The Lloyd Sealy Library has been offering ebooks since 2001. Our collection of electronic books is very impressive and consists of thousands of titles. Today, everybody would expect ebooks to cause no problems either for librarians or library patrons for a simple reason – they are electronic! There should be no difficulty in accessing and downloading them. Take academic journal articles, for example. After the full-text availability option is established, they are easy to manipulate – print out or download forever on a personal computer. But when it comes to electronic books the access process is not so seamless. Few things have changed in the 15 years since reference librarians first started hearing complaints about the NetLibrary ebooks collections. An ebook would be inaccessible for reading online until 30 minutes after another person finished looking at it on his computer. Simultaneous access would be limited to three people at a time, and when someone wanted to download a whole book, everyone else would have to endure a long wait to get to the book. This nightmare of limited user access is still going on, and there is still no cure offered by the publishers and vendors. Publishers’ search for maximum profit is at odds with libraries’ desire for ease of access, making solutions elusive.

An ebook in a university library environment is just a book. If a print library book is checked out it leaves its place on the shelf and is enjoyed only by one lucky reader for a certain period of time. The same applies to the ebooks – if someone downloads an ebook, it becomes unavailable for everybody else; in other words, the title is checked out virtually and will become accessible only when the ebook is returned (that is, checked in).

Most of the electronic books in the Library’s collection come from two vendors – EBSCOhost and ebrary. When we acquire an ebook, we always look for an unlimited access mode whenever possible, but the publisher’s restrictions or an exorbitant price might prohibit us from doing so.

The rule of thumb is that ebooks bought exclusively by our library (those that indicate John Jay College ownership in the catalog) will have a restricted access in most of the cases – from one to four simultaneous users. Ebooks from EBSCOhost are only available to the John Jay College community. Ebooks from ebrary can be either exclusively used by John Jay’s patrons or belong to a larger, CUNY-wide collection. CUNY-wide ebrary titles will be labeled as CUNY in the catalog. These books have practically no restrictions on the number of users reading and downloading them. As for the John Jay-owned books on the ebrary platform, their access might also be restricted to one to four readers at a time, with a small number having unrestricted access.

Sounds nightmarish, but it is what it is. Believe it or not, things are getting better in the world of ebooks. Both ebrary and EBSCOhost provide user access restriction information in terms of download and printing ability on the title level in the database. Please read these records carefully (it took librarians only a decade to persuade the publishers to make this information available to the end user).

Faculty who would like to assign ebooks from our collection as class readings should first investigate the mode of access (one, several, or an unlimited number of simultaneous users) by either looking at the detailed ebook record in a particular database or by asking librarians for help.

The Library’s online catalog records are managed centrally at the university level and cannot always reflect all the information the librarians would like to display about ebooks. We are working through different university-wide committees to make the ebook records in the catalog more descriptive.

The ebooks universe is still being developed. Librarians always advocate for better ebook access on behalf of students and faculty when meeting with vendors.

Please send an email to with any questions or concerns regarding ebooks.

More from the Fall 2015 Library Newsletter »

See also: Recent ebooks acquisitions, Fall 2015


Maria Kiriakova