How do the new e-books stack up? – a researcher’s perspective


How do the new e-books stack up? – a researcher’s perspective


Free is a word that is very welcome to researchers, and the generosity of publishers worldwide to open up their resources has been greeted with much enthusiasm at this difficult time when libraries are closed. As I have added each new deal to the library blog post ‘It’s not all about the print, we have e-books too, I think about my own research which is in danger of languishing as I cope with day-to-day life and work and the challenges that new routines bring.

Yesterday I decided that I couldn’t let these amazing offers pass me by and began on my quest to find the ‘Victorian’ in the e-book deals. I started, predictably, at A with ACLS Humanities E-Book Collection.  I have to say I thought with the word ‘Humanities’ in the title this collection would be rich pickings, but I was sadly disappointed. By limiting my search to ‘literature’ I found three titles, all of which for me were incredibly complex and inaccessible.  I also found the interface slightly cumbersome and identifying page numbers difficult.  I made a few notes, but I didn’t feel there was anything for my topic particularly.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Moving down the list, I hit on Bloomsbury Cultural History and instantly lost myself in a wealth of interesting chapters about the Victorians.  So interesting in fact, that I must admit I did get rather carried away and read very loosely around my topic.  Instead of keeping a level head, I was rather like a child in a toy shop, and spent the evening reading a chapter in Histories of Leisure edited by Rudy Koshar on ‘Travels with Baedeker – the Guidebook and the middle classes in Victorian and Edwardian Britain’ (Jan Palmowski). The chapter was well written, engaging and thought-provoking.  I loved the idea of Switzerland being the perfect holiday location for Protestant clergy.  The page numbers were clearly visible, so I was able to make notes in comfort.  My only criticism (and not a serious one) is that I became so engrossed that I sometimes left the screen idle for too long as I read the text and Bloomsbury tried to log me out. This was not a major problem though, as they gave me fair warning, and click and I was back on my journey again.

My next choice on the list was Cambridge University Press. It took a few attempts to authenticate and click on the free stuff, but eventually I got in and ran my (very broad search) “Victorian”.  There were 21 hits, so I was hopeful of some interesting and good quality research.  I found a chapter ‘The Victorian age 1832-1901’ by Maria Frawley in English Literature in Context edited by Paul Poplawski. This chapter gave me a good broad overview of the period, with much useful historical background to contextualise my reading. It was also very readable and interesting. However,  as it wasn’t possible to keyword search through the chapter very easily; my attention began to wander and I found myself skimming for direct relevance to my topic.  I decided this was one to read later.

By now, I was feeling a bit like Goldilocks, Cambridge was too hot, ACLS too cold and Bloomsbury just right. I decided to move on to EBSCO Academic Collection. I was immediately surprised by the results. The first book was for anyone teaching about the Victorians and had the strap line “This book will support children as they write a school report for a Victorian pupil”.

Ah, so EBSCO Academic Collection is a multidisciplinary database (not just for the humanities), and I would have to limit my results to be more effective in my searching. Thankfully, there are subject categories in the left hand pane which allow me to define my search more fully.

A title which brought my eyes out on stalks was Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market 1836-1916 by Alexis Weedon. That was hitting the spot nicely. With keywords in context and contents pages clearly displayed, I liked the Ebsco interface, and I could see that my blog post was in danger of ending as I was sucked in by this text. However, it would be rude to ignore some of the other literary freebies from publishers such as Gale, the Literary Dictionary Company and Oxford Handbooks just because they are alphabetically-challenged.

I make a mental note to continue my quest for freebies … but not today.

The library would love to hear from anyone who has used the open e-books and how these have benefitted their research.  It will help us evaluate whether purchasing these titles might be an option in the future.

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