Tag Archives: survey

Experts and experiments: focusing on the future

Guinea reading

Exploring new purchasing models and methods of book provision inevitably involves experimentation and the unknown. To some extent students become ‘guinea pigs’, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Potential difficulties—for instance, installing new software, using unfamiliar formats and figuring out the best workflows—are balanced by the user-centric and thought-provoking nature of our experiments.

Our hypothesis is that the models we are exploring will benefit undergraduates and the University in both the short and long term. No instrument, and no piece of research, is ever value-neutral. Built into our project is an unavoidable, subtly political fact: students want to keep their costs down, and so does the University (including the Library). Both parties want to be smart about budgets while keeping up-to-date with useful technologies.

The assumptions made by Books Right Here Right Now are justifiable ones; local expertise is cross-referenced with a range of primary and secondary sources. However, the project must continue to question, reflect, and add to its knowledge store while recognising that even the most tightly controlled experiments leave room for the unexpected.

Exploring students’ reactions and attitudes is essential to evaluating the project’s success. Are their perceptions in harmony with our own? How do they rate our e-books in relation to others? What (if anything) do they believe are the benefits of e-books? Do e-books occupy a ‘comfortable’ space in academic reading routines? What might they tell us that’s surprising, or even counter-intuitive?

Seeking answers to these and other questions, we triangulated data gathered via two generally efficient and well-understood instruments: the (online) questionnaire and the focus group. Links to the questionnaire were distributed to 4480 students across 23 modules; three focus groups separated by Faculty were delivered in a semi-structured format, with time allocated to a demonstration and discussion of the e-books, something executed in collaboration with the Library’s Digital Systems and eLearning teams.

Challenges included gaining a sufficient response to the questionnaire in order to produce valid statistics, finding enough participants for the focus groups at a busy time of year, and putting aside our ‘belief’ in the project to avoid asking ‘leading’ questions. Happily, all difficulties were overcome and much of what the students told us confirmed that we are offering something valuable, relevant and defensible.

Likewise, in terms of research methods, findings from the questionnaire and the focus groups complemented one another. There were a few surprises along the way – for instance, there is a distinct lack of interest in accessing illegal copies of e-books and a general lack of experience using e-book readers for either recreational or scholarly reading. There is also a huge amount of pragmatism and an appreciation by students that what you choose isn’t always dictated by what you prefer but by what is available.

In the near future, we will be sharing and discussing some of our findings while using them to inform future project activities. Watch this space!

Kathleen Menzies, Data and Research Assistant, University of Manchester Library

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!

Our survey said…

The Books Right Here project is concerned with meeting student expectations in relation to Library provision of recommended textbooks.  A review of recent survey results makes interesting reading as the themes that emerged around course reading and e-books are definitely in line with the issues the project is trying address.

The University of Manchester Library conducted two major pieces of market research in 2013/14 and had over 2,000 responses, giving us a statistically significant bank of information to draw upon.

One piece of research looked at students’ perceptions of Library services; the other focused specifically on the digital environment and also included academics.


So what did our users tell us?

 Students’ expectations of course reading

  • Over 90% of students felt that for core course reading the Library should make an electronic copy available to all students on the course
  • Only 46% of students stated that they were happy to buy books for their course
  • The vast majority of students thought that all of the books on their reading lists should be available in the Library (91%) and that all of their reading lists should be available online and on one place (86%)

How are students reading?

  • When asked questions about the way they read, most students stated that they read a mix of electronic and hard copies with the overall preference leaning towards electronic
  • Users also expressed frustration that e-books currently accessed via the Library did not have the functionality and advantages that they expected in electronic texts, such as printing, downloading and highlighting capability

What can we learn from this? 

It is often reported that students prefer printed books but it may be that they are unimpressed by the e-book experience that is currently offered to them.

Our students are telling us that they want the Library to provide more books in electronic format for their core reading but they are dissatisfied with their experience of using the e-books we currently provide.

One of the questions we intend to address is whether providing seamless access to an interactive e-book via Blackboard will make for a better user experience.

We are going to investigate this and the other issues raised by investigating students’ experiences of taking part in our e-book pilots.

Sarah Rayner, Project Manager

photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc