Working in a Digital Age: 10th Anniversary ebooks Conference 21st Oct 2010

Yesterday I attended the 10th Anniversary e-books conference, held in the impressive surroundings of the Playfair Library in Edinburgh. The day was opened with reflections on 10 years of ebooks by Catherine Nicholson, Head of Learning Resources at the Glasgow School of Art. She took us through the history of ebooks, starting with the inception of Project Gutenberg in 1971 taking in some milestones, including the first ebook readers in 1998 and Stephen King’s experiment of releasing a book online in 2000, to the digital landscape as it is today.

The ebooks market has developed a great deal since then – and since the first ebooks conference – with digital reading starting to move into the mainstream and to be less focused on the academic. However, it still can’t be regarded as mature, with the proliferation of devices and lack of interoperability standards meaning that the market is still fractured and often confusing. Catherine suggested that it would be more useful, perhaps, to regard this as being the end of the beginning.

Caren Milloy, Head of Projects at JISC Collections, gave an overview of the current digital landscape. She believes that it is important that publishers look forward and try and adapt to new ways of working and, where possible, lead. Using an interesting example in another industry (that of Playboy) Caren demostrated that it is better to try and embrace chance and to innovate.

Not quite sure how everyone felt about that particular part, but Caren’s point was correct. Publishers won’t, in the long run, be successful if they expect that they can force people into buying the paper textbooks, if there is a better alternative.

She also demonstrated a couple of examples of the way that enhancing ebooks can make them more attractive to readers, whether this be by adding value, as in the case of Enhanced Editions being offered by Canongate. Another interesting concept is shown off in this video from IDEO:

Though there were many positive developments and a great deal of potential for ebooks, Caren did finish on a little bit of a low note, her feeling being that, in light of the previous day’s comprehensive spending review, innovation could be difficult at a time of shrinking budgets across many library sectors.

Next, Professor David Nicholas of University College London, discussed the implications for libraries and librarians with the rise of the “Google Generation.” I have to admit that this is a term which I sometimes have problems with. The term, as it is generally used, suggests that everyone born after 1982 does things differently from their predecessors, making little allowance for variations in access and engagement within that age group. This could have repercussions for those that aren’t fully engaged. Happily, the conclusion that Professor Nicholas draws is that, in fact, we are all the Google Generation.

In an interesting and thought-provoking discussion he mapped out the challenges that there are for library services as digital becomes more widespread. On the one hand, the increase in the free availability of digital data is a positive thing for the information profession, it does have associated with it the spectre of disintermediation, which is a threat to the sector.

There were aspects that may be construed as controversial. In describing a great deal of information gathering as “horizontal” rather than “vertical” (in other words that there is a tendency towards the shallow understanding of a subject) he did raise the spectre of dumbing down. Though I should be clear, this isn’t to imply any fear of new technology from Professor Nicholas, as one often sees in hand-wringing articles about the growth of online resources.

Helen Ellis, from Springer, gave a short presentation on the Springer/SHEDL ebooks project. It’s good to see that Springer don’t place any DRM restrictions on their ebooks!

Leading up to lunch, Jon Trinder, PhD student at Glasgow University, gave an interesting talk on the growth of and use of mobile technologies in learning. He gave us a short history of mobile technologies and went on to discuss some of the trials that have been attempted to gain an insight into how students make use of it.

Unfortunately, they did find a number of barriers to doing this, not least that students don’t always wish to cooperate with these trials.

Using the example of Iron Bridge he also suggested that mobile learning has a lot of development yet (though some things are changing) as people aren’t yet used to the technology, and what makes it unique.

Jon’s talk was so packed with information that he, unfortunately, conscious that he was in the slot leading to lunch time, found himself rushing the second part. However, he had given plenty for us to chew on.

Checking my Twitterfeed at lunchtime I saw a link to the article in the Bookseller about the attempts by publishers to restrict off-site access to ebooks for borrowers. Pertinent, if worrying.

Debbie Boden, of Glasgow Caledonian University, looked at many things, including the changes that digital technology is bringing to library services (and many other aspects of out lioves). Digital engagement is important, but there are challenges that come with this. One of the most important things to consider is actually the terminology. “Digital Literacy” has slipped into common usage, but people don’t like to be described as illiterate. Perhaps this discussion needs to be framed in a different way.

Taking us through some things which may seem counterintuitive (students actually requesting that Facebook be banned from some areas, and that there be parts of the library that are like a “traditional library,” for example), and the idea of your digital footprint, there was a lot to think about. The digital footprint part was interesting: we tend to hear a lot in the press about employers searching for prospective employees online and rejecting them for things that they’ve posted. However, the opposite is true. If your online presence suggests, for example, that you have good communication skills, they may view this positively.

The Digital Economy Act, one of the final pieces of legislation to pass the last parliament is controversial, and has potential consequneces for the library and information sector. Head of Partnerships and Professional Adviser at the National Library of Scotland, Janice McFarlane, laid out the challenges that face library and information services in the wake of this bill.

Finally, Elize Rowan, from Edinburgh University Library, outlined many of the issues faced by acquisitions departments in libraries with the shift towards an increase in digital content. These include the inclusion of poor quality MARC records (which if not dealt with can have consequences for the library user), Digital Rights Management and issues around concurrent access, long-term access and – bizarrely – the insistence of some publishers that institutions make a 20 book minimum purchase.

There was a melancholy air to some of the presentations, given the disruptiveness of new technologies and the impact comprehensive spending review, which had been announced the day before. Overall though, I took a great deal from the day, and I hope that everyone else found it to be a success.

Digital Futures: adapting to new e-environments conference

On Thursday 22nd October the 9th Annual E-Books Conference was held at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. This event felt timely due to the recent increase in dedicated mass-market e-book readers available on the market and the proliferation of large screen smart ‘phones, such as the iphone.

The first presentation, for which Colin Galloway kindly stepped in to present as Linda Bennett was unfortunately unavailable due to illness, gave an overview of the changes that the book market is currently undergoing.

Liam Earney, of JISC, presented on the JISC national e-books observatory project which aims to explore the way that e-books are used and the impacts that they have. The study was carried as the demand amongst academic librarians for unlimited concurrent and perpetual access to e-texts for their students creates concern amongst publishers that their future revenues will be destroyed as students purchase fewer of the “core” textbooks.

David Pattern of Huddersfield University Library rounded things off before lunch with a lively presentation on OPAC 2 and beyond which looked at how library professionals can seek to make their online catalogues more in tune with their users experience of the web by simplfying the front end and adding more web 2.0 type tools to enhance their experience and increase the access to the data held by libraries. This has to be a priority if e-books are to constitute a higher proportion of a libraries stock in the future as, without the physical prescence, if they are not easily available to students, they are effectively invisible.

After lunch, representatives of suppliers (Springer, Dawson and OCLC) discussed what they are doing to make e-books more available to users and some interesting experiments with different payment models which could, hopefully, increase access to information for users.

To round the afternoon off, Dan Franklin, Digital Editor of Canongate gave a thought-provoking presentation on the future of e-publishing, with specific reference to the ability of digital devices to provide a multi-media experience, which is undoubtedly more exciting than simply replicating the printed word on an electronic screen. This was highlighted with the demonstration of writer and musician Nick Cave’s new novel, which is available in print, electronically and as an iphone app.

Update: Slideshows from this event are now available in the scottishlibraries slideshare account.

Libraries and IT departments

In a recent blog post, educationalist John Connell raised the issue of what he described as the “IT head-lock” in Scottish local authorities. Referring to the education sector’s difficulties with IT departments, John notes “…the almost complete professional and attitudinal disconnect in most Scottish local authorities between those who manage the corporate IT networks and those who want to deliver a 21st century ICT experience to learners and teachers.”

Since the CILIPS and SLIC Web 2.0 experimentation commenced, the Information Team has been concerned about the disparity of access to the constituent services across library and information services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this problem largely affects those on local authority networks, working within public and school libraries.

However, we’d like to get a more accurate view of the situation across sectors. Can you relate to the above comment about the relationship with your IT department? Are there services within the CILIPS/SLIC Web 2.0 package that you can’t access at work?**

We’re already aware of some exceptions within public libraries – East Lothian Libraries have a flickr account and East Renfrewshire Libraries (log-in required to access link) are on Facebook. Are there any others out there? We’d be particularly interested to hear about how libraries and librarians across sectors have managed to work with IT departments to resolve access issues.

**We appreciate that some CILIPS and SLIC members may not be able to access this post and are currently considering alternative methods of consulting our membership on this issue.