Before there were online and the Internet, libraries connoted books to most people. Yet books are one of the more overlooked research resources in an electronic-information environment. Those who advocate the Internet as a replacement for a library collection-and sometimes for the building itself-forget that the nature of information found via a Web search is very different from what one finds browsing a physical collection.
Online databases that were introduced 3 decades ago gave researchers bibliographic access to the periodical literature, although full text didn't appear until the 1980s. Many premium content sources today (such as CSA, Dialog, ERSCOhost, Factiva, and LexisNexis) perpetuate this emphasis on periodicals, journals, newsletters, and newspapers. Dialog and LexisNexis include some electronic books among their offerings, but they are reference books. Not that I have anything against reference books; on the contrary, they are enormously useful for many research questions. However, reference books comprise only a small portion of a full research library collection.
When I worked in a corporate library, I often supplemented an online literature search with a perusal of books we owned on the topic. When I pulled a book off the shelf, I looked first at the table of contents to see which chapters might be of interest and then flipped to the back of the book index for a more detailed view of the topics covered. Purists on the reading procedures for nonfiction books will no doubt be appalled at such ruthlessness. In a busy special library, reading a book from cover to cover, spending time on the nuances of language and theme development, and thinking deep thoughts to match the thought processes of the author just weren't (and aren't) likely to happen. The procedure was much more about grabbing the salient bit of information, knowledge, and possibly even wisdom as quickly as possible. As Francis Bacon wrote, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested."
NETLIBRARY AND EBRARY
Books are increasingly being digitized, and a plethora of information on electronic books exists-some of which has been published in this magazine over the pastfewyears. Major players include OCLC's NetLibrary (www.netlibrary.com) and ebrary (www.ebrary.com). For business research, however, these ebook collections are geared toward general management. I suspect that most purchasers of NetLibrary and ebrary titles are in academic libraries. NetLibrary offers four subject sets for corporate libraries priced at $5,000 each. Business Computer Technology, Human Resources, and Management & Leadership subject sets each contain 71 book titles, while Project Management has 64 titles. One of NetLibrary's "success stories" features AstraZeneca's corporate library and explains how librarians used management ebooks to educate employees in their virtual work environment.
Local Knowledge Online is ebrary's corporate reseller and offers two databases: Leadership and Management with 722 titles and Sales and Marketing with 681 titles. Both databases, according to ebrary, also include a "rich collection of Business Skills and Communications titles." Publishers participating in ebrary range from the trade press to associations and university presses.
Although these are important entries in the ebook world, these aren't the only book titles researchers need in many corporate settings. Not every research project or reference question involves management. Books on industries, professions, finance, manufacturing, business history, careers, economics, and investing play an important role in the research process. Even biographies can contain nuggets of important information.
SEARCH BUY THE BOOK
One long-standing alternative is Amazon. Obviously, Amazon exists to sell books rather than to assist a research endeavor. Still, Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature (reviewed by Michael Banks, "Amazon. …