In 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