In the last of our literature review reports, we’re looking towards the future.
With the increasing popularity of online and distance learning courses, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the adoption of new e-book formats, e-books are expected increasingly to replace print volumes in academic libraries. E-books will continue to meet students’ needs since studies of information-seeking habits conclude that what is most important to them is speed, efficiency and convenience. The growing importance of e-books will have a number of consequences for academic libraries, in areas such as the technologies they make available to users, the use of library space, user education and support, and pricing and licensing models and arrangements. Development of new e-book features should include, among other things, annotative and sharing capabilities. Challenges in the context of e-book preservation and sustainability include perpetual access and preservation licensing issues. Problems of long-term digital storage and the devices that display them quickly becoming obsolete were also highlighted as issues.
Over the last academic year, an essential part of our work in providing certain cohorts of students with their own e-text book was to find out exactly what they thought of them. This would help us to both ensure we are obtaining maximum value for our acquisitions but also crucially to shape our future work, in particular for an expanded set of pilots for the academic year. Anecdotal feedback was collected from the students via comments from their lecturers but we also undertook some more formal feedback. This included an online survey, which was distributed directly to our students, plus a series of focus groups where we could explore the issues in more depth. Some of the key findings we uncovered both confirmed and disproved some of our assumptions. Further results will be released at a series of conference presentations over the next year but some key findings included:
- Convenience and access are still the biggest drivers for our students
- 88% indicated they read the e-book at least once (but extensive use was much lower)
- Enhanced features such as highlighting, note taking and sharing were not used in a widespread manner
- Less than 15% actually printed excerpts from the e-books
- Laptops were the favoured device to access the e-books, with desktop PCs also being popular. Although mobile device usage was seen as highly desirable this did not lead to significant usage via these devices
In summary this led us to make a number of changes (and dare we say improvements) to our e-book pilots for this academic year. What we learnt from last year’s pilots was critical to our work and for this year including:
- Devise more tailored support tools for our students to ensure they maximise all the capabilities of the e-book and, where applicable, actually download to one or more of their devices
- Begin the dialogue with our academics as soon as possible and ideally provide them with access to the e-book over the summer so they can integrate it as widely as possible into their teaching. This meant of course concluding negotiations with publishers as early as possible (often easier said than done!)
- Ensure we both access and analyse usage date sooner and in greater detail
- Revise and upgrade our means of collecting and analysing student feedback, predominantly through an improved online survey and looking at the future structure and content of our student focus groups.
Armed with all this information and analysis we have now begun an expanded series of e-textbook pilots for academic year 15/16, more details of which will appear on this blog in the near future.
Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library
photo credit: Eirik Newth via flickr (license)