Monthly Archives: November 2014

Libraries and e-book provision: the purchasing paradigm

As is probably the case with most academic libraries, the University of Manchester Library acquires e-books in three main ways:

  1. Buying individual e-book titles through intermediaries
  2. Purchasing bundled e-book packages from publishers
  3. Patron driven acquisition, in which our library users place direct orders for the e-books they need

We are finding that none of these models are entirely satisfactory for a variety of reasons.


Buying individual titles through intermediaries may sometimes be our only option but the process tends to be cumbersome and the pricing models are confusingly opaque. Even more frustrating is that publishers occasionally withdraw titles from their e-book portfolio so our users are again left without access to the books they need.

Purchasing large ‘bundles’ of e-books from publishers for a set fee or an annual subscription tends to mean that we are paying for a high quantity of titles that our students don’t want or need and which will rarely – if ever – be used. Of course, some of these titles will be of value to our researchers but too often we are paying for content in the manner of contestants on Baggage Battles, relying on luck and intuition when placing bids for unseen material.

Patron driven acquisition (PDA) is an approach many libraries are now using and the attraction is obvious – rather than trying to guess what our readers will want to access, we give them direct control by allowing them to choose and order items themselves and get instant access to the text. This works well when the books they require are available electronically, but having used PDA for a while we know that this is often not the case.

As librarians, we need to take on board what our users are telling us about core text provision. As customers, we need to be much better at challenging the status quo in the e-book market and be much more explicit about what we are willing to pay for.

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Working with e-books: a law student’s view

While innocently surfing the internet, the average student will inevitably run into advertisements encouraging them to buy – among other things – new books. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly in this digital age), these ads seem to be targeted towards their course and specifically towards their recommended textbooks.

The irony is that by using the same technology, students can access these books at a greatly discounted price – or even for free. Indeed, as a first year law student, two of my four core textbooks are available as part of the library’s e-book pilot, saving each student on my course about £60. However, having access to core text books online does more than just save money.

law of contract

It is often argued that there are aspects of physical books that e-books can’t replace and traditional bookworms (me included) have been apprehensive about using a computer every time we need to get some work done. When we were kids, the computer and the TV were seen as a luxury, to be completely switched off during school days, so using a computer to prepare for seminars or take notes can still seem like a bit of a paradox.

However, as many cases and articles have become available online, the lengthy process of searching for them in books has become much faster, while it is easier to look up words or concepts one may not understand when working online.

As we have become used to this new way of studying we have learned that e-books can also add a new dimension to the act of reading (and can even be an improvement on print).

Having a book ‘floating about’ on the internet makes it possible to access it anywhere and at any time, a massive advantage when the alternative is to haul around a huge volume for the sake of the few pages you might need.

You can highlight or take notes on an e-book just as you can on a print copy – with the added bonus of mess-free erasing and editing. There are also some subject-specific applications that can be found only in the e-book version. One of our law textbooks, for example, comes with a ‘scenario simulator’ where you can apply the different concepts that you are reading about to real life situations.

While getting used to e-books may be challenging at first (not least having to contend with online distractions and ignore endless social network notifications!) it has definitely been worthwhile. From saving time and money to simulating the beauty of a real book in a much lighter form, e-books are growing in popularity – and may even be preferable to their paper counterparts.

Marina Iskander, first year law undergraduate

Great expectations?

“Many texts for courses are not available online. The library can never stock enough for all students to use. Those students who can’t afford to buy textbooks lose out”

Arthur Baker (Eureka Finalist 2014)

eureka books

Final Year Economics and Politics Student Arthur Baker had a lot to say about the Library’s approach to e-book provision at the 2014 Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge event. Arthur was one of six finalists at the contest given the opportunity to present a concept or idea designed to enhance the student experience within the library.

His pitch to the judges addressed the very real perception among students that the library does not hold adequate numbers of core texts. Conscious of the costs borne by students purchasing their own textbooks, Arthur was seeking to create a system in which required e-books could be made more easily available to him and his cohort.

Arthur is not alone in feeling that the current system isn’t working. 91% of Manchester students who took part in an independent market research consultation said the library should make all core readings available electronically.

The gap between what students want in terms of e-book provision and what we can legally provide is often significant, yet the fact remains that the frustration of not being able to access core texts – especially when assignments are due for submission – causes considerable problems for our students.

Arthur’s idea was for a dedicated e-book reader room in which devices would allow students to purchase books on demand as and when required. This idea caught the eye of the Eureka judges and our job now is to successfully manage student expectations.

Arthur’s Eureka! idea touches firmly on the fundamental objective of the Books Right Here Right Now Project – to improve the student experience by increasing the supply of electronic core texts provided by the library. Arthur’s pitch challenged us to “make headlines and history by being the first university to deal with this issue”.

Arthur, watch this space!

The impact of technology: trends in e-book reading

A survey commissioned by Publishing Technology in August 2014 found that out of 3,000 consumers across the US and UK, 43 per cent have read an e-book – or part of an e-book – on their mobile device and that 66 per cent of mobile phone book readers currently read more on their phones than they did in 2013.


Perhaps publishers need to shift their focus away from investment on print, tablets and dedicated e-readers as the main reading channels for their content and consider mobile devices as a significant route of content delivery? To put this into context, the market for smartphones has grown considerably from 53 million in 2006 to a projected 2.4 billion in 2015. At the same time, recent estimates suggest that over the same period Amazon has sold just over 20 million Kindle devices.

However, despite the mobile phone’s overall growth in appeal and popularity over the Kindle as a reading device, the survey discovered that readers (particularly in the UK) tend to read on their handsets fairly infrequently and in much shorter bursts compared to the amount of time they would spend reading printed books or e-books on tablets.

Is smartphone access to core text e-books important to students? Do publishers provide adequate provision for smartphone access to their content? “Reading behaviour” and “Discovery” are two of the key themes of the literature review we are undertaking for the Books Right Here Right Now project and these are just a couple of the questions that the review will consider.

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