Category Archives: Uncategorized

Press pause (but not stop)


Since this blog was launched back in 2014 we have published 62 posts which have been viewed almost 15,000 times.  The intention was to showcase thought-pieces and opinion from across the sector, from both the UK and overseas.  We have been fortunate to receive incisive comments from colleagues in publishing and technical intermediary sectors, from other HE libraries, from book retailers and from academics.   All have generated comment and interest we hope contributed to developing the discussion around the key issues of investigating student reading behaviour and implementing innovative models for providing text books.

We now intend to take a short sabbatical while we concentrate on completing some final aspects of the project and building a sustainable future.

In the meantime here is a short summary of what we have achieved at the University of Manchester thus far:

  • Provision of Individual textbooks over last 3 years to over 25,000 students
  • Development of new models of textbook acquisition and supply
  • Analysis of our reading list system requirements and future needs through a comprehensive consultation of our academic staff – 315 academics were surveyed with a further 33 face-to face interviews
  • Development of a reading list strategy for the University of Manchester
  • Undertaken 11 conference/event contributions and presentations in 2015/16 at a range of events
  • Composed 4 articles/thought pieces published across a range of publications
  • Provided advice to a range of HE libraries and national bodies

Plans for further conference presentations and articles, looking at the extensive range of evidence we have gathered from our students are now in the pipeline.

We also intend to host all our presentations to date on this site and will be continuing to answer any queries and questions, but until then.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

Paperback renter

Dear Sir or Madam…


Since its inception in 2014, the Books Right Here Right Now project has maintained a keen interest in new and innovative ways universities, publishers other providers deliver content to students.  Enabling students to access the textbooks that they want, when they want them, and for the period they want them is a key aim of the project.  The project has looked to make key textbooks available for the duration of a student’s course (or longer). But there are some resources which are only needed for a shorter period of time; perhaps during exams or working on assignments.

Paperback aims to meet this need.  Having secured funding through Shark Tank (think Dragon’s Den with an American accent) in 2014, the company offer a number of services including 24 hour rental access to textbooks, at a fraction of the cost of the purchase price.  Recently the company have looked to get academic teaching staff onside by launching Paperback Questions; connecting student users of the platform to their academics.  For a semesterly subscription fee students can ask their lecturers about their reading through the platform.

With my student days (sadly) behind me, I asked a colleague with a much more recent perspective for her thoughts:

‘While appreciating that the university library cannot provide access to absolutely everything for absolutely everyone, it’s unfair to expect students to pay subscription for such a service considering they’re already paying fees to their university for support and resources.  It’s also very dependent on academic staff, so students could get a different level of support depending on how available their particular tutor is.  To me it devalues the academic relationship somewhat if students are literally paying for an academic’s time/answers rather than viewing it as a discussion with another scholar interested in a similar field.  Such short-term rental periods are not particularly feasible.  In some cases it may not be possible to physically read the item in such a short window.  Personally, as I study part-time I download all my reading a week in advance so I can spread the work out over the week and know I am not going to be held back by connectivity issues if I try and read something the day before. Therefore I never usually read something within 24 hours of finding it.’

Fiona Doran

We have seen previously that student attitudes and expectations towards paying for textbooks differ greatly between the UK and the US, and perhaps this is another example.  For US students who expect to pay for their course textbooks, on-demand rental access to those resources they only need occasionally may offer savings and convenience.  I would however agree with Fiona that 24 hours seems a very limited period (though given my undergraduate procrastination, such time pressures might have been helpful!)

What do you think?  Please let us know in comments section.

Michael Stevenson with Fiona Dora, University of Manchester

Business, Numbers, Money, People – Back from Frankfurt


Huge, busy, non-stop and a little bit manic were my impressions of my first visit to the Frankfurt Book Fair! As a Librarian I have attended quite a few conferences/trade fairs throughout my career, but none on the scale of Frankfurt. I had taken some good pointers and advice from experienced Frankfurt visitors, but even so I was unprepared for how many halls, exhibitors and visitors there were and how Frankfurt itself was taken over as a city by the event.

A colleague from the publishing sector imparted some sound advice to me before leaving for Frankfurt: pack a good pair of shoes; this was very sound advice indeed.   If I had been measuring distances I am sure I would have covered 10k over the two days.

The purpose of our visit was three-fold.  Firstly to hold a range of meetings with current partners and suppliers we are working with on the supply of e-textbooks to our students.  Secondly to meet potential new partners and build relationships with them. Thirdly, through attending various networking events, talks and through informal conversations with exhibitors, to widen our understanding and knowledge of the environment publishers work and do business in.

This third aspect was particularly interesting because what was evident at essentially a trade conference, where few librarian customers attend, was how debates and discussions are framed.  Perhaps understandably the major focus being the bottom line i.e. income and profit streams.

Hence discussions of “hot topics” such as Open Access, MOOC’s, Open Educational Resources often focused more on the threats these posed to publishers, as they can offer free or cheaper access to some of the very product lines they themselves are pushing.  At library conferences there is often a more nuanced conversation on these topics, but at this B2B trade fair, there was less of this and indeed less need for this.  How can we maintain and increase our sales is the bottom line!

This is not necessarily a criticism, but does shed light on why new products are often developed, especially new editions of textbooks or new journal titles, when feedback from many of our academics is that there are too many titles already!  Librarians whose major motivation is often what they perceive as the public good (or that of their students) can be slow to comprehend this publisher perspective.

The other thing that struck me was how large the academic publishing and scholarly communications sectors actually are and really how so many of the companies and institutions exhibiting and speaking rely on researchers and academics.   A whole publishing infrastructure is reliant on the outputs of these researchers either through dissemination or analysis of their work in a myriad of ways.  I suspect many of the academics themselves are oblivious of all this activity emanating from their own work and how many jobs and livelihoods emanate from this.  Without the researchers nothing else would exist!

We left Frankfurt much the wiser and much fatigued reflecting on what a different experience it was to a usual library related conference and with a far greater insight into how publishers operate.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

photo credit: Takahiro Kyono via flickr (license)

Frankfurt bound


Traditionally librarians (especially those from the UK) have not tended to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair as other, more library focused events and conferences, have taken precedence.   This may still be the case (and we will know more next week) but for those of us working on the Books Right Here Right Now programme over the last couple of years, a visit to the FBF was recommended  by a number of our contacts in the sector.

In addition, one of the main issues that struck us early on in the project was how distinct the textbook market and library e-book market were – even though our students wanted their libraries to provide them with textbooks. In essence they were (and often still are) two distinct markets with different product offerings and pricing models.  More often than not these markets are represented and sold by different departments in the same publishers.

One of the big goals of the project has been to better understand the environment that both publishers in general and textbook publishers in particular operate in.  Only with this understanding would we be equipped with the knowledge to negotiate deals and forge new library centred textbook acquisition and supply models.

To address these two issues a visit to the FBF was on our agenda for moving ahead with the project this year; hoping both to learn and share knowledge, insight and expertise with other visitors, speakers and exhibitors.

In addition some of the highlights we are looking forward to in Frankfurt include attendance at these talks:

  • The e-Textbook is dead – or is it?
  •  Evolution and revolution of the eBook standards: EPUB 3.1 and Portable Web Publications
  •  The PA and ALPSP hosted debate: Brexit, and the potential impact on Academic Publishing
  •  How to Use Behavioural Data to Understand Readers
  •  E-Books: Numbers, subscription models, analyses and more

These talks (plus other events), allied to a series of meetings and conversations will enable us to get the best out of visit and what we learn (and how we fare) will appear in future posts on this blog.  In the meantime do get in touch if you wish to meet up and have a chat next week.  I and my colleague Des Coyle will be in Frankfurt from Wednesday 19th – Thursday 20th October.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester

Contribute to the Books Right Here Right Now blog!


With our first semester now in full swing we thought it would be a good time to ask readers of this blog:  what are you up to?

As ever, we are actively seeking contributions from publishers, librarians, academics, students and all those involved or with an interest in teaching and learning.  In the past we have heard from colleagues in the United States, students, academic staff, publishers, and even the campus bookshop.

So if you, or someone you know, have an opinion to put forward on issues related to e-book provision for students, wider student reading, provision of core texts, publisher business models for e-books or future trends in this rapidly changing environment, please let us know.

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester

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


So autumn is here, along with our new and returning students.  Thousands of students now have their core texts embedded within their virtual learning environment, ready to study from over the course of the semester.  Before the summer (…how long ago that now seems!) we heard the views of two students who took part in our 2015/16 pilot and the finding from colleagues working on the ARFIS project on student reading preferences.  As ‘Welcome Week’ comes to an end and our students gear up for the academic year ahead, it seems a good time to revisit the aims of the Books Right Here Right Now project and how they hope to meet the needs of our students.

Central to the project’s aim of ‘reinventing recommended reading’ has been our e-book pilots – looking at innovative ways of ensuring that our students have access to the key textbooks for their courses.  Much of the discussion around reading preferences, including the opinions of our students, suggests that students enjoy the convenience of having e-books provided but still appreciate the experience of studying from a physical copy, with words like ‘relationship’ and ‘connection’ used to describe that experience.

So why focus on providing e-books?  As we’ll all recognise, many key textbooks are very expensive (in both print and electronic format) as they are a major source of revenue for academic publishers; in times where budgets across the University are under increased scrutiny, providing both print and electronic formats is not viable.  Increased tuition fees have created heightened expectations of the library’s provision, placing further strain on budgets.  Purchasing models has been a regular theme on this blog, showing that we haven’t achieved the perfect solution yet!

But enough of the negatives!  We believe that in providing an electronic copy of those key textbooks to each and every student on a course we offer an equality of access we would be unable to achieve otherwise.  This 1:1 ratio means that students who cannot afford to buy a copy for themselves are not at a disadvantage. Knowing that all students have access to the recommended content allows our academic staff to better plan and deliver their course.

Beyond the immediate benefits of convenient personal access, developments in e-textbook technology and content will hopefully help to foster a new ‘relationship’ and ‘connection’ with the text.  We’ve heard previously about ‘connected content’ and considered some of the possibilities a move from the shackles of physicality might provide.  It will be interesting to monitor whether these benefits will change the perceptions of e-books among students.

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester


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

A pizza for your thoughts…

Before the BRHRN blog takes a well-earned summer vacation we thought we’d leave you with some thoughts and themes from our pizza-powered student focus groups, looking at our semester 1 pilots.

focus group

The focus groups were facilitated by Becky Hartnup and Karen Coles; our partners at VitalSource.  Two sets of students were given questions and prompts on a range of aspects of our eTextbook provision, such as their knowledge of the scheme, how they have found using the eTextbooks provided, and whether they’d like to see the scheme repeated in the future.

One theme that we have seen in recent weeks is the issue of cost.  Our students said:

‘I was happy. I don’t have to pay for it. Don’t have to find it. I won’t use it after this.’

‘Good. I don’t have to buy it.’

‘Your grade does vary a lot if you have the book or you don’t. The cost does put you off (£50) and it can affect your grade.’

‘I don’t have much money to buy textbooks because it is very expensive.’

On the features of the eTextbooks and how the students used them:

‘I quite like to write things down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to learn. I find I prefer it because if I have downtime, on the bus, I can do some revision’

‘If you have them on the phone you go through making notes about relevant topics. Carrying them around is such a pain.’

‘I use out and about – on the bus, waiting for a friend. It’s convenient.’

Positively, the finance students in the group reported that their lecturer had shared notes. Others stated that links to the relevant reading were provided within the VLE.

On problems faced and improvements that can be made to future offerings:

Some of the titles made available in the scheme were PDFs.  These titles were not reflowable, and students stated that they had difficulty viewing tables and diagrams, particularly on smaller screens.  Unfortunately, one student found the difficulties to be a real deterrent:

‘Because I find the ebook really hard to use I try to use it not that often.’

Other issues mentioned were eye strain when reading for long periods and reduced engagement when reading from a screen.  Some students were aware that they could print, but saw this as an expensive option.

Our colleagues at VitalSource took away a number of things which I think are useful to all of us involved in eTextbook provision:

  • Ensure students are briefed on the level of experience they can expect and on customer services routes.
  • There is a lot of information to take in at the beginning of term! Refresher sessions could be provided at the start of each half term.
  • One university has set up a peer to peer support group where enthusiastic student users provide help to their cohort.

Finally, and bittersweet to librarians, a comment on the usefulness of eTextbooks:

‘I don’t have to go to the library.’

(We do more than just books you know!)

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester

Student preferences: Academic Reading Format International Study

computer book

In our previous two posts, Marwan and Joe provided us with an insight into what students at the University of Manchester think about the BRHRN e-textbook provision.  From simple positives, such as the savings made in not having to purchase course textbooks, to more complex ideas about the relationship between reader and text, the preferences of these two students were mixed.

Juliana Ríos Amaya and Jane Secker at the London School of Economics have recently published their findings on students’ preferences for academic reading.  Their report, ‘Choosing between print and electronic… Or keeping both? Academic Reading Format International Study’ represents the UK findings of an international study into student preferences in this area, ARFIS (on Facebook).

In researching student preferences, the authors surveyed 655 students from a number of UK universities.  Their results were divided into two categories: the first looking at behaviours or preferences which reflect student reading preferences; and the second with a focus on learning engagement.

In the first category, 42% of students strongly agreed and 28% agreed that they preferred their course materials in print format.  Looking at the reasons for this figure may elucidate Joe’s comments about the students’ ‘relationship’ with the text: 52% strongly agreed and 28% agreed that they can focus better on the text when in print; 42% strongly agreed and 29% agreed that they can remember information from their course readings when in print.

When it came to convenience, responses were split.  In response to the statement “It is more convenient to read my assigned readings electronically than to read them in print”, 25% of those surveyed agreed, with 27% in disagreement.  A respondent from LSE, in agreeing with the statement, commented that accessing course resources electronically “…saves carrying around a lot of paper”, echoing sentiments expressed by Marwan.  Other comments centred on the convenience in accessing electronic resources on the one hand, and the ease of using printed materials on the other.  Jane highlighted a comment in her blog post  on the findings, where the academic task being carried out influence the student’s preferences.  This tallies with Joe’s comments and his hunt for specific quotes and references.

The ARFIS UK findings also mirror feedback we have received from the BRHRN 2014/15 pilots.  While our students found it easier to read and take in information printed texts, they also found it much more straightforward to gain access to electronic resources, as well as finding them more convenient.  We will be looking at the feedback we received from our 2014/15 pilots in more detail in the near future.

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester

photo credit: Frank Farm via flickr (license)

Reading: ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’

This time out, University of Manchester student Joe Walsh gives us his opinions on e-books.

no time

Ain’t nobody got time for that… The popular phrase that went viral, I feel, is a fitting summary to the way the world works today and that includes education.  This a world in which people get frustrated if Google takes 3 seconds to load; 15 years ago I was quite content to wait a 20 minutes for dial up. This type of attitude can quickly spill into the rest of our lives including the way we learn. The thought of churning through textbooks just to find a few useful references seems like a nightmare and raises the question that surely there is a better way? I have found myself falling into the trap of using a variety of websites, offering links to a whole host of e-books on any subject you can imagine. These sites have proved useful on more than one occasion in finding exactly what I need for an assignment within a matter of minutes. This being said it would be hard to persuade myself to spend all that effort in rummaging through a never ending library, finding several books and then scavenging for that reference several hours later. You could argue that I am over exaggerating; however, if I asked you to find a specific quote in this blog post would you read through all of it or simply press Ctrl+F and then search for the key words?

To see another side to the page (see what I did there?); if one were to do as I asked they would miss that hilarious pun, along with the points I have mentioned throughout. If we do the same when it comes to academic research can we also miss out?  Are e-books a danger to our education system and can you really get the same experience from an e-book as a reliable paper back? There are those who claim that you can’t have the same ‘relationship’ with a text in digital form and there are those who enjoy that freedom to connect with the text to make annotations and to physically hold it. Overall not only do they find it easier to read but enjoy feeling part of the text and consequently get a much ‘richer’ experience. Perhaps that’s what it all comes down to; what experience the reader is looking for. I’m not saying we should read too much into this (stop me I’m on fire) but the truth is why can’t you have both? With software available now on web browsers such as Microsoft Edge you can make annotations on e-books just as easily as with pen and paper. If both were available within the library then students have the choice of either physical or digital. Film production companies realise that people will probably find their own digital copy, so they provide digital copies to go along with the DVD. Can’t publishers do the same with e-books? If both physical copies and digital links could be found in the library then students would have the choice like they always have: do it last minute and rush through or actually study and do the research through whatever medium suits them, their needs, and their preferences.

I’m not saying that this blog post is a page turner or a best seller (I couldn’t resist) but I am going off my own experience and the truth is that both ways are fine. Therefore, in this world of plenty, why are we arguing over which medium is best for our libraries, as I previously mentioned ‘Aint nobody got time for that’.

Joe Walsh, University of Manchester student

photo credit: Paul Downey via flickr (license)