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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Bell Boy

The view which greets you when you enter the Medical Library. This photograph was taken before the library officially opens, but usually you’d find someone actually sitting directly behind the desk. In any case, any one working behind the desk, is happy to come to the desk to help. We always aware of customers coming to the desk.

Also we have a bell!!! I’ve seldom heard it used by a customer in earnest. However, some students can’t help themselves and press it to hear what it sounds like, or just for harmless devilment for the amusement of their colleagues! We did have a dental student who did it so often, he earned the nickname ‘Bell Boy’, I still find it difficult to remember his actual name. Having qualified as a dentist, he has recently returned to study medicine to reach his goal of becoming a maxillofacial surgeon, which requires the dual qualification of medicine and dentistry. [Oral & Maxillofacial (OMF) Surgeons specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the mouth, jaws, face and neck. This information comes from http://www.baoms.org.uk/, if this link isn’t working for you, that is the British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery ]

Have you noticed there are no self-service machines here! More later….

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