Assessing Print and Electronic Use of Reference/core Medical Textbooks*

Article excerpt


One of the earliest lists of recommended medical texts for libraries was Brandon's biennial "Selected List of Print Books and Journals for the Small Medical Library" (later referred to as the Brandon/Hill list), which supported the concept of a "core" collection of essential medical texts [1]. This well-respected list became a standard collection development tool for most medical libraries, and many of the recommended titles were often moved to libraries' noncirculating collections [2]. Given the importance of these titles, it is not surprising that texts from the Brandon/Hill and other essential title lists have been some of the first to appear in electronic format [3].

When Cogdill and Moore studied the resources used by first-year medical students, they found that textbooks were among the most highly consulted, concluding that "librarians serving the information needs of medical students cannot overlook the importance of textbooks, increasingly available in both print and electronic formats" [4]. Levine-Clark found that convenience, remote access, and ability to search within a text contributed to user preference for e-books over print counterparts. In addition, while print was preferred for reading entire books or lengthy passages, e-books were favored when needing to read smaller portions of a book [5]. The features and ease of use afforded by e-books could therefore have an impact on the use of traditional print copies, especially those located in a noncirculating collection.

While comparisons of use statistics between electronic and print formats have been performed, most have focused on academic collections rather than medical title collections. Littman and Connaway conducted a circulation analysis of comparable print and e-books and found e-books received 11% more use than print versions of the same titles; however, the e-books in their study were from netLibrary, which included approximately 50,000 titles covering a broad range of subject areas [6]. In a 1995-1999 study of scholarly online books by Summerfield et al., the electronic versions of reference works showed more use than the print versions. However, only 6 general reference works were included in the study [7]. The current research examines use of e-books in a medical collection to determine if similar trends are observed.


The Medical Sciences Library (MSL) at Texas A&M University (TAMU) is the primary library for undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in the TAMU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC), which includes the TAMHSC College of Medicine, School of Rural Public Health, and College of Pharmacy. Until recently, medical students completed only their first two years locally and then relocated approximately eighty miles away to complete their final two clinical years. In the library, core medical texts are integrated with other noncirculating reference materials in a prime location accessible both to client services (public services) staff and library users. The goal of this study was to analyze the reference/core collection to compare use data for print and electronic versions of the same titles. The data could also support decisions about relocating print copies, as well as identify subject areas needing further evaluation due to either increased or decreased usage.


Three resource packages containing e-books (AccessMedicine, Books@Ovid, and MDConsult) were selected to compare with the print reference/core collection. While the library had access to e-books from other packages, these three were selected because their vendors could provide title-specific use data. To obtain a valid comparison between use of the local print reference/core collection, it was necessary to limit the study to e-book collections in which title-level use data could be narrowed down to local authentication. …