Monthly Archives: June 2016

E-textbooks: lightening the load!

You’ve heard (plenty!) about what we think about e-textbooks – but what do our students think?


The financial burden for course textbooks is a lot; especially for an economics degree.  I found it hard to cope with the financial demand with 12 modules to buy textbooks for, where each textbook would cost around £50. I would then turn to the library for physical copies however the ratio of books per student within the library were very low, for example 4 textbooks for the 300 students on the course. This left me feeling frustrated and wanting an alternative. Fortunately in my second year I had been introduced to the e-book scheme which allowed me to access my course textbooks for free online. Compared to my first year where I was less inclined to buy books due to the financial burden (which affected my degree performance), I felt like this was a great opportunity  provided by the University to save money and perform better within my degree.

I initially had doubts about the practicality of e-books. This was due to the fact I had only used e-books in PDF format. However the bookshelf software is smooth and slick, I am able to access my e-books on numerous devices, including my phone and tablet, which comes in handy if I wanted to access the books on the go. I am able to also highlight important sections in the book and write comments. This was very useful during my exam period as I could go back over quickly what I had noted at the start of the semester. These practical features on bookshelf that were not available on a physical copy had made a huge difference within my learning experience. The cloud of books on my bookshelf provides another layer of practicality as I do not need to carry around heavy 500 page books to and from university anymore!

I hope to see more e-books available for my future courses; it is cheap and effective way of providing all students with access to their course textbooks!

Marwan Mohamed, University of Manchester student

photo credit: Garry Knight via flickr (license)

In conversation

conversationIn April I was asked to appear on an e-textbooks discussion panel at the 2016 Talis Insight Europe 2016.   For those of you with 45 minutes to spare you can watch the full coverage here!

The session comprised of 6 panel members with a Chair to supervise proceedings!  In addition to myself there were colleagues from other institutions heavily involved in this activity; namely the Universities of Plymouth, Middlesex and Liverpool plus two colleagues from the publishing sector; Kogan Page and Pearson

The panel focus centred on institutional models where the library or another group is licensing e-textbooks for direct provision to students.

Rather than squaring us up; universities on the one side, publishers the other; the plan was for a friendly conversation where we explored the two sides of the coin.  Fortunately, that is exactly what we got!  We did not agree on everything but we were very fortunate to hear interesting perspectives and more on the challenges faced by both publishers and libraries on this rapidly evolving activity.  In a nutshell the discussion focused on these issues:

  • what does success look like to your organisation?
  • what are the key elements to making this type of model a success?
  • what are the threats to success?
  • what would you do if you were a publisher/institution to overcome the threats/barriers?
  • what is the common ground – how can we work together to ensure the models support the needs to students and their teachers?

As is evident from the video there was a wide ranging discussion, which also included many insightful comments from the audience.  One debate strand initiated by an audience member was whether these library-led initiatives posed a significant threat to campus bookshops.  My personal view is that many libraries such as ours work on a number of areas with campus bookshops and that this new activity would just work alongside.  A far bigger issue is the ever evolving market for book retailing in general, which poses a number of threats to physical book retail outlets.   A crucial dynamic is that many of the publishers who were traditionally only suppliers to the book shops are now also competitors as they look to sell their books via a range of competing retail and distribution outlets.

There were some major take homes for me.  Firstly it was really good to be on an open forum with colleagues from the publishing sector who were willing to explain their positions and debate the issues in a collegiate and frank manner.   What struck me was that we all need to understand each other’s position and then try and move together to chart a course in this new and often unknown territory.  I remain convinced that much of the future lies with the sector (working with Jisc) to drive a wider sector led agreement that both meets the needs of libraries and customers plus offers large potential volume sales of e-textbooks to publishers.

The four libraries on the panel, while already working together, also agreed to meet up in the summer to further discuss pricing and share best practice.  More details when we have them!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester