Meeting on the ledge

(or why I don't get out much…..)

Course reading

For a while now I’ve thought that libraries will eventually be involved in supplying textbooks to individual students as well as having copies for loan, and a number of recent developments have suggested that this is now beginning to happen.  A new joint pilot venture between Ingrams and Coventry University will supply first year undergraduates at Coventry with their textbooks free as part of their course fees. As an alternative model a number of publishers are working with JISC on an e-textbook model which will be available to all students on a module for that duration of that module. Lastly, at the recent Dawsons Day in Manchester I heard how Dawsons had worked with the UEA library to supply students with course textbooks. Of course, this is what the Open University has been doing for some courses for years (and as a former OU student I’m very aware of how much easier it makes life for the part-time off-campus student!) but it is now happening for full time students as well.

This indicates some interesting directions for UK Higher Education. As shown by the rise of reading list software such as Talis Aspire and rebus: list the reading list is becoming more central to the learning process.  Students are reading only what is on the module reading lists (‘plus ca change..’ some might say). However in this fee-driven environment, students do not view textbooks as an unavoidable expense. Instead they expect libraries to buy them in sufficient numbers for all students on a module to access a copy whenever they want. This is financially impossible for most libraries, and of course was causing a decline in sales for publishers. Therefore, assuming that the cost is not coming from normal library funds, the model of supplying textbooks as part of the course fees works to the benefit of  the students, the library and the bookseller. Moreover, if the university represents it as a benefit to the student, it possibly gets it some competitive advantage to its rivals (ie other universities which don’t do this). This works for both paper and ebooks, and indeed the logistics makes the latter prefereable from the point of view of the supplier. As it is already highly experienced in dealing with book suppliers and copyright law, the library is the obvious part of the university to play the role of arranging all this (possibly in co-operation with IT if the loading of ebooks onto devices is envisaged).

Of course, these ideas may seem like nonsense to many in other parts of the world. I was recently talking to 2 american librarians who told me that their library has very few copies of textbooks, and that students expect that they must purchase their own textbooks. I can only guess at the reasons for the difference in student attitudes (but it does help to explain what has been a great mystery to UK library staff who have to work with US LMS designed with little understanding of why or how a ‘Short Loan’ collection is run or why it is even needed!).

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December 10, 2012 Posted by | Libraries, Universities | | Leave a comment

UK version of the Kindle

According to the BBC news, Amazon has at last released its Kindle ebook reader for the UK market. This is combined with the release of the latest update of the Kindle,  which is lighter and has more storage. Since release in 2007 the Kindle has been available only via Amazon’s US website but it is now also available from the UK website with more ebooks aimed at the UK market. This is an interesting move, especially as the Kindle is currently out of stock on the US version of the website (has all stock been diverted to the UK warehouses?). There’s a downloading arrangement with Vodaphone over their 3G service or a cheaper wi-fi only version.

It comes at a time when ebooks seem to have come to prominence (again?). Amazon say they are selling more ebooks than hardbacks – an important indicator but as most people buy paperbacks not quite epoch-changing just yet. More significantly, Apple’s iPad release a few weeks ago poses something of a market threat. The iPad of course isn’t just an ebook reader, more of a hand-held multifunctional device, but it can be used as an ebook reader . The Kindle is optimised for one purpose, and its e-ink technology probably makes it better for this one purpose than the iPad, but I suspect most people would rather carry one device on a train journey than 2? Amazon sensibly have also made available a Kindle reader app for the iPad, indicating that they’re hedging their bets.

Although several libraries have experimented with ebook readers and handheld devices the best course of action still seems unclear. For years we’ve supplied DRM-restricted ebooks viewable over the web (some with time-limited download options) but I’m not sure when one physical platform will emerge, and when we can expect users to start adopting it. I suspect I won’t be sitting on the fence for much longer however……

July 29, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | , , | Leave a comment

E-Books and strange cases

With the Kindle seemingly becoming hot property, and new ebook reader devices appearing on almost a daily basis, Dan D’Agostino has written a thought- provoking blog on how the latest developments may affect libraries. To summarise (apologies to him if  this reflects my interpretation of the article not what he wrote!), he suggests that by getting involved some years back, libraries have gone for the wrong technology path: users want e-books they can download onto their readers not e-books they can only read on a networked PC on campus. Moreover, by restricting our users to usage on a networked PC, the users are only scanning the material rather than reading it.

I have reservations on both points. Firstly, some ebook platforms do allow downloads – I know of Netlibrary and Dawsonera which allow time-limited pdf downloads which are usable on most ebook readers that I’m aware of. Secondly, I doubt that most UK HE undergraduates do more than scan any book, whether paper or electronic. They are looking for the information to fulfill their immediate need, so they grab those few facts (and hopefully don’t plagiarise them!) . Few undergraduates have the time to read books in full and I suspect that this has been true for longer than most academics would want to admit.

However the blog is useful in putting forward that just maybe a new platform is at last emerging (I’m not sure how many false starts it has had!) and that libraries need to do something about it. We need to keep up the pressure on e-book suppliers to allow time-limited downloads. We also need to become the recognised place for information on campus about this technology (if we don’t do this someone else will). I’m not sure I want to get too involved in the details yet: there seem to me to be too many competing formats for both the data and the ebook readers, but maybe that Open University model of issuing each user with the basic study materials for his/her course in electronic format on Day One is getting closer for the rest of us.

January 8, 2010 Posted by | Libraries | | Leave a comment

E-Books and ownership

Kindle e-book reader

Kindle e-book reader

A rather interesting story has just emerged about Amazon’s Kindle and e-book versions of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm. There is a well-researched account of it at Copyfight. From my reading of this, Amazon distributed the e-books and then found out that the third party which had made them available via the Kindle store didn’t have the rights necessary to make them available. Hence Amazon pulled them from the store, removed them from user’s Kindles and gave them a refund.

I don’t own a Kindle, but if I did I would be worried when I found that something I thought I’d bought was removed from my device without asking me. That ‘purchase’ of an e-book becomes something more like a ‘license to view’, and even the ‘ownership’ of an e-book reader becomes questionable when Amazon can access it and delete items without authorisation. However on the other hand,  as the e-books weren’t fully legal they were in a sense stolen property, and as such the moral rights become blurred. I wouldn’t claim to be a lawyer and I would imagine that Amazon must have taken legal advice before taking any action.  In my own mind I’m undecided where rights here should lie – I sympathise with the people who bought the e-books in good faith, but I can also understand that this was a breach of copyright.  I wonder how many more new questions of this kind await us as we move to new forms of media?

July 23, 2009 Posted by | General | , | 1 Comment