Tag Archives: pilots

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)

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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Semester one pilots: an academic’s perspective

“Knowing the students had access, and there was no excuse to not engage with the text, gave me confidence that they would be prepared… it ensured that the assessment element of the module could be explicit to the content of the text.”

academic view 2

In our January e-book pilots update we mentioned that part of our evaluation would include consultations with our academic colleagues to gain their perspective on the pilots. This has provided valuable information, not only on how we should manage any future pilots, but also in understanding what impact seamless access has had (or could potentially have) for their teaching and the overall student experience.

One pilot was for a management and leisure module within Manchester Institute of Education. As the core text is also used across a number of other modules in other schools (meaning there are large cohorts of students competing to borrow the text from the Library), the academic colleague co-ordinating the module was keen to be involved and excited at the prospect of being able to guarantee access to the text for all of his students.

He felt the pilot was a very positive experience and appreciated the support of the Library in setting up the e-book within his Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), as well as providing supporting materials and running through the key features with his students. The book was easily accessible, the download options were straightforward and he saw great potential in the highlighting and sharing functionality of the text.

During our discussion the word “confident” came up many times.  He felt confident – knowing that all students had access to the text – to set week by week reading and was able to build links at appropriate points in his VLE to the relevant chapters. He felt much more confident when planning the assessment that this could be tailored specifically around the text and that the students could rely on the text to increase their level of thinking and understanding of the subject.

Given more time, he would have planned the teaching to make better use of the additional functionality. Although appreciating the highlighting feature, he was hesitant to highlight sections of the text for his students, concerned that they would limit their reading to these areas rather than exploring the text as a whole. However, he could see real potential for this to be used in seminars, group work or exam preparation. With regards to the future, he felt that this should be the way forward, although it would have (positive) implications for teaching:

“… to introduce texts in this way would require a cultural shift for teaching and for learning. It has an impact on how you teach, how you can build your teaching more around the text and its functionality to engage the students and add value not only to your course but to the student experience.”

On a final positive note, not one student contacted him to say they could not access the text – an academic’s dream!

Janette Watson, Academic Engagement Librarian, University of Manchester

photo credit: ISC Orientation Week 2nd Meeting Spring 2012 via photopin (license)

Planning for semester two


Time waits for no-one and working at an academic institution we started planning for semester two while semester one was just beginning.

For those of us working on the Books Right Here Right Now project (#BRHRN), this meant that in October 2014 we were already thinking about additional pilot projects that would run from January 2015.

There were three main drivers for this:

  • To gather further evidence to support project recommendations, particularly in terms of student usage of the e-books
  • To maintain the visibility and impetus of the project
  • To offer pilots as a potential “carrot” to schools and individual academics as part of our wider academic consultations

Once funding was secured from the Library’s content budget, the process of identifying suitable titles began.

To add more value to the project and broaden our evidence base, we decided that candidates for participation in semester two pilots would need to be either a school or discipline – or publisher – that we had not already worked with in previous pilots.

Interestingly, it appears that the increased visibility and momentum of our project has led to some encouraging developments in terms of the Library’s negotiations with publishers. Publishers are no doubt seeing our involvement in student text acquisition as another potential revenue source, while we believe that academics are becoming increasingly aware of the role and value of the Library in this area through our ongoing programme of academic engagement.

As a result, publishers who were previously unwilling to work with us are starting to come on board and we are having more success in terms of negotiating new pricing models. We are also beginning to be included in discussions about potential deals that previously involved only the schools and publishers.

As a result of all this activity, the following developments are taking place in semester two:

  • We are running nine additional pilots, providing approximately 2000 more of our students with their own e-book
  • Disciplines newly involved in the pilots include Nursing, Physics, Materials and Chemical Engineering
  • All but one of the pilots are using the VitalSource platform to provide the text directly through Blackboard, the students’ virtual learning environment

We will be studying the usage figures closely and collecting feedback from students and academic staff in a number of ways. As with the semester one pilots, we’ll report back on how things are going here… so keep your eyes peeled for updates!

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Semester one pilots: an update

PhotoFunia-6959e6f The University of Manchester Library launched 12 e-book pilots at the start of semester one last year. So far, anecdotal feedback from academics and students has been very positive but we know that we will need much more rigorous analysis of the value of the pilots – financially and pedagogically – if we are to build on the project. To this end, we are assessing the effectiveness of the pilots using the following information:

  • Analytical usage data from the technology intermediary, VitalSource
  • Survey data from students on the 12 modules
  • Consultations with the academics leading the modules

We are collating the responses from students and staff and will report on these over the coming months but we do have some initial usage data back from VitalSource:

  • The proportion of students opting to access and download (“redeem”) the e-books in the pilots ranges from 21.3% to 88.5%
  • Of these redemptions, the proportion of students who have actually used the book at least once ranges from 11% to 87.6%
  • Very few students are using the advanced functions – such as highlighting and note-taking – with most simply accessing the text online
  • The majority of the page views are via PC or laptop and very few students accessed the texts via mobile devices (smartphones, tablets etc)

While access and subsequent use of e-books across the pilots followed expected patterns (with the highest levels of access in disciplines that rely most on core texts and directed reading), use of the added value features – such as downloading onto personal devices and note-taking functionality – was a lot lower than anticipated.

It is too early to draw any definite conclusions as many of the pilots will run for the whole academic year. We will need to do some more analysis when the final results are in – there may be a spike in usage for the recent January exam period, for example. Nevertheless, these initial findings will inform the way we implement the semester two pilots and work with the academics involved.

Based on our findings, our main objective will be to make sure that students are downloading the e-books rather than just accessing them online. Perpetual access to the texts and the enhanced functionality are only available to students when they download the books onto a device. We want to make sure students get the maximum benefit from these deals… and avoid any nasty surprises at the end of their modules when the core text suddenly disappears!

#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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Working with e-books: a law student’s view

While innocently surfing the internet, the average student will inevitably run into advertisements encouraging them to buy – among other things – new books. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly in this digital age), these ads seem to be targeted towards their course and specifically towards their recommended textbooks.

The irony is that by using the same technology, students can access these books at a greatly discounted price – or even for free. Indeed, as a first year law student, two of my four core textbooks are available as part of the library’s e-book pilot, saving each student on my course about £60. However, having access to core text books online does more than just save money.

law of contract

It is often argued that there are aspects of physical books that e-books can’t replace and traditional bookworms (me included) have been apprehensive about using a computer every time we need to get some work done. When we were kids, the computer and the TV were seen as a luxury, to be completely switched off during school days, so using a computer to prepare for seminars or take notes can still seem like a bit of a paradox.

However, as many cases and articles have become available online, the lengthy process of searching for them in books has become much faster, while it is easier to look up words or concepts one may not understand when working online.

As we have become used to this new way of studying we have learned that e-books can also add a new dimension to the act of reading (and can even be an improvement on print).

Having a book ‘floating about’ on the internet makes it possible to access it anywhere and at any time, a massive advantage when the alternative is to haul around a huge volume for the sake of the few pages you might need.

You can highlight or take notes on an e-book just as you can on a print copy – with the added bonus of mess-free erasing and editing. There are also some subject-specific applications that can be found only in the e-book version. One of our law textbooks, for example, comes with a ‘scenario simulator’ where you can apply the different concepts that you are reading about to real life situations.

While getting used to e-books may be challenging at first (not least having to contend with online distractions and ignore endless social network notifications!) it has definitely been worthwhile. From saving time and money to simulating the beauty of a real book in a much lighter form, e-books are growing in popularity – and may even be preferable to their paper counterparts.

Marina Iskander, first year law undergraduate

Manchester Business School e-book pilot project

high demand

A common complaint from university students everywhere is that there are never enough copies of course texts to go around. The rise of the e-book has the potential to change this and Manchester Business School’s e-book pilot project was initiated with the aim of improving core text access and enhancing the student experience.

What we did

In Semester Two of 2013/14, the Library ran a pilot project with Karen Niven, Lecturer in Organisational  Psychology and e-Learning co-ordinator for Manchester Business School, working with Pearson Books and the VitalSource e-textbook service. 400 students on the undergraduate ‘Introduction to Work Psychology’ course were offered access to their core text as an e-book, available on any device for the whole semester, with annotations made by the lecturer to guide the students’ reading.

To help us assess the impact of the project, students were asked to provide feedback during and at the end of the course unit. We were also able to obtain data from VitalSource’s e-book analytics.

The lecturer also collected student feedback at the end of the course unit while there was a formal question in the course unit survey on core text provision.

What we found

The amount of student feedback was low but we did get the following positive comments on the pilot:

  • “The online textbook was a great idea”
  • “Having access to the e-book with the teacher’s comments was a great opportunity, we should have that in all modules!!”
  • “The book being online and not having to spend £60 just to purchase it. And we could also access Karen’s notes which was great”

Anecdotal evidence from the lecturer, supported by data from VitalSource, confirmed that usage of the ebook stayed low throughout the semester – including the exam period when increased usage might have been expected.

The lecturer felt that the pilot was a “good experience”, that being able to annotate core reading was beneficial to the learning experience of the students and that e-book provision would have merit even if the specific module being used for the pilot did not provide much data on this occasion.

The aim of our e-book pilots

One of the main elements of our core text strategy project is to investigate alternative ways of providing e-book texts to our students.

The established models of electronic core text provision do not meet the needs of our students and teaching colleagues or the ambitions of the library service. We need to find new ways of acquiring e-books and making them available to our users.


To explore new ways of delivering core texts we have instigated a number of pilot projects for the academic year 2014-15 with the following guiding principles:

  • Every student must have an individual copy of the e-book for the duration of their module, with no restrictions on usage during this period
  • These titles must be seamlessly accessible via Blackboard (our virtual learning environment platform)
  • Acquisition of and payment for these titles must be based on actual usage, not notional student numbers
  • Titles must be available for download onto personal devices

We also intend to fulfil the following ambitions:

  • To involve a wide range of disciplines in the pilot projects (moving beyond the traditional business and health science subjects)
  • To collect meaningful quantitative and qualitative data and user feedback that will allow us to draw firm conclusions about usage and value for money

Getting to this stage has taken a lot of time and effort in negotiating with publishers, technical intermediaries and academic and e-learning colleagues across the University.

We now have twelve pilot projects either running or set to run in Semester Two and we have already learned a lot – our experiences and findings from these pilots will appear on this blog in due course so watch this space!

photo credit: phradaka via photopin cc

The challenge of improving core text provision

The University of Manchester Library serves one of the largest student populations in the UK and a major challenge we face is meeting the core text needs of all students across a wide and diverse range of courses and teaching provision.

Through student surveys and consultations, we know that our students would like all core texts to be made available electronically and that they want all course reading to be available online and in one place.

Our students also tell us that there are not enough textbooks in the library, while they regard paying for textbooks as a ‘hidden cost’ they are increasingly unwilling to meet themselves.


How can we solve this problem? 

To respond to these issues, the University of Manchester Library has launched a major strategy project with the aim of:

  • Improving the student experience by increasing the provision of electronic core texts
  • Developing flexible models for the purchase of – and provision of – core texts at Manchester
  • Improving students’ understanding of what they are required to read and to manage their expectations regarding which books they are required to purchase
  • Investigating the options for providing seamless access to recommended reading

About the project

Books Right Here Right Now is an innovative project that will investigate a range of solutions for improving access to core texts.

The project team consists of a range of experts from across the Library and beyond and will focus on the following:

Identifying core texts at Manchester: knowing what students are being directed to read is a challenge in itself! We aim to map core texts at the University of Manchester and make recommendations on future models for working with schools.

Reading behaviour at Manchester: gaining a better understanding of how students access their reading, and their preferences for different formats or devices, will underpin the recommendations made by this project.

E-book pilots: an integral part of ‘Books Right Here…’ is to run a series of pilots across a variety of programmes with a range of publishers. We are no longer wedded to the model of providing institutional access to e-books in perpetuity and are looking at options for providing each student with an electronic copy of their core text for the period of time that they are required to access it. Running pilots in semester one and two of 2014/15 will allow us to evaluate different models and to assess student reading behaviour and their experiences and views on using e-books in this way.

New models for purchasing core texts: we recognise that one size does not fit all with an institution like Manchester. Based on the outcomes of the project we hope to recommend a new model (or models) for purchasing core texts at an institutional or faculty level.

A reading strategy for the University of Manchester: the final output of the project will be the development of an institutional reading strategy to standardise reading lists and reading list terminology, ensuring clarity for students and realistic expectations in the provision of resources.

We know it’s an ambitious project but we’re really looking forward to rising to the challenge so watch this space!

Sarah Rayner, Project Manager

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