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  • Statistically speaking, how popular were our ebooks in 2017?

    The ebooks@cambridge team have collated the ebook collection usage statistics for the calendar year 2017. Last year over 56,000 academic ebook titles were consulted across nearly 60 platforms. Cambridge librarians can download the whole dataset from the Usage statistics section of the ebooks@cambridge intranet site, but a brief summary of the findings is also presented in this post.

    4,035,929 hits were recorded on ebooks…

    Lets have a look at how these hits were distributed:

    Ebooks usage spiked in 2017, there was over a 22% rise on 2016 figures, after a couple of years of levelling out. The graph below illustrates the growth in our ebook collection usage since 2012, during this 6 year period there has been a rise of over 284%:

    October was once again the standout month where our ebooks were working the hardest (over 617,000 hits), followed closely by November. September was the sleepiest month for our ebook collections but they still attracted over 138,000 hits:

    Platform highs

    Our most popular ebook platforms are well used generally because there are large numbers of ebook titles hosted on them (including titles which appear on sometimes multiple reading lists), covering a wide range of subjects.

    The 5 ebook platforms with the highest usage were:

    • MyiLibrary* (896,162)
    • Dawsonera (662,853)
    • Cambridge Core** (626,680)
    • Ebook Central (469,381)
    • SpringerLink (347,544)

    *MyiLibrary is now no more, as of April 2018 all owned titles migrated to Ebook Central.
    **These figures exclude Cambridge Companions, Histories, and Shakespeare Survey titles.

    Some of the ebooks platforms which have seen the highest increase in usage don’t necessarily host large numbers of ebook titles or receive many thousands of hits; for example Manchester Medieval Sources Online (MMSO) is included but only offers a very small focused collection of well respected titles. The number of hits on MMSO in 2017 was 549, so relatively few, but this was a very substantial increase in hits from the 2016 usage figures, hence MMSO’s inclusion in the list below.

    The 5 ebook platforms/collections with the highest rises in usage were:

    • Ebook Central (+3319%)
    • Manchester Medieval Sources Online (+2514%)
    • JSTOR (+1941%)
    • University Press Scholarship Online (+485%)
    • Cambridge Companions (+391%)

    Platform lows

    Some of our ebook platforms host only one or two titles, or the ebooks are of very niche interest, for example the Italian-language platform Torrossa, Kotobarabia which hosts Arabic content, or Nomos where only one title has so far been purchased. Just because these ebook platforms receive fewer hits does not mean that the titles hosted on them are less valuable; bearing this in mind the five platforms with lowest usage were:

    • Nomos (7)
    • Kotobarabia (27)
    • IEEE (73)
    • Brepols (100)
    • Torrossa (114)

    There are a wide variety of reasons for falls in usage, course and reading list changes, maybe a previously well used title is replaced by another, and sometimes publishers change how they count usage statistics. Here are the five platforms which saw the greatest usage declines:

    • Ovid (-74%)
    • English Historical Documents (-59%)
    • IOP Science (-38%)
    • Oxford Textbook of Medicine (-30%)
    • Wiley Online (-23%)


    And finally, the top 20 ebooks for 2017 embrace a wide range of subjects…

    Click on the links for authenticated access, on and off-campus:

    1. Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law* (17,877 hits)
    2. The Economics of Money, Banking and Financial Markets (17,183 hits)
    3. Brain Gender (15,901 hits)
    4. Chicago Manual of Style (14,561 hits)
    5. Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist’s Companion (14,469 hits)
    6. Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier: The 48 Preludes and Fugues (12,129 hits)
    7. Organizational Behavior Global Edition (12,125 hits)
    8. Research Methods in Education (10,435 hits)
    9. Commentary on Lysias, Speeches 1-11 (10,212 hits)
    10. Glaciers and Glaciation, 2nd edition (9,002 hits)
    11. Ponto de Encontro: Pearson New International Edition (8,824 hits)
    12. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (8,812 hits)
    13. Kicking Away the Ladder (8,441 hits)
    14. Classroom-based Research and Evidence-based Practice : A Guide for Teachers (8,262 hits)
    15. Operations Management (8,150 hits)
    16. Introductory Econometrics: A Modern Approach (7,578 hits)
    17. Saul Kripke (7,176 hits)
    18. The Good Research Guide: For Small-Scale Social Research Projects (7,082 hits)
    19. Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition (7,060 hits)
    20. The Psychology of Language : From Data to Theory (6,821 hits)

    *Considered an individual title by the publisher, but is actually more like an electronic resource, giving access to various titles. We have included it though as the number of hits it received seems to stand alone and is not the sum of the hits for the titles which appear on OSAIL.

    Want to know more?

    Download the complete spreadsheet of usage statistics for 2017 from the Usage statistics section of the ebooks@cambridge intranet site, or contact


  • Horace Darwin’s Notebook

    This image is taken from a notebook kept by Horace Darwin to record his ideas for all manner of mechanical devices, including a self-adjusting spanner, brakes for India rubber tyres, an electro-magnetic traction engine and this, a self-adjusting weir.  By using an axle, a hydraulic ram, and a water wheel to power pumps, it allows for a constant quantity of water to flow over the weir.

    Darwin, the ninth child of the naturalist Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, began recording his ideas in this notebook in 1873 whilst he was an undergraduate in Cambridge.  After graduating BA in 1874, he spent the next three years as an apprentice at an engineering company where his interest in mechanical devices and scientific investigations proved invaluable in his work designing and building scientific instruments.  In 1877 Darwin returned to Cambridge and began constructing apparatus and research equipment for University friends involved in the burgeoning scientific work being carried out at Cambridge, much of it now dependent on precision measurements and recording of events.  In 1878 the University set up its own in-house instrument makers, but it proved unable to supply the necessary equipment, and in 1881 Darwin, in partnership with A.G. Dew Smith, formed the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company to service the growing demand.  Initially the company supplied the University and prominent scientists associated with Cambridge, such as Lord Rayleigh and J.J. Thompson.  It then sold instruments to schools and colleges as scientific experimentation became more widespread in the classroom, whilst Darwin also started to develop instruments for industry, which was becoming increasingly reliant on instruments for process control.

    Darwin continued to use this notebook until 1890, though most of notes date from his time as a student and during his apprenticeship.  The ideas mostly involve basic control mechanisms and the more detailed analytical and measuring apparatus, which he would go on to design, do not feature.  However, the diagrams and notes show the workings of an innovative and sophisticated engineer, very much ahead of his time.

    The notebook is part of the Cambridge Scientific Instrument Company archive, which contains a wide range of material relating to the development and work of the company.  It is available for consultation in the Manuscripts Reading Room.  For more information, contact the Manuscripts department.

  • Canzonette veneziane

    Last October the second hand and antiquarian music dealer Travis & Emery circulated their occasional antiquarian music catalogue Sarum no. 58. One item caught my eye because in the last year or so I had updated the online records for … Continue reading →
  • Navigating to Boston

    Upper cover of Nathaniel Colson’s The mariner’s new kalendar (London, 1739).

    The Library’s exhibition “Tall Tales: Secrets of the Tower” highlights some of the books in our holdings that you might not necessarily expect to find in a learned collection. A recent acquisition by the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts Department furnishes another example: a practical book of navigation for the eighteenth-century mariner which bears marks showing how it was used by its earliest owners. Such workaday books would rarely have found their way into the University Library, even after the Copyright Act of 1715, and if they had might well have been disposed of by early librarians. Partly as a result, they are now hard to find; no other copy of this edition is recorded.

    Title page of the Kalendar

    The Mariner’s New Kalendar, by Nathaniel Colson, was first published in 1676. It forms a complete handbook for the navigator, starting with “The Principles of Arithmetic briefly and plainly demonstrated”, and including tide-tables, an astronomical calendar, instructions in the use of various navigational instruments, “A Large and very Useful Table of Difference of Latitude and Departure”, and “A Table of the Soundings coming into the [English] Channel”. It was a standard work for more than a century.

    Half title, with inscription and calculations by Bradford

    The future Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, refers to it in his notes made on the return journey from Barbados in 1764, held as part of the papers of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. The English Short Title Catalogue lists sixty-six editions, published between 1676 and 1785, to which can now be added this one of 1739. Nothing is known of its author, who published nothing else, and who describes himself on the title page as “Student in the Mathematicks”. The Dictionary of National Biography speculates that he may have been a relation of the better-known mathematician John Colson (1680-1759), Lucasian professor at Cambridge from 1739 who served on the Board of Longitude, or, more tenuously, of Lancelot Coelson (1627-1687?), an astrologer and publisher of almanacs, but there is no evidence in either case.

    Log of voyages in Bradford’s hand

    Our copy is in a plain blind-tooled binding doubtless contemporary with its publication, and bears inscriptions by two former owners. Noah Bradford, whose inscriptions are dated between 1741 and 1745, and Nathanael Fuller, who inscribed it in 1753. Bradford at least appears to have been a resident of New England, and he has added to the interest of the volume with lists of voyages made under different captains, and observations and measurements taken at various points.

    Inscription by Nathanael Fuller

    Places mentioned include Plymouth, Boston, “Garmons Bank” (unidentified) and “Mount Desert [Island, Maine]”. The book’s status as a working copy is further attested by rough calculations made on the end papers, and in the margins of the “table of difference”. How often it crossed the Atlantic in its working life is uncertain, but some of Bradford’s voyages lasted several months. The portions of the book relating specifically to English coasts are, however, relatively untouched.