Ebooks and textbooks

Ebooks and textbooks

Kindle and textbooks with James Lindsay

Nearly fifteen years ago I was fortunate to be at a talk delivered by the esteemed Sean Phillips, (now retired), formerly Librarian of University College Dublin. The talk centred around change, in which he mentioned the advent of electronic books. Afterwards, we discussed his theory and many of us were, I’m sorry to say, sceptical. We cited the hype surrounding microfiche and microfilm, heralded as replacements for books, yet falling into obscurity. More of a nuisance than help. We failed to see how it we could suffer reading online.

Ten years ago, Amazon produced a promotional video for the new Kindle. Suddenly it was clear to me, that Sean had been correct, while we were short-sighted. I shared this with some non-library friends. They were vociferous in their denial of ever using a device to read a book. Never! Never! Never! Yet all of those same friends, now extol the virtues of their devices, which accompany them everywhere. True haven’t totally abandoned their books yet.

The debate surrounding eBooks vs hard-copy, with the myriad and divergent opinions, is too complicated for me to enter into here. This is my personal opinion, gauged on my interaction with students, regarding their reception of electronic textbooks.

In my own institution [not that I actually ‘own’ it!], as with most academic institutions, the availability of textbooks in electronic form has grown exponentially. Popular textbooks, even though multiple copies are purchased, quickly become unavailable. Those of us who interface with the readers, are delighted to be able to present an eBook, as an alternative, if the reader has been unsuccessful in obtaining a hardcopy. Disappointingly, the readers don’t seem to share our enthusiasm. So, I conducted an unofficial, ad hoc inquiry into the reasons why they are reluctant or resistant to the eBook.

The readers questioned were all medical or dental students. They were told why I was interested in their answers, and were promised anonymity, which they consented to. Most of the students were in their early twenties, though the answers they gave matched those of older readers. The initial question was, ‘What is it about the hard copy of the book that you prefer to the eBook?’ and ‘Would you use a Kindle or other device?’. I asked thirty students of the 20 – 25 age bracket and six of the 26-plus age bracket. Without exception, they all had either a Kindle or a Kindle app, which they are happy to use for non-textbook reading. Here’s a sample of replies:

• ‘I’d prefer to hold a book.’
• ‘With a book I can scoot backwards and forwards quickly.’
• ‘Ebooks are too slow.’
• ‘I hate reading a textbook online.’
• ‘I can’t access the Internet at home.’
• ‘I can’t concentrate properly in front of the computer.’
• ‘My eyes stop focusing on the screen’
• ‘I don’t feel as if I’m taking in the information properly’
• ‘The books don’t look the same on all my devices, I have an iPhone, tablet and laptop’

They were unanimous in accepting the eBook as a last resort. Unscientific it might be, but it gave rise to some discussion with colleagues. We agreed that the textbook as an eBook is certainly the way forward. It is the most efficient way to provide access to the greatest numbers of library users. We did empathise with many of the comments and discussed how the eBook would need to be radically altered to accommodate students’ needs.

The students in my ‘survey’ probably first encountered the electronic formats in secondary school, perhaps next generation of students brought up with eBooks much earlier may be more accepting.
Technology is sure to make advances which will in turn make comments like these historical.

P.S. James Lindsay, was one of the Lindsay brothers, who established many mills in Belfast, including Mulhouse Works and Prospect Mills. Originally from Fintona, County Tyrone, he died in 1884, aged 77, in Vichy, France en route to his home in Cannes. His bust looks kindly on the Medical Library Borrower Services Desk.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rosemary C
    May 28, 2014 @ 10:04:44

    But maybe the library isn’t seeing or hearing from the e-book users precisely because they are accessing all they need from the internet elsewhere. I would like to see libraries lending e-book readers to encourage and enable greater access to the e-resources by those not able to afford a portable decent sized tablet. I find kindles too small for textbook reading. Issues of maintenance and insurance will arise but sponsorship from the suppliers would be good!

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  2. Carricklass
    May 14, 2014 @ 14:37:23

    Hi RDFallis. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. The option of having eBooks is at present, better than nothing. I’m convinced that in the near future, with advances in technology, they will at least equal print copies. I did converse further with some of the students and they said that they thought eBooks would be good from the viewpoint of actually carrying them from place to place. At the moment the library is filled with library users who are using print copies. It will be interesting to see how things develope.

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    • Rosemary Cassidy
      May 16, 2014 @ 15:46:00

      The kindle looks so small next to the books but the bigger devices are also more expensive. Maybe libraries should start lending e-readers to access the e-books. Keep plugging Mary. Maybe you are not seeing the library members using the e-books because they don’t need to come into the library.

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  3. RDFallis
    May 14, 2014 @ 09:14:20

    Interesting survey responses. Certainly, in the case of popular reading list items, where we have a multi-user e-book as well as print copies, I’m not convinced that readers use the e-book that much, or at least not in the same depth as the print copies.

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