Two PhD students at Trinity College have just published a book which has arrived at the University Library. Jeff Barda and Daniel A. Finch-Race edited the volume Textures : processus et événements dans la création poétique moderne et contemporaine (736:47.c.201.102, and at the MML library at classmark F5A.G.10), which presents papers from the 17th French Graduate Research Seminar held at Trinity in May 2014. Published by Peter Lang, this is the 120th volume in the series ‘Modern French Identities’, of which the University Library holds 99.
This is patently an important book for us to have in the Library, both because of its subject and its Cambridge connections. It was not a difficult decision to purchase the book. However, it is increasingly becoming a difficult decision about how to purchase books.
We have written on this blog about ebook platforms in Italian and Spanish to which the University Library subscribes. In addition, the UL subscribes to a De Gruyter ebooks service. As with most of the thousands of ebooks to which the University Library provides access, records for these ebooks are available in LibrarySearch, and can generally be consulted easily and read in a straightforward manner.
In the French language, however, up to this point, we have purchased very few ebooks in Cambridge. The case of Textures is an interesting example to examine. We have struggled over the past several years, recognising that in some cases, ebooks are more convenient for our readers than are physical books (they can be made available more quickly, they can be more portable, consulted more quickly, and searched more easily, among other attributes) and demand for them is growing both in English and in other languages. However, the vendors who sell us books in French, and publishers of the books that we generally buy, seem to be lagging behind those with whom our colleagues in other languages deal.
Our attention was recently drawn to an article from the ABDU, which in part assuaged our worries that we were lagging behind the level of ebook purchasing that we should be doing in order to best serve our readers. The article summarises expenditures from a number of French university libraries, and explains that in recent years, university libraries have had less money to spend on printed books, but also that they haven’t been able to make up for this reduction in budgets with ebook purchases. The crucial line is that :
… les ouvrages, notamment en français, ne bénéficient que très rarement de versions numériques accessibles aux bibliothèques (inexistence, ou conditions techniques d’accès inadaptées ou trop complexes).
While many French publishers (for instance, Harmattan) offer ebooks for sale, they are often sold exclusively to individuals, rather than to libraries. Some publishers that publish widely in French, such as Peter Lang, readily provide ebooks for sale to institutional customers such as the University Library. However, thus far, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, we could have purchased Textures through an ebook platform, rather than in print, as it is published by Peter Lang, and thus available to us. However, should we have? Because the vast majority of French material is unavailable to us in electronic format, we are continuing to favour print material in our purchasing decisions.
In many ways, it is a shame that ebooks remain the exception in French, as those who use the University Library could benefit from additional French books being available in electronic rather than print format; however, we can only buy what publishers are willing to sell to us. Up to now, French publishers have not embraced electronic publishing to the same level as some of their English, Spanish or Italian counterparts. As the ABDU article demonstrates, we are not alone in waiting for these changes.