Monthly Archives: January 2015

Semester one pilots: an update

PhotoFunia-6959e6f The University of Manchester Library launched 12 e-book pilots at the start of semester one last year. So far, anecdotal feedback from academics and students has been very positive but we know that we will need much more rigorous analysis of the value of the pilots – financially and pedagogically – if we are to build on the project. To this end, we are assessing the effectiveness of the pilots using the following information:

  • Analytical usage data from the technology intermediary, VitalSource
  • Survey data from students on the 12 modules
  • Consultations with the academics leading the modules

We are collating the responses from students and staff and will report on these over the coming months but we do have some initial usage data back from VitalSource:

  • The proportion of students opting to access and download (“redeem”) the e-books in the pilots ranges from 21.3% to 88.5%
  • Of these redemptions, the proportion of students who have actually used the book at least once ranges from 11% to 87.6%
  • Very few students are using the advanced functions – such as highlighting and note-taking – with most simply accessing the text online
  • The majority of the page views are via PC or laptop and very few students accessed the texts via mobile devices (smartphones, tablets etc)

While access and subsequent use of e-books across the pilots followed expected patterns (with the highest levels of access in disciplines that rely most on core texts and directed reading), use of the added value features – such as downloading onto personal devices and note-taking functionality – was a lot lower than anticipated.

It is too early to draw any definite conclusions as many of the pilots will run for the whole academic year. We will need to do some more analysis when the final results are in – there may be a spike in usage for the recent January exam period, for example. Nevertheless, these initial findings will inform the way we implement the semester two pilots and work with the academics involved.

Based on our findings, our main objective will be to make sure that students are downloading the e-books rather than just accessing them online. Perpetual access to the texts and the enhanced functionality are only available to students when they download the books onto a device. We want to make sure students get the maximum benefit from these deals… and avoid any nasty surprises at the end of their modules when the core text suddenly disappears!

Understanding publishers: a librarian’s perspective


Like many academic librarians involved in purchasing content for their libraries, I have had my share of lengthy negotiations with publishers over the years. As we attempt to launch e-book pilots and develop a new acquisition model as part of the Books Right Here Right Now project, it can sometimes feel that publishers are unwilling or unable to understand our needs and those of our students.

However, one outcome of spending so much time talking to publishers – in person and by email – is that I feel I now have a better understanding of their world. While librarians often bemoan the lack of understanding (whether real or perceived) from publishers, we may be equally guilty of not understanding the environment that publishers are operating in, or naive in our negotiating stance.

The following key points are worth keeping in mind:

Publishers need to return a profit and the margins they want or need to make will form the basis of their negotiations. Unlike libraries, they are not a service but a business and the bottom line is paramount. While there is always room for manoeuvre and sometimes librarians may not push hard enough, unrealistic pricing requests from libraries are doomed to failure.

Publishers have to balance a series of relationships, not just the one with the library. In the context of textbooks and e-books, academic libraries may be major customers but there are two other key relationships that have a bearing on negotiations –

  • Authors have expectations about the royalties from sales of their books -this can have an impact on the pricing of books and also on the granting of digital rights for particular titles.
  • Bookshops – particularly those on university campuses – work very closely with publishers to maximise the sales of textbooks. This symbiotic relationship between the publisher and the bookshop, while subject to other market pressures, can still have an influence on negotiated deals between publishers and libraries.

Seamless access to e-books is still some way off. Despite major advances in technology, the provision of e-books to large cohorts of students through a single, problem-free interface is not yet available. Publishers and intermediaries are working hard to find solutions but librarians need to be realistic in our expectations and understanding of what is currently possible.

Libraries and publishers need each other. While we come to the table with different aims, an understanding of each other’s perspectives and differences is vital to a successful outcome. Now, let the negotiations begin!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

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The meaning of lists: a student’s view



The format and quality and of reading lists differs greatly. Not just between universities, but between schools, courses, and even individual academic staff. The best examples tend to be very structured, with the core texts and recommended reading for each topic clearly laid out, and the majority of seminar readings provided via Blackboard as digitised extracts. Reading lists at the opposite end of the scale simply provide a long list of texts – they don’t identify which are essential and which are recommended – while the majority seem to lie somewhere in between these two extremes.

As well as differing in style, reading lists currently lack a fixed, common terminology to differentiate between essential and non-essential texts. This can cause confusion, particularly for first year students. If you’re studying six different modules and are given a list of ten books for each, the idea of reading 60 books cover to cover, which may or may not be essential reading, is quite daunting.

It would be useful to have a consistent structure and common vocabulary for reading lists. The following are terms I have seen used in reading lists, along with my understanding of what they mean:

Core texts/ Essential texts/ Required reading

These are books that are necessary for the course. More often than not, these texts must be read in preparation for lectures, seminar discussions and assignments. They contain key information and ideas, and are essential in order to participate fully, understand a topic and achieve a good grade.

As these books are going to be read by every student on the course, many course tutors suggest that they should be purchased before teaching begins. This is particularly true for literature courses, where you may be required to read and annotate several books each week. Although library copies are usually available, the level of demand can often result in a long waiting period, leaving you with a limited amount of time to prepare for a lecture or seminar. Additionally, if the book you need is recalled, you won’t be able to take a copy to the lesson with you.

For these reasons, having core texts available in e-book format is invaluable – they are portable, can be accessed quickly and easily and allow you to annotate your own copy.

Recommended reading/ Suggested reading/ Secondary reading/ Additional texts

Recommended reading consists of any extra books which aren’t essential but could help you to achieve a higher grade. Generally, they allow you to understand a topic in more detail and act as a springboard for further, independent research.

Although it’s reasonable to expect recommended texts to be available in the library, there is not the same impetus to purchase a personal copy or wait for one to become available. It is highly unlikely that there will be time to read everything on a recommended reading list, making it important to be selective.

Reading lists may evolve to reflect the interests of the class, while students are also encouraged to discover their own sources for use in assignments. Some reading lists – particularly for postgraduate level courses – don’t include any recommended reading, though key texts may be mentioned in lectures and seminars.

Even allowing for flexibility of approach in terms of reading list structure, it would be really useful to have consistent terminology so that we all – students, academics and librarians – know what to expect.

Helen Saxton, University of Manchester

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One academic’s perspective: “Thanks, but no thanks”


The success of our reading list project will depend to a great extent on how well the Library works with our academic colleagues to understand student reading behaviour, identify core texts and implement e-book pilots.

There has been a considerable amount of work involved in establishing pilots to run in the 2014/15 academic year, from checking for suitable titles and availability to working with academics to run and evaluate the pilot projects with their students.

Given the perceived benefit of providing all students on a course with a personal copy of an electronic core text, we might have assumed that academics would be queueing up to get involved. While many have been keen to work with us, others have been more reticent.

One academic questioned the pedagogical impact of using e-books instead of print, referring to emerging research indicating that reading on paper is more effective than reading online. While electronic journals were seen as an effective way to get around limited access to content, “putting texts online is something else”.

The same member of staff also expressed concerns about the future of academic bookshops, stating that they are a valued presence on campus that may be under threat in the long term.

We have to listen to these concerns and take them on board. We know from our consultations with students that lack of access to core texts is a major problem and that a majority of students want – and expect – to be able to access texts electronically, increasingly on portable devices, without additional financial cost to themselves.

However, we also want to enhance the teaching and learning experience of academic staff and students. We have built evaluation and analysis into the pilot process and we are hoping to get back some detailed, qualitative information about the pedagogical implications (good or bad) of using e-books.

Queries and concerns from our academic colleagues are helping to inform the questions we will ask at the end of the pilot projects and serve as a useful reminder that we can’t assume automatic ‘buy-in’ from everyone we approach. We need to keep listening and keep the conversations going to make this a success.

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