Monthly Archives: January 2016

I want it now! The University of Liverpool Library embarks on an e-textbook project

i want it nowIn Liverpool we have been looking at student satisfaction and how we can improve it. We have lots of really high performing subject areas, as measured by the NSS, LibQual, and other surveys, but we wanted to investigate lower scoring areas. By analysing free text comments a pattern began to emerge. There were subject areas where students felt we needed more books, despite rising spending on these subjects and the extensive work we had been doing to improve access to reading lists. Around 87% of modules have lists on our Reading Lists @ Liverpool, so we have excellent intelligence to help us predict demand, and we are a well-funded library, but it seems students think we are not buying enough.

What these troublesome subjects have in common was a high dependency on textbooks. In these ‘professional’ subject areas, such as Law and Accountancy, students’ perception was that we were not buying enough books, and they were surprised that some books they needed weren’t available as e-books. ‘More books’ and ‘more textbooks’ appeared frequently in the free-text comments. For some modules we have been buying up to 60 paper copies of key textbooks where we have been unable to buy them as e-books. These subject areas also have a high turnover of editions – with new ones often annual, and the older editions almost obsolete due to changes in legislation. From a sustainability angle this is a concern, and despite our targeted spending we had not been meeting the needs of some of our students.

Students obviously do not know the vagaries of the publishing industry, and it’s no surprise that they see it as a failure of the library if the book they really need is not available electronically while many thousands of titles are. How can this not be the library’s fault?

Anecdotal evidence from students suggests there is now a reluctance to buy textbooks, where this was expected in the past. A focus on costs from the NUS has made all universities mindful of the need to make additional costs transparent to students, with £9K annual tuition fees still fairly new to the UK. As a library we are very interested in alternative models of access to core materials, including our Jisc e-Textbook project where we are partnering with Liverpool University Press to become a textbook publisher ourselves.

In addition to our Jisc project, Liverpool is stepping into the relatively new territory of making textbooks available to students digitally on a 1:1 basis. We want to see what effect this model has on student experience and perceptions of the library service.  Our pilot will focus on Law, and students will be able to access textbooks via the Blackwell’s platform during semester two of the 2015/16 academic year. Our Reading Lists @ Liverpool data and excellent relationships with the Law School have enabled us to select key modules and titles, and academic staff are very much on board. Liverpool’s Pro Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Gavin Brown is our Academic Sponsor, and we will report progress to the Education Advisory Group, which he chairs. This is a library project, but with full buy-in from key University Stakeholders, who will be essential if evidence suggests we should extended to other subject areas for 2016/17. Watch this space!

Emma Thompson, University of Liverpool Library

Onwards and upwards! – An expanded range of e-book pilots for 2015/16


Owing to the success of the e-book pilots we decided to expand the project for this academic year.   We wanted to both inform the project, and also learn from interactions with different publishers, new schools and students in the University.   Above all, and something we never lose sight of, is that we wanted to continue to enhance the learning of the actual students we would be working with, by providing them with unlimited access to their own e-textbook.  The total number of students to benefit directly from this initiative for this academic year has risen to more than 9000, spanning across 46 individual courses and modules.

The number of publishers we are working with directly has expanded to ten.   Critical for us is the new and wider involvement of schools and disciplines across the university including Computer Science, History, Drama, Electrical Engineering, and Fashion and Textiles.  Of course the traditional and voracious consumers of text books such as Law, Business, Medical, and Health Sciences are all still present and correct

One of the most time consuming and resource intensive elements of the pilots was the individual negotiations with publishers over price.  Despite our misgivings and scepticism  the 1-1 model was something all publishers still insisted upon (for now…)

Nevertheless working within these parameters and learning from our experiences last year we laid down these conditions for finalising any deals (and where these were not met we walked away)

  • Either 75% discount on the digital list price (or nearest equivalent) per book on a flat fee up-front payment model


  • Minimum of 35% discount on the digital list price (or nearest equivalent) per book on a usage based model, where we only pay for 50% of books in advance with the remainder figure determined by subsequent usage

Of course this matrix looks straightforward on paper but what we discovered whilst dealing with so many publishers is that there is certainly no industry standard for this type of negotiation.   Some patterns did emerge, such as the aforementioned and widespread desire to link cohort sizes to overall price.  In terms of issues such as application of VAT, the setting of digital list prices, and indeed the setting of the unit price for the text, there were vast differences.  This only confirmed our view publishers are still looking to identify (and price) their offerings in a coordinated way but from our perspective this is still a long way from being transparent and sustainable.

This is something we hope to look at in more detail over the coming months, having developed a series of questions for publishers that we hope will aid our understanding of the market and the apparent constraints they are working within!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: DWRL U. Texas via flickr (license)