I recently delivered 3 one-hour sessions to small groups of library types on the subject of all things ebook at the University of Bristol.
The University of Bristol has around 5,000 ebooks at the moment. Enough of a critical mass to get my interest in ebooks in the institution. John Hargreaves, Assistant Subject Librarian for Law kindly organised the 3 sessions which I was using to see what the problems are from the other side of the issue desk whilst giving them a brain dump of what I see as the opportunities and constraints.
Being the book reading type that I am, I was keen to wade in with using ebooks – that was until I actually tried to find and use any of them (more of that in future posts).
Problem #1 By using the library catalogue, ebooks as a “type of resource” are not easily surfaced without using an advanced search, which I believe is a huge barrier to “discovering” ebooks. I doubt very many people use the advanced search as the first port of call. My mental model is that I do a search and all results are shown, regardless of the ‘type of resource’ be that print books, journals, CD-ROM or ebook.
I came to each session armed with 1 print book and various ebook reading capable devices as to my surprise the library doesn’t have any staff ebook devices, each loaded with the same ebook:
- Amazon Kindle 1st Gen
- Sony ebook reader Touch Edition PRS-650 *
- Desktop Windows computer
- Apple iphone 1st Gen
- Android Tablet *
* Thanks for the lend Mr Gray
#Problem 2: The libraries do not have the kit that they require – using ebooks from the other side of the issue desk is both theory and practice and in order to help folks with trouble they need to use the devices themselves.
After briefly explaining about the common ebook formats (EPUB, PDF, mobi) we had a play with each device using the “Responsive Web Design” ebook. The above list shows the most liked (kindle as best) down to the least user-friendly (pressure-sensitive tablet).
The test ebook also makes use of video which displays on devices that support EPUB3 video and this showcased why the ebook version may have an advantage over the print version.
Opportunity #1 Next I showed the ibis reader which I only have glowing things to say about it. I wonder if the platform could be integrated someday into the University system and act as the official ebook reader for desktop and mobile.
Then we tried a University ebook and things got really depressing.
We used the search keyword ‘china’ to find our guinea pig ebook.
It appears that the major education publishers ship ebooks using Adobe PDF as the ebook format of choice. Clearly this is to make use of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) but has the nasty side affect that none of the ebooks will run on a ebook reader such as the Kindle… thats right, ebooks that do not run on the most popular ebook reader device. So I think it isnt too much of a leap to connect the dots that access to ebooks and use on devices are two of the major barriers to ebook uptake. I sent an email to one of the major publishers to ask them about this but am yet to get a response.
We were all in shock. Say it slowly – “ebooks that do not work on ebook readers, are probably not ebooks”.
If you work in a library, what are the issues here and how to do you work with such barriers?
I hope to wade into lots more ebook stuff in coming months.
UPDATE 10th Jan 2012
The fantastic Ibis Reader has been acquired and so it is watch this space as to the future of the platform as I know it.