Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bound by the bound book

dusty book

The audience was aghast; “pay more, you say?”  The incredulous response came at a recent(ish) JIBS event, upon the suggestion that there might be some circumstances in which a library would be willing to pay more for e-book content.  Which got me thinking – what would we be (potentially) willing to pay more for?

In a mixed audience made up of librarians and e-resources staff, publishers, academics, and others, one of the main grumblings of discontent was at the frequent linking of the cost of an e-book to the cost of a physical book.  An enlightening talk from Liz Martin at IOP Publishing explained some of the processes and costs unique in producing an electronic version of a title.

But cost isn’t the only area in which the potential of e-books is being linked to that of a physical copy.  Freed from the limitations of paper, the e-book offers the possibility of connected content, of using the best available media to explain ideas, and of giving users more powerful tools than simply digital versions of post-it notes and highlighter pens.  Too often e-books are sold to libraries and other users as flat PDFs of featureless ePUBs.  This doesn’t add the value we would be willing to pay more for.

The most obvious way that this thinking is hampering the potential of the e-book is in creating a usage model which treats an e-book in the same way as one would treat a physical copy.  The limitation of ‘concurrent usage’ is to treat an e-book as though there are individual electronic ‘copies’ owned by the library.  Alternatively, a token system suggests that the e-book has been ‘used up’ after a certain point (perhaps a nod to the worn, torn and tattered pages of some of our older textbooks!)  Either system can create a barrier to usage at the point of need, unnecessarily akin to a physical copy already out on loan.  The removal of such barriers would surely add value.

The inability to move thinking away from the limitations of the physical did for the golden-age for recording artists; authors looking to protect their digital rights and ensure they are remunerated for their hard work and knowledge might consider how adding value can avoid them facing the same fate.  Downloading an illegal PDF might have the same content as an e-textbook not currently available to the user via their library.  An e-textbook with connected content and rich media, available anywhere and at any time adds value beyond what could be easily replicated.

If we can stop thinking of the e-book as a simple online facsimile of a physical copy, we can stop thinking of a product made up of ‘1s’ and ‘0s’ costing as much as one which you can hold in your hand!  We might even be willing to pay more for those ‘1s’ and ‘0s’!

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester Library

The digital textbook as connected content, part 2

In the second of his two-part post, Talis’ Justin Leavesley talks about the contextual issues surrounding connected content and Project Lighthouse.

lighthouse 2

It is far too early to be drawing firm conclusions for what textbooks as connected content might mean. However, we think some of the important areas for connections are:

The course context

The textbook should be connected to the course context. It should know which course or module it is being used on. It should know who the enrolled students are and who is teaching the course. It should allow the cohort of students and the teachers to easily discuss and collaborate with each other around fragments of content online; perhaps highlighting a section of a diagram or section of text that is problematic or particularly important and directly attaching additional guidance or links to more resources relevant to that section.

The textbook should be recording real time engagement analytics  as each student, and the teaching academic, interact with both the content and discussions.

The teaching context

The textbook should allow someone teaching to understand exactly how the cohort as a whole and students individually are actually engaging with the content of the textbook and discussions it is generating. This should be easy to use for immediate teaching intervention or supporting flipped classroom or distance courses. It should also be designed to inform course design and review after teaching has finished by allowing a retrospective of how and when students actually engaged with which parts of a textbook.

The subject context

Textbooks are perhaps the most reused teaching resources across universities or other teaching institutions. The textbook should allow those teaching with it to connect with each other, if they wish, across institutions and potentially connect with the authors. The connected textbook should be able to inform a teacher about how widely used the resource is, if teachers are switching to other resources, or simply if new editions or corrections are available.

The learner context

The textbook should know exactly how it has been used by a student and easily allow the student to save study notes, or discussions to their personal study journal. It should allow students to discuss and collaborate with their study mates or the whole class.

It should be able to inform students about how their engagement with the textbook compares to the overall class or notify them of new teaching guidance added to the text. It should be able to suggest parts of the textbook that the class has been engaging with heavily – that they themselves have not.

The acquisition context

A connected textbook should make actual student engagement information easily available course by course as part of acquisition decision making.

These are just some of the possibilities that thinking of textbooks as connected content make possible. Only time will tell what combination of technology and economic change will shape the future of the textbook and make a transformative difference. But it seems a safe bet that it will involve becoming more connected than ever before.

Justin Leavesley, Talis