In the last of our literature review reports, we’re looking towards the future.
With the increasing popularity of online and distance learning courses, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the adoption of new e-book formats, e-books are expected increasingly to replace print volumes in academic libraries. E-books will continue to meet students’ needs since studies of information-seeking habits conclude that what is most important to them is speed, efficiency and convenience. The growing importance of e-books will have a number of consequences for academic libraries, in areas such as the technologies they make available to users, the use of library space, user education and support, and pricing and licensing models and arrangements. Development of new e-book features should include, among other things, annotative and sharing capabilities. Challenges in the context of e-book preservation and sustainability include perpetual access and preservation licensing issues. Problems of long-term digital storage and the devices that display them quickly becoming obsolete were also highlighted as issues.
This time, our literature review report explores the theme of ‘reading behaviour’, focussing on student preferences and perceptions of e-books.
The results of this theme suggest that e-books can certainly add value to students in their academic study, and recent increased usage has also led to new forms of reading behaviour taking place with electronic content. New trends in technology are certainly having an influence of student preference for e-books, with personalisation now important to students who want their content to be delivered in a similar way to that of social media feeds. Mobile use is also increasing, as it suits the way students are now studying in shorter and more concentrated bursts. Nevertheless preference for print is still strong amongst supposedly tech-savvy students, many of whom opt for print when engaging in serious academic study or extended reading. The literature also suggests that libraries could provide more effective support and training in e-book use, and this in turn would give libraries a better understanding of the evolving habits of students, like as one study remarks, ‘we continue to experience the revolutionary technological, behavioural, societal and neurological aspects of online reading.
The latest in our series of literature review reports has identified a number of innovative ways of purchasing and delivery.
One particular institution is part of a state wide consortium that frequently negotiates prices for the whole state system, while another has developed a purchase predictor system prototype. Other institutions have found Demand or Patron Driven Acquisition a cost-effective way to purchase books at the user’s point of need and libraries must recognize that many library users are better suited to identify the resources that will best meet their needs, often before librarians even know they want it.
Much remains to be seen on how Demand or Patron Driven Acquisition will affect the bottom line for publishers and what impact this might have on the pricing (and bundling) of electronic books. At the time of writing there are a number of e-book pilots (providing students with core e-books) taking place at other institutions and it would be worth keeping track of any publicised outcomes from these.
As mentioned in the introductory post about our literature reviews, the Books Right Here Right Now project has been looking at various key themes to inform our work. One of the themes explored readers’ preferences for online and printed texts.
The results of this research were mixed with some students preferring print for its ease of use – or their fondness for the physical feel of a book – while others preferred electronic access for the convenience and search functionality that it offers. Studies recognise that new forms of reading behaviour are occurring with electronic content, with the process of reading on screen being cognitively different to the process of reading on paper. Further research on the technological, behavioural, societal and neurological aspects of online reading is required but new forms of non-traditional reading behaviour include concepts such as ‘power-browsing’ through titles and readers following the ‘path-of-least-resistance’ to find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible. It is also acknowledged that the technological infrastructure for online reading is a work in progress. Problems such as eye fatigue from reading on screen are common, possibly putting major academic publishers off investing in e-readers for the time being.
This blog entry focuses on the findings of our literature review research, as discussed in an earlier post. The results of this research theme revealed some major benefits to students and academics at institutions using reading list systems, not least that the core principles of information literacy (to scope, gather, present and evaluate information) can all be demonstrated within a reading list. At some institutions reading list systems have been connected to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and the VLE has become be the place where students go to get everything they need for their academic study.
This has been well-received by academics who state that such integration increases students’ engagement with their course reading. At the same time, it is also apparent that some reading lists are not realising their full potential, often because they are not being kept up to date by academics who believe the effort involved in maintaining reading lists is disproportionate to the benefits they bring to students.
“Many texts for courses are not available online. The library can never stock enough for all students to use. Those students who can’t afford to buy textbooks lose out”
Arthur Baker (Eureka Finalist 2014)
Final Year Economics and Politics Student Arthur Baker had a lot to say about the Library’s approach to e-book provision at the 2014 Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge event. Arthur was one of six finalists at the contest given the opportunity to present a concept or idea designed to enhance the student experience within the library.
His pitch to the judges addressed the very real perception among students that the library does not hold adequate numbers of core texts. Conscious of the costs borne by students purchasing their own textbooks, Arthur was seeking to create a system in which required e-books could be made more easily available to him and his cohort.
Arthur is not alone in feeling that the current system isn’t working. 91% of Manchester students who took part in an independent market research consultation said the library should make all core readings available electronically.
The gap between what students want in terms of e-book provision and what we can legally provide is often significant, yet the fact remains that the frustration of not being able to access core texts – especially when assignments are due for submission – causes considerable problems for our students.
Arthur’s idea was for a dedicated e-book reader room in which devices would allow students to purchase books on demand as and when required. This idea caught the eye of the Eureka judges and our job now is to successfully manage student expectations.
Arthur’s Eureka! idea touches firmly on the fundamental objective of the Books Right Here Right Now Project – to improve the student experience by increasing the supply of electronic core texts provided by the library. Arthur’s pitch challenged us to “make headlines and history by being the first university to deal with this issue”.
Arthur, watch this space!