A university campus can be a strange sight these days – even in a library full of old and new books, there can sometimes seem to be many more laptops and tablets. This is no bad thing: for many students, working digitally can be more convenient or preferable.
The e-textbook platform company VitalSource recently held a convention for publishers and universities to discuss the future of e-books and several student Library Ambassadors were invited to sit on a panel to provide some student perspectives in the discussions.
It was definitely interesting to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view about e-books from publishers and university staff. For students it can all seem quite simple, but of course there are many commercial and management issues involved. Companies like VitalSource are trying to streamline the process but it can be far from straightforward.
It was highly encouraging to hear university representatives say that they are trying to take the cost of buying books away from financially-stretched students. At the moment, the University of Manchester Library is introducing e-book pilots for subjects with compulsory set texts such as Medicine, Law and Psychology.
As a lot of this provision is arranged with the schools it partly explains why I haven’t seen many e-books up to this point, studying English. Other students on the panel from Arts and Humanities disciplines had similar experiences and there could be the potential for unequal provision if students in some subjects are getting free access to their core readings while others are missing out.
Students from all disciplines can benefit from e-books for numerous reasons and the university is doing the right thing in prioritising digital reading provision. As more students choose (or need) to live at home, further from the university – or have complex timetables due to commitments in part-time work or work experience – being able to access learning materials away from campus is incredibly helpful.
The VitalSource day also highlighted another advantage of e-books: as each student can possess a digital copy of the text, they can annotate the material as they wish. For an English student tackling the complex language and formal features of verses of poetry, this function would be greatly appreciated!
I think it is fair to conclude from the VitalSource event that universities do want to help students get the resources they need in the way they need them, and are concerned about students fulfilling their potential and having a good university experience. It’s just that – with thousands of students to support – it’s sometimes hard to figure out what will help the most.
This underlines the importance of students being vocal about their needs and preferences and using the materials provided as much as they can. There are people who want to listen as much as we want to read!
Isabelle Bowen, MA Literature and Culture 1200-1700, University of Manchester