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University of Michigan Library Leads Campus Debate on E-textbooks

June 01, 2011

Bryan Skib Helen Look Symposium faculty/instructor panel

Library Connect interviews Bryan Skib, Associate University Librarian for Collections, and Helen Look, Collection Analyst, University of Michigan Library (MLibrary), Ann Arbor, Michigan. On March 18, MLibrary hosted a Library Connect event sponsored by Elsevier titled, “The future of e-textbooks: A symposium on the influence of e-textbooks on academic life.” To view the e-textbook symposium presentations, visit the Elsevier website at:

LC: What kind of events does MLibrary host or co-host?

Skib: Conferences, symposia, lecture series — we want to engage faculty, students and industry in discourse about matters of significance to our campus and to higher education. The e-textbooks symposium was one of the most recent events, but explorations have and might include the impact of mass digitization on libraries and scholarship, the Text Creation Partnership, and the future of the library catalog.

LC: Why a symposium on e-textbooks at this time?

Look: MLibrary plays an important role in the discovery and deployment of teaching and learning technologies on campus. The library has already shown leadership in campus-wide discussions on e-textbooks. A symposium seemed like a logical place to continue those discussions on campus and extend it to our colleagues.

Skib: I have been part of a library group focused on textbook issues. During the winter semester, we knew we were going to do an e-textbook pilot with five courses so the timing couldn't have been better.

LC: How does partnering on an event like this work?

Look: We started discussions with Elsevier representatives in August for a March event so it involved many months of planning. Our planning committee pulled together people who had a role, interest and some expertise, keeping in mind a broad subject representation. The planning committee felt panels were very important and they were right — the panels received high ratings and were responsible for a few “Aha!” moments. We also were able to take advantage of Elsevier's experience in hosting Connect events, from how to structure the day to sample agendas. Even little details like how to organize the tables to facilitate discussion made a big difference.

Skib: It's an awful lot of work. Having a very focused, organized partner outside the library helped to move things along and keep us on track. I was very pleased with the help provided by Elsevier staff, who clearly know how to do this.

LC: How did you get the word out about the symposium, and were you concerned about attendance?

Skib: Given the importance of the topic, I was initially concerned that too many might show up.We had more than 200 people registered, which our Elsevier representatives said was the largest attendance ever for a North American Library Connect event.We rolled out communications in a gradual fashion, keeping an eye on registration. I shared it within several groups, including a statewide group of library peers, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, and colleagues from Ontario. We spread the news on campus via subject liaisons so they could invite faculty and students. The library published a press release on its website and sent it to local library schools.We actually had students blogging about it.

We also extended a special invitation to faculty who we know are engaged in writing and publishing textbooks, and those who are researching pedagogy and alternative models relating to textbooks.

LC: Did the library meet its goals in hosting this event?

Look: It's important for the library to communicate regarding its role within the institution. Two MLibrary speakers on the program presented specifically on library initiatives. Maria Bonn, Associate University Librarian for Publishing, spoke about our response to the changing textbook terrain at the University of Michigan, while Natsuko Nicholls, Research Area Specialist Associate, gave an overview of the Michigan textbook study and pilot.

Skib: One way or another, the library serves as a public square, a commons. I think we achieved the kind of learning that can happen when you bring a diverse group of people together, provide varying perspectives on a key issue, and then leave some time for conversation.