The Steward of Book History in the Digital Age: The Struggles and Rewards of Collecting e-Books for Special Collections Institutions

Jessica Bigelow

Abstract

Collecting and preserving e-books in special collections institutions poses challenges and rewards for working professionals in the field. Although scholars of book history have spent the last decade or so including e-books in their historical overviews, reviewing e-books’ connections to their physical past and speculating on their impact on the future of books, their importance in the overall timeline of book evolution has not yet made an impact on collecting guidelines. Institutions do not seem overly eager to be the first to create a permanent collection of e-books—and there may be just cause for reluctance. Not only do e-book files come with the same long-term preservation problems as any born-digital materials, they also have added complications such as a lack of standardized file format, a lack of permanence in licensing agreements, and the constant threat of content changes, just to name a few. While this paper aims to persuade special collections libraries to begin collecting e-books, it also lays out the complications standing in the way of a successful e-book collection. It starts a conversation around possible solutions for long-term preservation and patron-use challenges for e-books in special collections.

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