25 April 2013

Just keep using the tablets : medical student challenges publishers

Publishers at UKSG 2013 were entranced by medical student Joshua Harding’s description of how he uses an iPad to create a personalised study environment and intrigued that he predicts better ebooks will lead to better grades.

 “I see the iPad as being the game changer” said Joshua, a 2nd-year postgraduate student at Warwick University.  Although he admitted that not all students on his course were as far advanced as he in using the tablet computer, he finds acting as a mentor to them encourages uptake. “Students are ahead of the game” he claimed, and publishers and librarians lagging behind.

The self-proclaimed Paperless Student took the audience through his typical day on wards and in lectures, explaining he uses his iPad to take case notes, look up anaesthetics, check online references during lectures and set himself reminders to revisit recently studied topics.

He collects all his course materials together via the iPad, preferring chapters to whole textbooks.  For his written (not typed) notes he uses Noteability and for PDFs he uses Goodreader. He synchs files to other devices via Dropbox.

The publishers also got Joshua's wishlist, including making student scores for revision sections visible online, so each can see how theirs matched to others, and for messages to pop up and congratulate the student on completing a topic well, or reminding him/her to go back and revise newly learned topics. Meanwhile the thumbs down was for multiple platforms, DRM and the Epub format (“horrible”).   

While publishers flocked to the lunch table to digest the assured presentation, librarians 
wondered how the heck Joshua got all his textbooks on to an iPad?  The answer was he'd bought much of it himself via Inkling, and for the rest he had a generous friend who disbound and scanned in textbooks as PDFs for online annotation.  Hmmm.  No wonder Joshua had said he thought universities should pay for all student resources, and had been at a loss to understand why his library couldn’t provide “free ebooks in the same way as print”.

Post-match analysis suggests Joshua is clearly on the cutting edge, particularly in how he manipulates content using apps. Dymvue is still wondering how libraries fit into this picture.  We do, don't we? Don't we?

24 April 2013

Asking awkward questions ...

Attending UKSG is always an stimulating and somewhat exhausting experience and I enjoyed attending presentations on a range of topics.  However, as I can’t encapsulate them all here, I will use the new few posts to consider some of the issues that particularly struck me. Do feel free to comment.  

The conference website has links to the programme, slides and videos of the presentations.

What’s new for libraries

Sarah Thompson and Liz Waller from University of York library reported on a project to improve their services to students.  They began by asking 17 other university libraries about what they were doing. 

This yielded an extensive list of service improvements, some of which will be familiar to most librarians.  I noted longer opening hours, silent study areas and reduced-cost or free printing; more ebooks, a greater use of PDA for acquisitions management and the provision to first year undergraduates of e-readers with e-content already loaded.  Applying for Customer Service accreditation was another interesting idea, perhaps a good way of demonstrating the value of a library service.   It will be interesting to see how students receive their new services at York.

A presentation from a librarian at the Open University on their acquisition and promotion of ebooks largely mirrored our experience at Cambridge.  It's good to know we aren't alone in the joy and pain of this format!  While I sympathised with her frustration at the lack of a single source of information for prices and availability of ebooks, I suspect that with such a range of licences, access restrictions and prices it is unlikely that this will be available for some time, if ever.

University of Surrey librarians have been engaged in developing the use of mobile devices so they can advise students using them to find resources etc. They have done this by running sessions for staff to “play” with various devices and encouraged their use of iPads at work.  Here I wondered whether device specificity is going to become a problem.  Is Bring Your Own Device going to become the norm for staff as well as students, and if so how will they be co-ordinated?

Like most of us, I'm fascinated by the impact of the availability of e-content on library services.  Students understand that The Times online behind a paywall while Wikipedia is free to use; even that a book in whatever format must be paid for; but are puzzled that library purchased ebooks are restricted by licence terms, even though print loans have always been restricted by borrowing periods and availability.  The problem, it seems to me, is that suppliers have perpetuated the worst elements of library provision instead of developing the potential of the ebook.  Meanwhile, free (illegal) ebooks can be found online or simply scanned in. 

I'm going to look at this more in another post, but am now asking myself whether, or for how much longer, the traditional model of library print circulation, with loan limits, periods and possibly fines, will be acceptable to students.