.
    If the screen isn’t matte, chances are you will get a headache at some point
    Perhaps it is just me, but I always get distracted when on my laptop reading different pieces and learning nothing in the end

    I do like the combination that exists today, and do not think that a complete shift to e-resources is a good idea at all.

    Thank you so much for sharing the information about ebrary. Going to have a look at it myself and see if I can make use of it!

    1. Thank you! I am very glad you found this post useful. Ebrary is certainly worth a look! Hope you find it helpful as I do. However I have to say I had a disappointment after I wrote this blog post. The ebrary collection of our library has changed (the “package” they purchased has changed) and this means I do not have access to some of my old notes, unfortunately I didn’t have any warning that this could happen. The library staff has been great trying to individually (re)purchase the books I have been using, but still some notes will be lost. Might be worth trying to combine the features of ebrary with endnote, for example, so your notes are safe. I will have a look on the possibilities of doing that as well.

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