Tag Archives: conferences

Ebooks 2015: etextbooks, elearning, econtent


The Ebooks 2015 conference was held at University College London (UCL) in May 2015 and featured talks from academic libraries, JISC and publishers, with case studies from both the UK and USA.

A number of speakers addressed the issue of universities and libraries producing their own e-textbooks,some of which came about through JISC-funded projects. Roger Tritton, interim Head of Projects at JISC Collections, outlined the advantages that e-books bring to universities in helping to address the key issues of reusability, accessibility, interoperability and durability.

Sarah Lippincott, Program Manager of the Library Publishing Coalition in the States, has been tracking similar developments in the USA, while Kate Pitcher from the State University of New York at Geneseo presented a case study for Open SUNY Textbooks.

Other interesting examples of e-book developments included the partnership between Proquest and Cengage Australia, in which the initial pilot made seven e-textbooks available and was so successful that Cengage released another 20 titles in 2015, including many first runs.

Andrejs Alferovs, Managing Director of Kortext, presented on “Widening Access to Digital Textbooks”, looking at how teachers and learners are using digital textbooks online or via download. He showed how various tools can enhance the experience of reading to note-taking and how the creative use of content and platforms will evolve to enhance interaction. He also demonstrated the ways in which e-book usage data can help understand learning processes and inform teaching practice.

Slides from all of the presentations are available on the UCL website.

Lisa Wood, University of Manchester Library

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Keeping up with the Joneses?


I recently attended Talis Insight 2015 and was particularly interested in a number of presentations from other university libraries discussing their own recent e-text initiatives. A central aim of our Books Right Here Right Now project is to gain a better understanding of how other institutions are tackling e-text provision, finding out about the scope and scale of their projects, the challenges they have faced and their future direction.

It was very interesting to see presentations from the University of East London, Plymouth University, Coventry University and Middlesex University and to realise that despite the similarity of factors driving the projects there are a variety of approaches being taken. Rather than summarising each presentation in detail, I have drawn the strands together into a few key observations:

  • Many of these initiatives have been university-led rather than library-led. The pilots at Coventry mostly closely reflect what we have been doing at Manchester but were a response to a wider university initiative to provide students with free texts. At Manchester, the Library is leading the project and we believe we are best placed in this case to influence its direction and negotiate better e-book deals.
  • Kortext has been the preferred supplier and negotiations with publishers tend to be via a third party such as Kortext or John Smith’s. At Manchester, we have been trialling VitalSource but we are very interested to learn about the reasons for the decisions other institutions have taken.
  • The biggest challenge for all institutions has been to work out which modules are running, who the module co-ordinators are, how many students are expected to take the module and which core text is required. As one presenter noted, “It shouldn’t be that hard!” but for various reasons getting hold of this information is less easy than expected.
  • Timely communication and ongoing technical support and advocacy are essential to ensure academic staff and students know when and where their e-texts are available, how to access them and how to download the texts to get the best functionality.
  • Further research is needed to really understand students’ (and academics’) reading behaviour and preferences.

So what did I learn? Firstly, it is not a case of “keeping up with the Joneses”. What we are doing at Manchester – although very much in line with other initiatives – is different in terms of looking beyond the provision of free textbooks to changing the model by which core texts are purchased and provided. Secondly, it is good to know that we were aware of the other initiatives and weren’t missing anything in terms of our project benchmarking. Finally, it is very reassuring to know that all institutions are facing the same challenges and are open to discussing and sharing experiences to find solutions.

Janette Watson, University of Manchester Library

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NAG 5th Collection Development Seminar for Academic Libraries: Collaboration and Innovation

As a regular attendee at this National Acquisitions Group (NAG) conference, I was delighted to see that e-textbooks featured on this year’s programme. A library perspective was supplied by the University of East London (UEL) and a supplier perspective by Vitalsource.

Libby Homer from UEL outlined the evolution of their textbook offer to students. Having initially implemented a print-based solution to provide free copies of the key textbook for each module to their students, by 2014 they were providing all their new undergraduates with a tablet on which these key texts were freely accessible via the Kortext app or online (second and third years still received hard copies).  Library staff offered support to students, both in using the devices and accessing content.


UEL are now investigating the pedagogical aspects of e-textbook provision and gathering more student feedback. Initial feedback on reading preferences appears to echo that featured in a previous post, with students generally preferring print: interestingly the percentage of students preferring print to electronic was significantly lower among the first year cohort (who were provided with free e-books) than it was for second and third years.

Jeni Evans of Vitalsource outlined the supplier perspective, providing impressive statistics on the number of e-textbooks delivered in the UK in 2014. This was followed by a discussion of business models, analytics and e-book formats.

At the University of Manchester, we have negotiated with publishers directly and used Vitalsource as the delivery platform but alternative models are available. For example, Vitalsource can  buy content from the publishers and sell it back to the library.

Jeni presented Vitalsource analytics that supported our own experience in the pilots we have been running: users overwhelmingly accessed content online rather than downloading it to a device, access via Android devices is relatively small and less than 1% of the pages accessed are then printed out.

The remainder of Jeni’s presentation outlined how the electronic versus print debate is set to be radically altered by developments in e-book technology. Making more content available via EPUB 3.0, for example, would improve the experience for readers using mobile devices and the enhanced interactivity could alter students’ views on the limitations of e-books for study.

Other highly informative presentations included the use of reading list systems at King’s College London and Edinburgh and the approach to collection development at Leeds University Library following their restructure. Conferences such as this are a great opportunity to discuss progress with colleagues at other institutions facing the same challenges and engaging in similar initiatives.

Des Coyle, University of Manchester Library 

VitalSource Northern Summit


“Just the facts, ma’am.”*

I recently attended the VitalSource Northern Summit which provided an interesting forum for discussions around improving e-book provision within the higher education (HE) sector.

Thankfully – as the presentations showed – things are moving on from truisms about uncertainties and fluid markets, with evidence of distinct and navigable landmarks emerging out of proverbially choppy waters. Principal amongst them were statistics indicating how students are using the material offered to them, dashing some commonly held assumptions (not least my own!).

Only 1% of material on the VitalSource platform is actually printed out. Relatively few students download material at all, let alone to a multiplicity of devices (something borne out by data gathered so far for the pilots we’re undertaking in Manchester), with well over half the material simply accessed online.

Furthermore, the threat to publishers (and bookshops) of a disappearing student spend may be considerably less than feared. Phil Gee from Plymouth University pointed out figures they’d recently garnered: a third of their students don’t buy any books at all; the remaining two thirds have a mean number of three purchases, while the overall average expenditure of around £60.00 per student is distorted by the traditionally heavier spend of medics.

With annual student fees of £9000 now an established feature of the academic landscape – and with institutions committing to “no hidden student costs” as a result – this baseline figure for student spending on books is unlikely to rise in the immediate future.

The guaranteed spend of an institution in a pressurised market might therefore be seen in a rather more attractive light than the suspicion with which it is often viewed, as well as affording new opportunities for add-ons that do generate revenue. The most obvious of these – a realistically priced Print on Demand service – is something being investigated by VitalSource. Similar options offered by the likes of Springer have been well-received by users at the University of Manchester.

Evidence-based pragmatism will have to be the order of the day in negotiating new payment models, but the opportunity to advance towards guaranteeing access to texts for all students – regardless of distance, time and financial constraints – is surely one that should be grasped.

Ian Fishwick, University of Manchester Library

*Evidence of course indicates that the “Just the facts…” tagline associated with Dragnet was never actually spoken in the series.

Dragnet title screen” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

#happilyeverafter? The Scottish Library and Information Council eBooks conference


The 13th annual eBooks conference was held at the University of Strathclyde on 5 September 2014, featuring talks from public and academic libraries as well as publishers. The conference hashtag was #happilyeverafter and one of the main areas of discussion was whether – with the development of e-readers and improvements in functionality – it would be “happily ever after” for the e-book.

Keynote speaker Gerald Leitner of EBLIDA (European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Associations) raised some interesting points about the growing trend for e-books and the legal ramifications of e-book licensing. He argued that the practice of publishers deciding which texts go into particular collection bundles represented a threat to freedom of choice and could restrict the rights of citizens to free access to information.

With the public largely unaware of this issue, libraries need to get better at communicating their concerns and pressing for political and judicial engagement on the subject. Further information on EBLIDA’s Right to e-Read campaign is available on their website.

Collaboration and communication were two major themes of the conference. Libraries need to have a positive relationship with publishers and suppliers to ensure that their users can enjoy the full benefits of access to electronic and printed books.

This was emphasised by Richard Parsons, Wendy Walker and Jeremy Upton of SCURL (Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries) in their talk on eCollection development for Scotland. This focused on the lessons learned by SCURL in creating a consortium of Scottish universities to purchase e-books, with the aim of allowing equal access to resources for all higher education students and staff.

At the beginning of 2014, SCURL secured five deals with publishers (Palgrave, Elsevier, Wiley, Sage and Oxford University Press) to make approximately 30,000 Digital Rights Management (DRM)-free e-books available to Scottish universities.

The group are currently evaluating the first year’s progress but the lessons learned so far included:

  • Think about timing – January is not a good time to launch as students are halfway through their academic year!
  • Make resource discovery a central feature – emphasise the importance of MARC records and resource discovery tools in your tender document.
  • Single payments for multiple deals can bring greater efficiencies and cost savings – the group found that the institutional cost for access to 28,000 e-books equated to the cost of 2,200 print books, with the huge benefit of the e-books being available across all institution.
  • Streamline activity – use one organisation to manage payments; work on a shared set of common data; use the same authentication model.

I was struck by the potential for other consortia to do something similar to benefit all users within a region. The opportunity to provide enhanced and improved access to e-books – not just in higher education but in public libraries too – is incredibly exciting. By putting collaboration and communication at the forefront of our collection strategies and our negotiations with publishers and vendors we have the chance to really enhance the benefits that e-books offer.

Rachel Birds, Electronic Resources Assistant, University of Manchester Library

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