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Electronic or Print?

Introduction to the Boston College Libraries Collections

Choosing Print or Electronic: What We Think About

For each purchase, selectors are balancing the needs/benefits of the particular format (electronic, print, video, streaming, etc.).  In general, electronic format is preferred for its wider availability (see specific guidelines for electronic resources, below). Considerations include:


  • Print is often chosen for materials to be read cover-to-cover, for browsing or for use over a longer duration.  Image quality in print may be a factor, also.  The importance of any of these factors may vary by discipline.
  • Print is preferred when the electronic options fail to meet standards described, below.
  • Print may be chosen where the cost of the electronic version, by contrast, is prohibitive.


Electronic resources offer wider access (to more users and at more times), and they can offer greater functionality (i.e. full-text searching, combination searching), but for them to be a suitable choice, they are measured against the following  standards.  It is not always possible to meet all standards, so benefits must be balanced against drawbacks.

  • Ease of use, including intuitive interface and clean design.
  • Accessible for all, regardless of accessibility concern
  • Preservation of patron privacy to the greatest degree possible
  • Usable on all commonly-used platforms
  • Perpetual access to content purchased over time, with post-cancellation rights
  • This perpetual access should be guaranteed by publisher deposit in industry preservation solutions (PorticoCLOCKSS, etc.)
  • Offers site-wide access via IP address or newer options for community-member authentication
  • The vendor provides reliable service and is quickly responsive to performance issues
  • Usage data (preferentially in industry standard options) is provided for assessment
  • Ease of set-up and maintenance by library technology staff
  • Sustainable cost of purchase and continued access, with future cancellation options
  • License terms should provide all of the following:
    • Most essential:
      • Interlibrary Loan
      • Walk-in User access
      • Linkage for electronic course reserves
    • Ideally, our electronic purchasing licenses allow for data and text-mining or other computational analysis of text


Ebooks research guide

Electronic access to books is an evolving landscape and presents many challenges to libraries. To minimize the impact of different publisher ebook models on you, the library favors purchase of ebooks that meet the following criteria,

  • Perpetual Access purchase, rather than subscription purchase
  • DRM-free (digital-rights-management-free), including unlimited simultaneous users, unlimited copying/pasting, downloading and printing
  • Title-by-title purchase

Some publishers sell their ebook catalogs in collections only.  This practice requires that libraries pay higher costs and acquire materials not necessarily well-suited to this collection.  Some publishers sell their content DRM-free on their platforms using a collections model, but also offer DRM-restricted content via ebook aggregators.  These are all difficult choices for libraries.

E-Journals Selection Criteria

In addition to some of the criteria listed in the left-hand column, journals, magazines, and newspapers in the electronic format must:

  • provide access via IP range
  • contain all the content available in print versions
  • meet acceptable visual standards if offering images, scientific and mathematical symbols, and formulae
  • be published in a timely manner