Notes on ebooks and service design

Paul-Jervis Heath (Head of Innovation & Chief Designer, Digital Services) & the ebooks@cambridge Advisory Group meeting.

On 29th May the ebooks Advisory Group held an informal meeting with Paul-Jervis Heath to consider how service design tools might inform our thinking about ebooks for Cambridge University. We also assisted in the disappearance of some chocolates which Sarah Stamford had won at UKSG!


Paul opened the session by describing tools for service design.

The proposition – what is the service doing and what is its value? (eg John Lewis’ customer support).

How do parts of the service fit together, what is its structure?

What interactions take place and how is information provided?  These are the key “touchpoints” (eg webpage, library desk, tablet). TouchpointsProblems are often identified at the touchpoints and the temptation is to fix them there.  But often the service needs rethinking at a higher level to ensure changes are aligned with service goals and are consistent.

Designing a service is an ongoing process which requires collaboration, rather than delivering a fully-formed “correct” solution. This can be challenging in an academic context where the “right answer” is expected.

Paul emphasised the need to understand user needs through observational methods, rather than by asking people what they wanted.  Survey responses should also be treated with care as they tend to reflect what people think they are doing, or want, rather than real actions. Services should be built around customers’ actual needs and should be kept as simple as possible.

He noted the particular problems faced by libraries.  In terms of ebooks, students often don’t know what we offer or understand how to use them.  The revolution in ebook publishing in recent years has outstripped libraries’ ability to provide the quality product and access which they expect.

As students understand the concept of using print collections in libraries, Paul suggested we look for ways of linking our ebooks with them.  He mentioned placing dummy books on shelves, using QR codes, and offering an alert in the online catalogue when print copies are on loan (ie “Would you like to use the ebook instead?”).  He also suggested marketing the ebook as an opportunity for students to sample a text before deciding whether to make the journey to the library to use the print copy.  Here the group noted that students valued the 24/7 access to ebooks and saw them as being useful especially in emergency situations or when print was not available to them.

Paul had observed that students use ebooks together with print copies.  He was inclined to dismiss the evidence from students that reading from screens was uncomfortable and suggested these comments arose because it had been an accepted problem in the past when screen technology was not as advanced as it is now.  Some librarians disagreed, citing evidence from surveys that reading from screens for longer periods was still unpopular.  It may be that the way our current suppliers load the ebook screens with menu options and navigational tools is too distracting, especially when compared to the ease of reading a book on an e-reader.  Sometimes the reproduction of the text itself is poor quality, and some students may find it harder to adjust to studying a text onscreen when they are used to skimreading Wikipedia.

Paul suggested we should consider a joint print and ebook strategy to encourage publishers to improve their products.  The Group also considered the possibilities of using the expertise available within the University to provide online teaching and study materials.

Next steps baby steps

Learning from recent observational research that has been been done by Paul’s team and then potentially planning some further observational studies.  More information on how students discover and use ebooks could inform the future design of the ebooks@cambridge web pages, design of training materials and assessment of future library management systems, as well as giving a starting point for discussions with publishers about the design of academic ebooks and their platforms.


Academic Rights Press ebook trial

The Centre of South Asian Studies have arranged a free trial for Cambridge University staff and students to Academic Rights Press Asian ebooks on their iGLibrary platform. Access to these ebooks is controlled by IP address so only from university networked pcs on campus. The trial will end on the 30th June 2013.

The trial collections include ebooks from the following publishers and can be accessed from here:

1) Anmol
2) Burma Studies Collection
3) Culture Com (X eBridge)
4) Enrich
6) National Taiwan Uni Press
8) Paths International
9) University of Hawaii Press

The university already provides access to a collection of SIAM mathematical ebooks on this platform.

Please send feedback on the platform and any recommendations for purchase to Rachel Rowe ( with the Subject line: Ebook recommendations.


#ebooks2013 : New models, new opportunities, new tools

Last week I attended the one-day ebooks 2013 conference at UCL. The theme was new models, opportunities and tools, and I was keen to hear about new developments in the ever-changing world of ebooks.

The event started with a talk by Lorraine Estelle, CEO of JISC Collections.  She queried the use of terminology from the print world; it’s about e-access not e-lending, since students don’t see using ebooks as borrowing. Recommendations from the recent DCMS review of e-lending in public libraries included creating ‘frictions’ by limiting loans to one at a time, and seeing ebooks as deteriorating and needing to be repurchased. Lorraine argued that this is an old paradigm and compared it to a horseless carriage being limited to 5 mph and buying it hay.  

1900 Horseless Carriage

Image: 1900 Horseless Carriage by dok, 1 on Flickr

Lorraine’s next point was that £9000 student fees are a lot of money, and there is a need to meet student expectations. Coventry University tell students they don’t have to pay anything on top of this as the library provides each student with a copy of the textbooks needed for their first year. Print books were distributed last year, but they are trialling a small number of digital textbooks next year. Lorraine said that technology is the new opportunity here, and cited a presentation given at UKSG earlier in the year by paperless medical student Joshua Harding who integrates all his notes and books on his ipad.

In terms of new models, we are seeing the institution as textbook publisher with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and OERs (Online Educational Resources). Institutions make it, give it away free to their students and sell to others. Issues remain about how to reward the authors, and the investment and expertise needed, however it provides an opportunity to be innovative and come up with interactive content.

Next, Brian Hole from Ubiquity Press (a researcher-led scholarly open access publisher) gave a presentation about open access and scholarly publishing, explaining the Ubiquity Press model and giving examples of benefits offered by open access. He made the point that the social contract of science is to disseminate, validate, and allow further development. If you don’t do this it’s scientific malpractice.

Richard Wallis from OCLC then gave an interesting presentation about linked data for ebook discovery. Libraries no longer have a monopoly as the place to go for information, as most students now start their search with Google not the library catalogue. Libraries therefore need to be visible on the web of data so search engines can point people to their resources. Connections have been created in WorldCat using as this is the language used by major search engines like Google and Bing. For example the Facebook app for searching WorldCat brings in information from Wikipedia about the author. Libraries need to move from cataloguing to catalinking (in the words of Eric Miller), for example instead of copying and pasting an author spelling from an authority, we should link to the authority. Richard made the point that if we don’t do it the web will move on without us.

Robert Faber from Oxford University Press (OUP) talked about discoverability of content using Oxford Index as a case study. This site has standardised description in one place at item level and creates links and relationships across OUP content via overview pages and links to content. The web interface allows users to search across all OUP content. Robert mentioned the challenge of getting everything in one place, and using a taxonomy across OUP for the first time.

Will Russell from Royal Society of Chemistry commented that the future is multi-device and explained some of the ways RSC are delivering chemistry to their mobile audience. Innovative-sounding ideas include ChemGoggles which allows you to take a picture on your device of a chemical structure to receive information about the structure, or ChemSpider mobile app which allows to you draw a chemical structure and find out about it.

E-textbooks were a big theme, with Jeni Evans from VitalSource and Andy Alferovs from Kortext both giving presentations about them. Models allow e-textbooks to be used on multiple devices per student. They can be used online and downloaded for offline use and are accessible to braille readers and text to speech. Increasingly universities are embedding e-textbooks into their VLEs so that when a student logs into the VLE they see all the e-textbooks for their course. With EPUB 3 interactive content like quizzes can be synchronised across all the student’s devices.

What I found interesting about Andy’s presentation was his discussion of a progress bursary management scheme at University of East London to combat student retention problems. Students were given smartcards pre-loaded with money that could be spent on books and/or laptops, with one core e-textbook for each student already purchased with the smartcard. Andy presented a table showing correlation of spend on textbooks and class of degree obtained.


Image: ebook by teclasorg on Flickr

Caren Milloy from JISC Collections talked about the OAPEN Project.   Their primary aim is discoverability as it was realised that many of the open access books in the project were not clearly marked as open access. For example in Google searches for a book the first two results are usually Amazon and the publisher website, which often included price information and no link to the open access version. Caren talked about using the Crossmark identification service as a way to quality assure open access books and ensure that you are looking at the most up to date version e.g. if errata have been added. The record tab could also be used for recording DOI, OA fee, peer review, publication history, licence information.

Nick Canty from UCL Centre for Publishing delivered an interesting talk about social media and libraries. He gathered data in July-August 2012 from 6 national libraries: British Library (BL), Library of Congress (LC), Biblioteca Nacional de Espana (BNE), Bibliotheque national de France (BNF), National Library of Australia (NLA), National Library of Scotland (NLS). Nick stressed the need to evaluate positive outcomes rather than number of followers, likes or retweets as these quantitative measures don’t necessarily reflect engagement. As an example he cited a high-street women’s clothing retailer’s campaign to gain more Facebook likes – they did receive more likes, but many were not from potential customers.

A social media explanatory page listing the library’s official social media accounts is useful if there are fake accounts out there. Some imaginative uses of social media include competitions run by NLS on Facebook, rich content on BNE’s Facebook page which attracted many shares and likes, and good personalisation by BL such as using a picture from their current exhibition as their Twitter picture. In terms of other social media, YouTube views were low and there was little engagement on Tumblr or Pinterest, although Library of Congress’ creative commons images on Flickr were popular. Nick emphasised that fresh engaging content is vital, especially for Facebook and that we must find a balance between what people expect and what we can achieve.


Taylor & Francis ebooks just got faster

In response to customer feedback, Taylor & Francis ebooks have introduced new functionality which means you do not have to wait for a full PDF download to start reading an ebook.

You now have a choice of ways to access both DRM-free and DRM-protected titles. This has meant some changes to the way users open Taylor & Francis ebooks.

So, what does this mean for me?
The Open and Read button has been changed to Access.  When this is clicked, a pop-up will offer further options. Users are able to choose whether they want to access the content instantaneously, or wait a little longer for a full PDF download.

Most of our ebooks are DRM-free, which means that they allow unlimited concurrent users and there are no print/copy/paste/access restrictions but full copyright law applies.

This is what it will look like for a DRM-free title:


Some of our ebooks are DRM-protected, which means that they allow 20 or 50 concurrent users and there are restrictions on the amount that can be copied and printed. For DRM-protected titles, you will need to choose ‘standard access’ to open a PDF in order to copy and/or print. You can choose ‘download a copy’ to download an ebook for 3 days, but it is not possible to copy or print from a downloaded copy. For more details about the restrictions on DRM-protected titles see the ebooks@cambridge tips and instructions.

This is what it will look like for a DRM-protected title:


If you have any comments or queries, please let the ebooks@cambridge team know on or comment on this blog.


Enjoy Dawsonera ebook downloads for longer

Want to download a Dawsonera ebook? You can now choose whether to download it for 1 day or 2 days. Previously it was only possible to download for 1 day. Once the download period is over, you can download the ebook again if you need to.


The option to download for 2 days has been introduced on a trial period following feedback from users. Dawsonera ebooks come with a number of credits (uses) per year and each day of download uses up one credit. The ebooks@cambridge team will monitor the resulting credit usage, and may revert back to 1 day downloads if necessary.

Dawsonera ebooks can all be found via LibrarySearch or from the Dawsonera platform.

Please note that there are issues with display and functionality on the newly refreshed Dawsonera platform using Internet Explorer 8, which may prevent the option to select a 2 day download from appearing. It is recommended that you use a different browser, such as Firefox or Chrome.

If you have any comments or queries, please let the ebooks@cambridge team know on