The University of Turin libraries launched an E-book Pilot Project as a means of addressing gaps in the provision of e-books and determining the best way forward for future e-book efforts. At the outset of this project, the libraries were not providing access to many e-books, and apart from some experimentation with e-book trials, library staff had few e-book management skills. E-books were relatively unknown to our patrons and e-reading device lending had never been tested before. As a result, users were not asking librarians for e-book content.
Selecting project partners and an acquisition model
The project consists of a partnership between the digital library and five local libraries, involving only the subject areas most interested in digital resources (chemistry, veterinary, neuroscience, pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences). We chose to undertake a pilot project assuming that e-book collections need to be promoted to particular user groups through targeted and structured strategies. The project goals are to:
- Introduce new e-book collections in the selected subject areas
- Analyze user feedback, through quantitative and qualitative methods
In particular, we are testing the new Evidence-Based Selection acquisition model for Elsevier e-books. We have purchased access to a wide range of books for 12 months. By July, we will select a collection to keep in perpetual access, considering usage statistics and other qualitative analysis. This model seems to support better collection development strategies so we can acquire the contents that patrons use the most.
A number of studies have found that the majority of academic users still prefer reading e-books on a desktop PC, rather than on dedicated e-book readers. Furthermore, recent statistics show that academic users are more interested in tablets. Despite these findings, we wanted to test e-reader lending as we believed that e-readers are the best hardware for lending services due to their low cost and screen usability. We also kept in mind that library staff need to be able to operate and assist library patrons in using different kinds of hardware. This is why we started an e-reader lending program with 10 devices (Asus Eee Reader DR900 and Sony PRS-T1). Since January 2012, in the five libraries involved, users can fill out a form and borrow an e-reader for 15 days without any charge.
The users who borrowed e-readers answered a questionnaire to determine:
- Usage behavior and acceptance of e-books in a university environment
- Shared criteria for e-book acquisition, evaluation and licensing
- Shared standards for e-reader purchasing
- Differences in user expectations across subject areas
- User perception of library role in e-book promotion
Another key question is whether e-books are used in the same way as e-journals or whether the nature of e-books is fundamentally different from the contents of journal databases. Publishers tend to propose the same business models for both media, while our belief is that different models for e-book acquisition should be offered. We hope the survey can support this belief with statistical evidence.
Different strategies were undertaken to promote the new collections and to provide multiple access routes to e-books. A specific page focusing entirely on e-books was set up on the central library division website, where a widget was implemented to show e-book covers. Leaflets describing the new contents and support documentation on devices were distributed among faculties and students. We also raised awareness of the new content by linking to e-books from the university’s virtual learning environment (Moodle), and we are working to ensure e-books are accessible via the libraries catalog.
Though our survey is still open, the analysis of the initial results reveals interesting new issues to take into account. For example, more than 60 percent of respondents prefer the libraries to lend e-readers, rather than tablets (16 percent), confirming our first assumption. Moreover, 60 percent of users surveyed think the libraries should provide training on e-books. The libraries will therefore explore incorporating “e-book literacy” in their information literacy program. Finally, more than 70 percent say they agree that the libraries should acquire more e-books. On the whole, the first findings show the need to keep experimenting with e-book collection development, device monitoring and e-book training.
The authors would like to thank the many colleagues who helped to undertake this project: Marina Galimerti, Silvia Idrofano, Annalisa Jourdan, Giovanna Levis, Cristian Loiacono, Alice Martinetti, Paola Piscazzi, and Sonia Vitiello. A special thanks to Giovanna Balbi and Enrico Francese for reviewing and making suggestions to improve the article.