E-textbooks for students – musings for the new academic year


The new academic year is almost upon us and the students are soon to arrive – for those working in academic libraries this is always an exciting time.  Of course during those summer months much of the work undertaken is in preparation for their arrival.

This has certainly been the case at Manchester where we have been working on the third and final year of e-textbook pilots for our students.  As with previous years we have looked to expand both the number of titles and the number of our students who receive their own individual e-textbook.  In addition we have continued to test new acquisition and supply modules looking to extract maximum value for the Library and University, as well as additional functionality for our students and academic colleagues.   A further detailed breakdown will be available on the blog in the near future, but the table below provides a summary of activity to date:

Academic Year No. of titles No. of students
2014/15 21 4,610
2015/16 52 11,049
2016/17 65 (*) 11,863
(*) this figure will rise with new Semester 2 titles in January 2017

Additionally this year we have worked with some new publishers, whilst continuing our dialogue with existing publishers.   Further work is needed on establishing more viable and realistic pricing modules and we continue to enjoy regular discussion with our publishing colleagues around this!  Pricing centred on usage is now standard and we have begun discussions drilling down on this aspect further.  We are analysing the incidences of single usage and what the accompanying price here should be, having had some success with the more progressive publishers.

In the last few months we have also gathered and analysed a wide range of data taken from our own research.  This includes students’ use and perception of the e-textbook pilot itself, as well as their thoughts on their use and perceptions of e-textbooks in general.  In the last year we have also undertaken some research looking to correlate the use of these e-textbooks with student attainment. We will be providing more information on all of this in the future.

What has also become evident, especially over the last year, is the increased level of interest and activity from UK HE libraries.  This has either resulted from requests from senior management in their institutions asking them to look at provision, or from the libraries themselves who seek to enhance teaching and learning in their universities and incorporate this activity alongside more traditional library acquisitions.   This work, together with increased involvement from JISC who have also set up an e-textbook strategy advisory group, bodes well for future development of pricing models and ultimately the overall learning experience of students across the UK.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

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