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Ebooks in Corporate/Special Libraries: A Review
By ,
Volume 37, Number 3 - May/June 2013

Mini Case Study

The Insurance Company Wants to Give Ebooks a Go

A solo librarian provides information services to “The Big Name Insurance Company.” This firm had been a stand-alone for more than 100 years when a need for capital led to its purchase by a large, U.S.-based multinational insurance company with a very diversified portfolio of businesses in many fields. That U.S.-based firm then decided to sell The Big Name Insurance Company part of its business to a very large, European-based firm. Our interviewee’s firm was allowed to continue operating much the same as it had in the past. The IS budget, however, was now subject to an additional level of approval.

The information center does not now have ebooks. The IS manager wants ebooks and so arranged for a trial with Knovel in a limited array of subject fields. She was very satisfied with both the product and the cost and wanted to purchase a subscription. The price, however, was prohibitive based on her current budget. At least two of the many professionals in the firm want this service. Between them, they were willing to provide 40% of the annual subscription from their cost centers. The information center manager has to secure the other 60% from her manager and his cost center. In an era of tight budgets, this will not be an easy task, in spite of the success of this firm and its equally successful parent corporation.

Currently, between 60% and 65% of the IS annual materials budget is spent on books. Another 15%–20% is expended for reports and databases. The customers are not directly charged for any services or products provided by the information center. Rather, the costs are allocated to the various departments at many locations in the U.S. and abroad. In the lengthy history of the firm, this is the only method that has been used for cost recovery.

To move forward, the IS manager needs to consider the advantages she already possesses as well as thinking about how to address the challenges that are also very real.


• Willingness to undertake a trial of ebooks in response to customer demand

• Dealing with a reputable vendor

• Working with vendor to arrive at equitable pricing

• An existing cost-recovery philosophy and model


• Vendor unwillingness to compromise on pricing and business model

• No track record with other cost-recovery models

• Limited though eager initial customer base

From our perspective, two of the challenges our IS manager faces represent the folly on the part of vendors/publishers which cannot arrive at a business model that allows them to work with potential corporate customers. Vendors must learn that special library customers are not the same as academic or public library users of ebooks. Why not consider a compromise if only to get a foot in the door? Maintaining a hard line on cost and deployment models just does not make any sense within the corporate environment.

The lack of experience with other cost-recovery models is a much greater challenge for our manager and one that will require considerable research and groundwork. She must lay a foundation for trying additional methods while keeping to the same cost recovery philosophy. Yet there are two customers already willing to try a new method: direct cost recovery for usage of a resource they need. If these customers can be used as champions to seek others interested in doing the same, rather than simply reverting to paying the difference from the library’s budget, the experiment may be able to move forward successfully.

Mini Case Study

Fidelity Center for Advanced Technology

Jamie Emery is senior manager of the Fidelity Center for Advanced Technology Library. Fidelity Investments needs no introduction; it is widely known for its products and services. One of its units, the Center for Advanced Technology (FCAT), decided in 2008 to incorporate ebooks into its content portfolio. Emery selected Safari Books as the vendor, since Safari contained more than 25,000 titles in science and technology, two subject areas of primary importance to the customer base. The materials are available to all employees at the company on the network, at home, or on personal devices.

Emery arranged the Safari acquisition. He explained that customer education is a necessary consideration in undertaking this acquisition. He also noted that the Safari arrangement relieved his staff of collection management and circulation activities for these titles, freeing them up for higher-value services.

While some customers of FCAT’s library have pushed back when they wanted books in hard copy, Emery’s plan was not to purchase any hard copies of titles already available in the Safari collection. He will still acquire a book not available in Safari. He is also experimenting with loading other titles on e-readers and lending those to individual users.

When questioned about the value of Safari as part of his content portfolio, Emery commented that with 81,000 views and 12,500 customers using the system, the value is proven. He also notes that the table of contents and some chapters of electronic titles can be printed out, if a hard copy of these is essential to the customer. Overall, this appears to satisfy the vast majority of his users.

By experimenting early with a respected vendor in a subject area critical to his customers, Emery has demonstrated thought leadership in his firm and has provided some shareable lessons for his peers. He has also created a precedent in his content portfolio and budget for this medium that will allow him to continue to experiment with its value to Fidelity.

The Vendor Perspective

Kevin Sayar
SVP and GM of ProQuest Workflow Solutions and Past President of eBrary

Kevin Sayar offered a prognosis for the adoption of ebooks in corporate and other special libraries. Generally speaking, he commented that there had been “good growth” for ProQuest’s ebook content with corporate libraries in 2012, and he expected this growth to continue in 2013. He noted that ProQuest would “create collections” for a firm in specific fields to make it easier for librarians to purchase just what they need. However, he also noted that while titles are available to all employees in a firm, it is on “single view” basis (i.e., one employee at a time).

Sayar believes that people want to read content on their own time schedule and on a device of their own choosing. ProQuest, like other vendors, is attempting to enable this by packaging its ebook content in terms of subject-oriented collections. He envisions such growth areas as aerospace, biotech, pharmaceuticals, defense, electronics, energy, and engineering.

In retrospect, Sayar commented that in his experience, corporate libraries were, at one point, early adopters of ebooks, but that this trend had petered out. Interestingly, his customers do not currently include any consulting firms. From the authors’ perspective, this reaffirms our thoughts that at some point in the pre-recession past, corporate libraries were, in fact, willing to experiment with ebooks and decided to pull back. Perhaps they were ahead of their time in these forays and events have conspired to slow down further experiments.


Survey Questions

Corporate Libraries and Ebooks

  1. Does your organization use/subscribe to ebooks? If yes, please continue; if no, why not (please specify)?

  2. Is acquisition and maintenance of ebooks the responsibility of IS (or the library)? If not, whose is it (and can we talk with that person)?

  3. What are your selection criteria?

  4. In your experience with ebooks, is the acquisition model “buy the hard copy, get the ebook for free” (as is the model with some newspapers and magazines)? If not, what acquisition model(s) do you use or are you familiar with?

  5. Which vendors do you currently use for ebooks?

  6. What are the hot topic areas (e.g., general business, management, specific industries, reference, etc.)?

  7. How are ebooks deployed (to whom and via what devices and what security [passwords, IP authentication, concurrent usage, etc.])?

  8. Do you measure ebook use? How?

  9. How are ebooks paid for?

10. Do you see ebook use increasing?

11. If you are willing to be interviewed about ebook use in your organization, please give us your name and a contact number/email.


Recommended Reading

Abram, Stephen. “E-Books, Part 2: Trends and Standards,” Information Outlook, Vol. 14. No. 4. June, 2010 (; accessed Feb. 11, 2013.

Aptara Corp. and Publishers Weekly. “Revealing the Business of Ebooks. The Fourth Annual Ebook Survey of Publishers,” September 2012.

Bain & Co. “Publishing in the Digital Era,” Béhar, Patrick, Laurent Colombani, and Sophie Krishnan, Oct. 20, 2010; “Librarian Patience Has Run Out on E-Book Lending Issues, Library Association Says,” American Library Association (; last accessed Nov. 19, 2012.

Mueller, Luke. “E-Books in Special Libraries: Final Report of the Federal Reserve System Libraries Work Group on E-Books,” Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Oct. 14, 2010.

Neidorf, Robin. “Mobility Is Coming: Are You Ready?” Freepint, No. 360, Oct. 4, 2012 (; last accessed Nov. 19, 2012.

Randolph, Susan E. “Are E-Books in Your Future”? Information Outlook, Vol. 5, No. 2, February 2001.

Stamison, Christine. “Developing a Sound E-Book Strategy,” Information Outlook. Vol. 15, No. 5, July/August 2011 (; accessed Feb. 11, 2013.

Zickuhr, Kathryn et al. Libraries, Patrons, and E-Books. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, Washington, D.C., June 22, 2012 (

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James Matarazzo is dean and professor emeritus at the Simmons College GSLIS; Fellow, Special Libraries Association; and vice president and secretary of The H.W. Wilson Foundation, Inc.

Toby Pearlstein is a retired director, Global Information Services at Bain & Co., Inc., and Fellow, Special Libraries Association.


Comments? Contact the editors at

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