Since 1999, the NCBI Bookshelf has made full-text books and documents on life sciences and health freely available. The most accessed books, viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each month, are textbooks. This blog post explores the NCBI Bookshelf’s free, online textbooks and discusses how publishers, editors, and authors can contribute to this successful resource.
When the NCBI Bookshelf debuted in 1999, it had a single entry: the third edition of Alberts’s Molecular Biology of the Cell. Recently, Bruce Alberts relayed to us that he and his coauthors
“were pleased when Garland Publishing decided to post the third edition of our textbook on Bookshelf. And we are especially happy that this free resource has been very heavily used – contributing to an important U.S. effort to spread science to students across the globe.”
There are several other extremely popular classic textbooks in Bookshelf: Stryer’s Biochemistry, Baron’s Medical Microbiology, and Walker’s Clinical Methods. Although these editions were published from 1996-2002, hundreds of thousands of educators and students access and use them every month.
Mark, a biochemistry and molecular biology professor, uses and refers students to these texts. He notes, “having access to free, high quality textbooks is key to being able to meet the needs of my graduate, medical and PA students.”
Shawn, an undergraduate student, says that
“being able to look things up on my laptop or cell phone or anywhere my study group happens to be is the only way I got through my biology courses. And unlike what is on most of the web, I know I can trust what I find at the U.S. National Library of Medicine.”
In recent years, we’ve added some new textbooks to the NCBI Bookshelf’s inventory. One of these is the third edition of Essentials of Glycobiology. This textbook is unique in that it was intentionally published simultaneously in print by Cold Spring Harbor Press and online on the NCBI Bookshelf. The editors and publisher hoped this would serve as a worldwide model for an open education vision.
There are many beneficial reasons for publishers, editors, authors and consumers to publish textbooks online for free. In a November 2017 white paper published by Springer Nature, the authors revealed that there is a significant amount of organic, free advertisement and marketing grown by making books freely available on the Internet. This dramatically increases market reach and the potential size of the audience for a book. Making books available for free online also provides a low-cost way to support students, who will be the next generation of researchers and educators.
What can the NCBI Bookshelf do for you?
- Convert your printed text or eBook and publish it online
- Optimize indexing of your book in Google and in PubMed to make it findable and usable for anyone, anywhere
- Enable viewing in any web browser by scrolling webpage styles or with the eBooks-style Reader
- Expand your audience beyond college classes that have adopted your textbook
- Provide links to help readers find your online resources, increasing the discoverability of your own site
As Catherine Jenkins, the open access books workflows coordinator at Springer Nature shared:
“the NCBI Bookshelf offers an additional route for wider discoverability for our open access books and Wellcome-funded OA chapters and helps to direct traffic through to the texts hosted on our own platform, SpringerLink. The HTML display on the device-agnostic platform is user-friendly and renders our books in easily-navigable sections to create a best-in-class online reading experience. We value our collaboration.”
Who can apply to have their full-text book included in the NCBI Bookshelf?
Any author, editor, publisher or funder who is the copyright holder of a life sciences or health-related book that is in scope for inclusion in the NLM’s collections.
We do ask that you make sure that all participating members of the team agree. A Publisher Review application must be filled out for new submissions.
The Information for Authors and Publishers webpage explains how to apply and submit a book for inclusion on the NCBI Bookshelf. In short, to begin the Application Process, download and fill out an application and submit it to the NCBI Bookshelf via email with the following information:
- title and an abstract
- brief biographies or CVs for the authors and/or editors
- a copy of the book for review: either a PDF or hardcopy version of a printed book, or electronic files or the URL for an eBook
We welcome new books as well as updates for books that are already on the Bookshelf!
If you have any questions about the application process or would like to talk with someone about publishing the full-text of your NLM-in scope book on the NCBI Bookshelf, send an email to the NCBI Bookshelf staff.