Over the past few years, I've regularly reviewed e-book collections, including netLibrary, Bartleby.com, Books 24x7 .com, ibooks.com, ITKnowledge, Questia, Oxford Reference Online, xreferplus, and Safari Tech Books. I've given them much attention because e-books are the "last mile" toward having all content online.
We have nearly complete access to every other publication medium--journals, magazines, newspapers, government documents, broadcast transcripts, etc.--yet online access to books is sporadic, complicated, and expensive. And because books are an indispensable medium, covering this last mile is essential to online content access. (Note: I'm discussing Web-based e-book collections rather than downloadable texts for e-book readers and handhelds. The latter occupy a different segment of the online content spectrum.)
Lately, we've welcomed three excellent e-book reference collections: Oxford Reference Online (http://www.oxfordreference.com; see. the June 2002 issue), xreferplus (http://xreferplus.com; see November2002), and most recently, netLibrary Reference Center (NRC; http://www.netlibrary.com) Each of them excellently amasses a large. collection of standard reference works into a single resource. We've had online access to individual reference sources, but online collections are a big advance that greatly enrich reference research and extend the utility of the individual sources.
netLibrary is a leading e-book aggregator with thousands of institutional and library customers. It has pioneered e-book access by creating distribution partnerships with hundreds of publishers, developing an effective search! browse/read interface, and promoting e-books to the library/information center community.
netLibrary uses a book-purchase pricing model, which allows customers to buy a digital copy of the text. The company permanently maintains this copy for a service charge. The general netLibrary collection contains hundreds of individual reference books, which are used with the standard interface. The netLibrary Reference Center is a separate collection with its own reference-book-oriented interface.
Comprehensive Reference Content
The netLibrary Reference Center contains approximately 400 titles from 52 publishers, with strong representation from prominent reference publishers like ABC-CLIO, AMACOM, Barron's, Blackwell, Congressional Quarterly, Gale, Greenwood, Sage, Scarecrow, and Wiley. The books are academic, technical, and general works that, collectively, touch on almost every important subject interest that's supported by academic, special, and public libraries. Business is the strongest subject, including not only books in general business, management, finance, and technology, but also several career-development sources.
NRC's other strong collections are in education, history; social science, and philosophy. Science and technology are represented by general dictionaries and encyclopedias, rather than technical handbooks or other data compendia. Almost all of the books are one-volume, short-entry dictionaries and encyclopedias, but there's a handful of multivolume sets.
NRC supports quick reference on a great variety of subjects. There are a few common reference sources that it lacks, such as a general encyclopedia, a gazetteer, and a comprehensive biographical dictionary netLibrary offers a general dictionary, but it's accessible in the general collection interface, rather than in NRC itself.
It's also important to recognize NRC as a provider of short-entry articles, not as a source of in-depth reference pieces. In this respect, NRC is similar to both Oxford Reference Online and xreferplus, which also contain short-entry sources on many subjects. The principal difference is that NRC is larger than the other two; each has somewhat more than 100 books. However, comparing collection sizes is meaningless, because their pricing models differ greatly (more on this below). …