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.


Dates for your diary

SLIC, in partnership with MMITS and SCURL, recently announced the date for the annual e-books conference which will take place in Edinburgh on 21st October.

Also announced are the dates for the SLIC AGM and Innovation Showcase (16th November) and the SLIC FE Conference organised in partnership with library staff from Scotland’s Colleges  community of practice (18th November).  Both events take place in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.

Taking place at the same venue from 7-9 June is the CILIPS annual conference which can be booked here

See you there!

SLIC Innovation and Development Showcase

Paul McCloskey from Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Services started the Innovation and Development Showcase with a presentation on the extraordinary Paul Hamlyn Foundation-funded Reading Champions Project. Colm Linnane produced some inspirational case studies about the impact of the initiative on the lives of looked-after children and young people. It was heartening to see the success recognised by Children and Families and Services for Communities as they worked together to secure 3 years funding for the post. The report of the independent evaluator will be published in early 2010.

Next up was the SLIC-funded Virtual Enquiry Service at Carnegie College and Napier University. There’s a lot of help guidance on the website, including software comparative data and guidelines for setting up services. It was disappointing to hear that the survey of 130 establishments found that there are not as many virtual reference services in operation as you might think and that staff resistance is a major barrier to the development of services.

LLUK’s Marian Healy talked about their role in workforce development. The 2008 National Occupational Standards, in her view, were not what the sector need and she will follow up to see what can be done to take matters forward. SLIC is supporting the case for introducing Modern Apprenticeships into the sector and that means that suitable NOS are vital, as they are the building blocks for the new SVQs, essential to Modern Apprenticeships.

SLIC Director Elaine Fulton gave an update on progress with the Ask Scotland virtual reference service for Scottish queries. She encouraged organisations and individuals to get involved by contacting Gillian Hanlon at SLIC

Finally, Liz Moffat of Stirling Council returned to the theme of social inclusion with her presentation about the work of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation-funded Reader-in-Residence projects at HMP Cornton Vale. Two other prisons are involved HMP Perth and Polmont Young Offenders Institution. Richard Smith discussed some of the reading based activities he’s introduced at Cornton Vale and the feedback from the readers. These are truly inspirational projects with a huge impact on the self esteem, skills and confidence of those involved.

The presentations are available from

SLIC and CILIPS in 2009

This year looks set to be a busy time for the team at SLIC and CILIPS.  Here’s a round-up of the main projects we’ll be working on in the first half of the year:

  1. AskScotland – work is currently under way on the national service that will enable people all over the world to have Scottish history questions answered by a Scottish librarian.  The first phase of the project will include around one third of Scotland’s public library authorities, with the others being brought on board within three years.  AskScotland will be coordinated by SLIC and will form part of Scotland’sInformation.  The service is due to be launched at the CILIPS Annual Conference in June.
  2. SLAINTE – the SLIC information team (Penny and Gillian) has been working on a complete re-design of the SLIC and CILIPS website.  This has been a tricky process due to the sheer number of pages – 15,000! – and the fact that SLAINTE combines the web content of the two organisations. Our main concern has been that too much of the valuable content we host is buried within the current structure. In order to remedy this we’re introducing sector specific entry points on the homepage to enable users to reach relevant content quickly.  Some changes will be phased in over the coming weeks, with the fully re-structured site going live in the spring.  Any suggestions or feedback would be most welcome.
  3. FE Standards – a working party was established in the latter part of 2008 in order to develop a new set of standards for college libraries, in line with revised HMIe guidelines.  The group has produced a draft framework and the project is moving towards timely completion.  The whole working party will meet to discuss the draft tomorrow (Thu 29 Jan), with publication expected spring/summer 2009.
  4. CILPS CPD and Annual Conference – the spring CPD programme has now been agreed and full event details will be publicised shortly.  Check SLAINTE events for further details.  The CILIPS conference 2009, titled Inspiring Excellence: Your self, your service, our future, will take place 1-3 June at Peebles Hotel Hydro. The programme has yet to be finalised but the event will take a slightly different format this year.  More details will be published very soon.

Updates on these and other services will be available via SLAINTE or follow us on twitter.