Can you describe your role at University of Victoria Libraries and your observations around eBook usage in recent years?
I’m the Associate University Librarian, Learning and Research Resources. In this role I oversee management of our collections, both print and electronic, which includes our Acquisitions and Metadata units. Additionally, within my portfolio I work closely with our liaison librarians who provide research consultations, instruction and subject specific collection development.
Prior to my current role, I was Acquisitions & E-resources Librarian for 12 years (serving on the national consortium CRKN - Content Strategy Committee), so I’ve been involved with licensing for many years. I’ve watched these licenses evolve and observed how they are changing with the rise of Open Access and students’ expectations about the availability and accessibility of content. There’s been a lot of change over the past few years and more demands on the library to come up with creative solutions that will allow content to be readily accessible and as barrier-free as possible which presents an ongoing challenge for us. We know that there’s a cost associated with producing high quality publications - whether that’s the researchers time, or preserving and disseminating them. The question is: ‘What should that cost be’?
When it comes to students, there’s a desire to address the costs associated with textbooks and a campaign has been running on our campus for the last few years to raise awareness and encourage instructors to provide more affordable options. Responding to that, the University of Victoria Libraries have partnered with other departments, including the campus Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation group (LTSI) and the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS), to provide grants for the creation of open education resources (OER). When we first purchased Springer’s Engineering eBook collection it was a really pleasant surprise for faculty in our Engineering Department to discover that as part of having access to this, their students could take advantage of the MyCopy option and order print copies of the title for just $24.99. The University of Victoria Libraries was an early adopter of Springer eBooks from day one and I’ve always referred to their model of unlimited users and no digital rights management as the model that other publishers should follow. It just doesn’t make sense to put unnecessary barriers and restrictions on content.
The library has been buying eBooks from Springer since 2006, and one of our first eBook licenses came from the publisher. We purchased the Springer collection first (STEM packages) and then we wanted to provide access to humanities and social sciences packages, so we purchased the Palgrave collection which was later acquired by Springer Nature. Our collection now covers a wide range of subjects across all disciplines – it’s very important that we have broad representation of all subject areas.
Have all of the library’s publications moved online now?
All of our Springer and Palgrave publications have now moved exclusively online. We also have a ‘print book approval plan’ and as a result of that we’ve seen the number of print titles we acquire annually declining. But at the same time, the number of eBooks we’re purchasing is growing. Today, our total number of acquisition titles is close to exceeding what we would have purchased in print alone 10 years ago. We’re seeing a big shift towards online access of books and observing the impact this has on usability. Our number of distance learners is increasing year-on-year and with eBook collections, we can offer them much greater accessibility and flexibility.
It’s relatively easy to purchase a collection of thousands of eBook titles and make them readily available. We can also monitor usage and demonstrate ROI. We have to be mindful of the fact that books can take longer for their impact to build, and not hold too much store in the first year’s usage, but focus instead on years 2-5. The great thing is that promoting eBooks is so much easier than print. Simple things like links on social media have a big impact on usage and there are so many more options available to us today to make these titles discoverable.
How frequently are you monitoring usage stats? How has the library worked with faculty to drive usage of your eBook collections?
We have regular visits from our Springer Nature Account Development Manager, Melanie Masserant, and once a year we do a major review of all subject packages to highlight which areas are getting most heavy usage. As soon as a title has been adopted for a course, that drives up adoption and usage very quickly. Faculty (particularly within our Engineering Department) have seen the benefit of having titles available as part of an eBook package, rather than having to direct their students to the bookstore to buy an expensive print copy of a textbook. We also have an effective liaison librarian program that matches a specialist librarian with each department so that they can promote specific collections and titles more intensively.
How has the library worked with faculty to drive usage of your eBook collections?
The route we went down after we started acquiring larger eBook packages was to work directly with the instructor or faculty member to make them more aware of the availability of titles in their subject. Now, they’re much more willing to engage with us directly and actively promote the titles themselves - putting links on their CourseSpaces, for example. We’ve encouraged faculty to move away from course packs. Our copyright and scholarly communications librarian has done a lot of work to get the message across to faculty that they don’t need to create expensive course packs for students. The library now has all the content and licensing permissions to allow instructors to link to textbooks from their CourseSpaces and create online syllabi that benefit the students. This wouldn’t have been possible without the permissions we get as part of the Springer eBook package licenses. It’s been a real shift, not only for the library but also for the instructor who can now easily send links to recommended reading to their students. And there’s no doubt that student engagement with these texts has increased because they have access to a more affordable option. All of this has taken a lot of work and collaboration between the library and faculty. A mindset change like this doesn’t happen overnight. I wouldn’t say that every faculty member is willing to explore more affordable options, but we are starting to see a shift and greater awareness. The other area that we’re see a lot of growth in as part of the OER space is supplementary materials that accompany texts – quizzes, assignments etc – and this is something that’s had a big impact on student engagement as well.
Have you seen a shift in how students are interacting with textbook content now that they are accessing more titles online?
Yes, we’re definitely seeing a change here. Just the ability to download a chapter or link to chapters from within the text has changed the way students approach and read books. Undergraduates in particular love to be able to go into a publication and run keyword searches. I think we’re seeing less cover-to-cover reading – instead they’ll search for keywords within a chapter and then hone in on the related sections. What we don’t know yet is how this style of reading compares with reading the entire book/textbook when it comes to comprehension. But I also see more instructors picking and choosing sections from different sources. They’ll select chapters from several books and bring them together, presenting a range of perspectives to their students without requiring them to go out and buy every title.
I do think that the rise of eBooks has led to greater student engagement with course materials. In the past students would either have to buy a copy of the book or try to find the title in the library, often with limited success. Now, the chances of them finding the relevant text in just a few minutes has significantly increased. And with eBook collections like Springer’s, they never have to worry about access being restricted.
To help make discovery of titles as easy as possible, our library needs to commit a lot of resource to improving and enhancing book metadata. The better this data is, the better the discoverability and accessibility of individual titles. Today, undergraduates may see less of a need to go to the library for help with their research because they’re so used to doing this themselves online. That’s when the metadata becomes hugely important, helping them keep track of their searches and returning accurate results. But there’s still a lot of knowledge that librarians need to communicate to new researchers, so engagement between the library, faculty and students is still really important, and it’s why we’ve spent so much time fostering those relationships.
How have you seen the relationship between the library and the bookstore change since the widespread introduction of eBook collections?
On campus we have an Open Education Resources working group which includes the Library, the Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation group (LTSI), and the Bookstore. The bookstore has been a pivotal member of this group since day one. The staff there understand that things are changing and they’re actually very supportive of Open Education Resources. More and more of the books sold via the bookstore are digital versions, via leases or access codes. And bookstores are actively exploring new revenue models themselves - partnering with university presses or exploring other growth areas. They’ve been very supportive of what we’re doing with OER and there really haven’t been many tensions.
The other important point is that our library typically doesn’t purchase textbooks as part of the permanent collection, mainly because they go out of date so quickly. We do allow instructors to put a private copy of a textbook they’re using on reserve, so students could potentially come into the library and use that copy, but access is obviously restricted. For distance courses we opt to purchase the eBook where possible because it makes good financial sense if lots of people off-campus are going to need access to it. That’s another major benefit of Springer content for us – the fact their eBook packages are both highly accessible and DRM-free.
How do you manage the promotion of your eBook collections?
This is really a joint effort between the library, faculty, and our liaison librarians. We also use Lib Guides and faculty newsletters to promote new eBooks and subject-specific packages. The challenge we have is that there is so much content out there (both free and premium), that faculty are not always aware of everything that’s available to them. So it’s our job to be continually highlighting new content and resources to them as well as evaluating different models to support students. The students are already paying a premium for their tuition, so a big part of our job is to help them get quick access to the publications and other materials they need as cost effectively as possible.
Have you noticed any change in the number of students using the library?
It’s interesting - and I don’t think we’re an anomaly here – but we have really good gate counts. That might be because we have a beautiful space after a lot of renovation work. It’s been an initiative of the campus for a while now to create more welcoming and collaborative space for students to work in. We adapted a periodical reading room seeing limited use, into a lounge space with lots of natural light. What we’ve found is that the number of people in the building has actually increased because we now have the facilities and resources to attract a broader range people that wouldn’t have tended to visit in the past.
We also have a learning commons space offering physics and maths tutorial help, along with a writing center for academic communications, a study skills center, a research support service run by our own librarians, and also the international commons which provides support for international students. Then there’s the Digital Scholarship Commons offering a collaborative space for students, along with access to software and tools to work with data and content. We’re seeing more faculty wanting to come in and use the special collections and archives, and we’ve also included a teaching room adjacent to these collections so that the instructor can bring their students to the material and have their class right next to those resources. So we’re really working to bring people in by trading the right connections and providing a good range of tools and services for both faculty and students.