Study with Ebooks


You need training for ebooks? It’s so easy to use. That is a typical response to researching with ebooks. This is not an article about leisure reading of ebooks. Fundamentally the process of studying or researching ebooks is a different process than leisure reading. Students and researchers need to annotate or add sticky notes to the text. There is some ability to do that with ebooks. Often lawyers need specific pages of text so they can match it to another document. So librarians work with “pinpoint citations” or matching to page or paragraph in a judgment. People want save and print chapters too. They may not always be reading on an ereader. Legal ebooks either don’t have page numbers or the page numbering is unique to the electronic version and not synching with the print book. Clearly this is a problem if you are trying to print pages 1 to 10 as instructed. This does not meet the needs of lawyers and perhaps students as well. (Hey folks can publishers test the user experience and expectations before selling a product?)

All this is background for my argument that ebooks for research and study is in its infancy. I was reminded of real world uses and problems with ebooks by my own experiences, as well as a splashy positive press release about open textbooks initiative out of British Columbia. I spent a solid hour and needed help of 2 librarians to print pages from a legal ebook, when I am familiar with ebooks from Kobo and Overdrive. It was an unsatisfactory experience.

In the near future B.C. college and university students will be thrust into studying with open textbooks. There are hopes that cash-strapped students will save money with these free ebooks. I counter that likely around 30% if not more students will print out or save their ebooks instead of reading online only. Some will grasp the full potential of annotating them. And I predict headaches all around when students try to arrange for printing them. Ebooks are not meant to be printed in my experience, as it may break licensing terms and that is not their primary use as intended by publishers. Graphs, tables and other illustrations may or may not translate well when printed. Technical capacity of computer servers will also need to be factored in equation as potentially 200,000 students are downloading en masse.

Faculty hopes that there will be collaboration with online textbooks. Possible but technology has its limitations as I have seen. Servers have outages, and faculty needs training to become savvy at working with editing ebooks. Coordinating the collaborative process and editing standards are also unchartered waters.

The public relations angle sounds good as students save money but students may become frustrated if they can’t print or annotate their textbooks. Although again online textbooks sounds like a great thing, faculty may not be able to fully realize its potential. In fact there could be hidden costs with upgrading server capacity, and increased IT support staff for interventions.

– Brenda Wong

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Solid orientation to open textbooks


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