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.


3 thoughts on “Notes on ebooks and service design

  1. Pingback: Notes on ebooks and service design | ebooks@cambridge | fred zimny's serve4impact

  2. Pingback: Notes on ebooks and service design | ebooks@cam...

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