As mentioned in an earlier post, several student library ambassadors at The University of Manchester attended an e-book conference during which they sat on a question panel to discuss the subject of e-books and core text provision in higher education. From the accounts submitted after the event, several central themes regarding student e-book usage have emerged.
Students recognise that e-books offer convenience, portability and accessibility. All the students involved mentioned the benefits of not having to carry unwieldy printed books around campus and the reassurance of knowing that their core texts were available to them wherever and whenever they needed them.
Free access to the electronic texts via institutional subscriptions was also highly valued. Even with (relatively) cheap second-hand copies of textbooks available via bookshops and Amazon, purchasing copies of every recommended text would be prohibitively expensive.
Despite these advantages, the use of e-books across courses remains uneven, with students on some courses reporting that they rarely use them at present. This is in part due to entrenched practices in some subjects (where purchasing the print version of a core text is expected), but also because of low levels of awareness about what is available. Many students on courses where e-books were made available through the Library pilots had not been aware of the need to download the text to get permanent access and utilise the full range of functionality available. Others reported frustration more generally with the complexity of accessing e-books across multiple platforms. There was a clear message that students would like better support and guidance in this area.
Finally, several students noted that despite living in a “digital age” in which online access to information is the norm, one particular aspect of reading the hard copy of a book for study endures – it appears that many students still like scribbling notes in margins, sticking post-its into pages and marking sections of text with highlighter pens (hopefully only in their personal copies!) and some are hesitant to move these activities online. Better promotion of the highlighting and annotation features available in e-books may well shift the balance over time. In the meantime, all the students recognised that having electronic access to a text is far preferable to not getting hold of it at all!