e-books (or eBooks, for electronic books, also referred to as digital books) are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘an electronic version of a printed book which can be read on a computer or a specifically designed handheld device.’ (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/e-book). There are, of course, many e-books without a printed counterpart, and the Oxford Companion to the Book offers a wider definition that moves away from the idea of a digital facsimile: ‘a text- and image-based publication in digital form produced on, published by, and readable on computers or other digital devices … Components other than text have been considered enhancements, including multimedia (sound, images, film/video/animated graphics). The e-book is a young medium and its definition is a work in progress, emerging from the history of the print book and evolving technology. In this context it is less useful to consider the book as object—particularly as commercial object—than to view it as cultural practice, with the e-book as one manifestation of this practice.’ (Gardiner, Eileen, and Ronald G. Musto. 2010. “The electronic book.” In: Oxford Companion to the Book. Oxford: OUP. p.164). The e-book is an evolving format, many would argue a transitional format, as digital media continues to expand and to take over a range of functions traditionally discharged by print media.

e-books present a range of technical, business and scholarly challenges to the academic community, from publishers to researchers, but, as in the wider society, they are becoming increasingly popular and libraries have been developing significant collections in recent years (for more information, see JISC national e-books observatory project). Although e-books are less common in art than in other subject areas, this is also changing, albeit at a slower pace. Tate Publishing, for instance, has started publishing e-books this autumn, with 11 titles currently available.

JISC national e-books observatory project


Tate Publishing: e-books


In this column you will find a selection of sources of both commercial and free e-books published for use on multi-purpose devices, from phones and tablets to computers. Those published for dedicated devices only (e.g. Kindle, Nook, Kobo) are not covered.

The Getty Research Portal is a project of the Getty Research Institute (GRI) that provides free access to more than 27,000 digitised art history and rare books from the collections of the GRI, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Heidelberg University Library, the Institut national d’histoire de l’art and others including members of the New York Art Resources Consortium.

Getty Research Portal


From the Archives: 99 exhibition catalogues published by the Guggenheim Museum between 1937 – 1999, including seminal shows like Guggenheim International 1971, Eva Hesse (1972), Rothko’s retrospective (1978), etc., have been digitised and made freely available. The Metropolitan Museum of Art also makes available a range of digitised rare books, historical auction sale catalogues and other material from its libraries and archives via its Digital Collections. A large number of its own publications are available in two collections: Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications (all publications from 1869-1939, and a small selection of later titles), part of Digital Collections, and the Met Publications (Full Text), with 394 full text publications from 1964 onwards.

From the Archives


Digital Collections, Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries


Met Publications Full Text


UbuWeb has digitised a large collection of avant-garde related publications, including much rare material not available elsewhere, free of charge. Other, smaller collections of digitised e-books, have been made freely available online by a number of institutions: Primary Information hosts on its website a collection of historical catalogues and books from the 1960s and 70s related to conceptual art and performance.



Primary Information


In addition to digitised books, new art e-books are now being published, including monographs and catalogues, by academic, specialist and institutional publishers. Art Canada Institute is a research institution founded in 2012 to promote the study of Canadian art history. The ACI has commissioned and published an online monograph on Jack Chambers by Mark Cheetham, with a further 14 titles scheduled for publication in the next 15 months. Christie’s e-Catalogues, a collection of current auction catalogues is available to view online. Sotheby’s current catalogues are also available to read on this auction house’s website.



Christie’s e-Catalogues


Sotheby’s Auctions


There are several large generalist free e-book collections, including:


Large collection of literature and reference materials.


Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB):

1,610 academic peer-reviewed e-books from a range of publishers.


Google Books:

Millions of e-books available to view in ‘Full View’ (full text of book available) or ‘Limited Preview’ (selection of pages only)



Repository of digital content from research libraries, including millions of digitised e-books. Full content access available to registered users only, but full text search facilities are free to all.


Internet Archive Digital Books Collections:

Five million titles from over 1,500-curated collections.



Self-publishing platform, includes free e-books.



Collection of freely accessible academic books, mainly in the area of Humanities and Social Sciences.


Open Library:

A million e-books, including titles contributed by libraries, to read online or borrow by registered users.


Project Gutenberg:

Large collection of free e-books.



Self-publishing platform, includes free e-books.


Wikibooks / Wikisource:

Digital collections of e-books, both original (Wikibooks) and digitised (Wikisource).



Commercial e-book suppliers for libraries provide access to a large range of titles and publishers, using different platforms, business and access models. They include:



Ebook Library (EBL):






Databases update

A new Digital Collection has recently been made available online by the Getty Research Institute: Balthasar Burkhard photographs of documenta 5 comprises 2,704 digitised photographs from the Harald Szeemann Archive, documenting the seminal 1972 exhibition.

Balthasar Burkhard photographs of documenta 5


Oxford Art Online, the platform for art reference resources published by Oxford University Press, allows cross-search of Grove Art Online, Benezit Dictionary of Artists (available online since the end 2011), the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms, Encyclopedia of Aesthetics and the Oxford Companion to Western Art. Both Grove and Benezit are updated and expanded regularly.

Oxford Art Online


WorldCat Art Discovery is a prototype catalogue service providing access to specialist art library holdings, including those from libraries currently in artlibraries.net as well as from others listed only in WorldCat. It also integrates the WorldCat articles database, allowing searchers to find relevant material based on the holdings of the selected libraries. This is an important development with much potential to improve access to art resources.

WorldCat Art


[Grandal Montero, G. (2014) Resources online: e-books. ARLIS News-sheet, no. 227, Jan.-Feb., pp. 3-4.]


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