Keeping up with the Joneses?

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I recently attended Talis Insight 2015 and was particularly interested in a number of presentations from other university libraries discussing their own recent e-text initiatives. A central aim of our Books Right Here Right Now project is to gain a better understanding of how other institutions are tackling e-text provision, finding out about the scope and scale of their projects, the challenges they have faced and their future direction.

It was very interesting to see presentations from the University of East London, Plymouth University, Coventry University and Middlesex University and to realise that despite the similarity of factors driving the projects there are a variety of approaches being taken. Rather than summarising each presentation in detail, I have drawn the strands together into a few key observations:

  • Many of these initiatives have been university-led rather than library-led. The pilots at Coventry mostly closely reflect what we have been doing at Manchester but were a response to a wider university initiative to provide students with free texts. At Manchester, the Library is leading the project and we believe we are best placed in this case to influence its direction and negotiate better e-book deals.
  • Kortext has been the preferred supplier and negotiations with publishers tend to be via a third party such as Kortext or John Smith’s. At Manchester, we have been trialling VitalSource but we are very interested to learn about the reasons for the decisions other institutions have taken.
  • The biggest challenge for all institutions has been to work out which modules are running, who the module co-ordinators are, how many students are expected to take the module and which core text is required. As one presenter noted, “It shouldn’t be that hard!” but for various reasons getting hold of this information is less easy than expected.
  • Timely communication and ongoing technical support and advocacy are essential to ensure academic staff and students know when and where their e-texts are available, how to access them and how to download the texts to get the best functionality.
  • Further research is needed to really understand students’ (and academics’) reading behaviour and preferences.

So what did I learn? Firstly, it is not a case of “keeping up with the Joneses”. What we are doing at Manchester – although very much in line with other initiatives – is different in terms of looking beyond the provision of free textbooks to changing the model by which core texts are purchased and provided. Secondly, it is good to know that we were aware of the other initiatives and weren’t missing anything in terms of our project benchmarking. Finally, it is very reassuring to know that all institutions are facing the same challenges and are open to discussing and sharing experiences to find solutions.

Janette Watson, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: N15 Stone clad pair June 2009 via photopin (license)

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