#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 schema.org 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.


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