NAG 5th Collection Development Seminar for Academic Libraries: Collaboration and Innovation

As a regular attendee at this National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference, I was delighted to see that e-textbooks featured on this year’s programme. A library perspective was supplied by the University of East London (UEL) and a supplier perspective by Vitalsource.

Libby Homer from UEL outlined the evolution of their textbook offer to students. Having initially implemented a print-based solution to provide free copies of the key textbook for each module to their students, by 2014 they were providing all their new undergraduates with a tablet on which these key texts were freely accessible via the Kortext app or online (second and third years still received hard copies).  Library staff offered support to students, both in using the devices and accessing content.


UEL are now investigating the pedagogical aspects of e-textbook provision and gathering more student feedback. Initial feedback on reading preferences appears to echo that featured in a previous post, with students generally preferring print: interestingly the percentage of students preferring print to electronic was significantly lower among the first year cohort (who were provided with free e-books) than it was for second and third years.

Jeni Evans of Vitalsource outlined the supplier perspective, providing impressive statistics on the number of e-textbooks delivered in the UK in 2014. This was followed by a discussion of business models, analytics and e-book formats.

At the University of Manchester, we have negotiated with publishers directly and used Vitalsource as the delivery platform but alternative models are available. For example, Vitalsource can  buy content from the publishers and sell it back to the library.

Jeni presented Vitalsource analytics that supported our own experience in the pilots we have been running: users overwhelmingly accessed content online rather than downloading it to a device, access via Android devices is relatively small and less than 1% of the pages accessed are then printed out.

The remainder of Jeni’s presentation outlined how the electronic versus print debate is set to be radically altered by developments in e-book technology. Making more content available via EPUB 3.0, for example, would improve the experience for readers using mobile devices and the enhanced interactivity could alter students’ views on the limitations of e-books for study.

Other highly informative presentations included the use of reading list systems at King’s College London and Edinburgh and the approach to collection development at Leeds University Library following their restructure. Conferences such as this are a great opportunity to discuss progress with colleagues at other institutions facing the same challenges and engaging in similar initiatives.

Des Coyle, University of Manchester Library 

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