From education to employment

How we made e-books a success

As an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin several millennia ago I was crossing Front Square on my way to the library (or it may have been the student bar) when I was stopped by 2 American tourists who wanted me to give them directions to ‘Kelly’s Book’. The Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow are kept in glass cases in the Long Room Library in TCD. People come from all over the world to see them. When these books were created over 1000 years ago they were meant to be read not looked at through glass. It has been suggested that eventually all printed books will become obsolete and in the future we will do all our reading – for information and for leisure – using virtual books. I’m not sure if I believe this but I have to admit that my experience with ebooks has opened my eyes to the potential of this new medium.

Our college was introduced to e-books in 2009 through the e-Books for FE Project funded and promoted by Jisc. We were excited but unsure and knew we would have a challenge on our hands trying to convince the students and the tutors that our enthusiasm was merited. However, we were willing to give it a go and were surprised and delighted to discover, when the monthly Top Users lists were produced, that more often than not we featured in the top six.

Why e-books?

?Ebooks afford our students the opportunity to access a wider range of resources at any time and in any place where there is an internet connection. They allow the students to overcome the barriers created by having a limited number of copies of essential reading books and hopefully this may lead to enhanced achievement. Teaching staff can easily integrate ebooks into the VLE, course packs, presentations and other learning materials – whether electronic or paper.

So how did we promote the ebooks and get people using them? ?

It is definitely not a case of ‘if you build it they will come’. A lot of effort goes into the promotion and marketing of this resource and it is unremitting. By the time we get this year’s new students indoctrinated it will be time to start all over again with next year’s. That is why getting the tutors on side is the most important factor in the whole process.

We changed the library induction so that it is in two parts. Students are given an initial tour of the library (opening hours, behavioural rules, borrowing procedures etc) and enrolled onto the system. A few weeks later after they have their first assignment we bring them back and give them a more detailed induction concentrating on our e-resources including ebooks. It is much easier to hold their attention when the induction is actually centred on their particular information needs. We show them several books in their subject area and demonstrate in detail how they can search, cut and paste, create citations and personalise their own bookshelves.

Following this, during the year, we run drop-in sessions on demand. These involve one to one sessions with the student or staff member when they can ask particular questions in privacy and these have been very successful.

The fact that the ebooks are included in our online library catalogue is also a big plus. When a student searches using a particular search term the ebooks are given equal importance as the hard copies and journals. And, the fact that the ebook will never be on loan so can always be accessed is certainly a plus for students and staff.

Towards the end of last year we started to display QR codes with links to the ebooks at appropriate locations on the book shelves. By scanning this code using an app, which can be downloaded free of charge, the student is linked immediately to the ebook and can read it on their own device. These also have been a great success.

If I am to be honest we have discovered that word of mouth is one of our greatest tools in encouraging the use of e-books. Speaking to tutors in the staff room, at the photocopier, in meetings and enthusing about the ebooks seems to be working for us.

Enthusiastic staff make a world of difference too. I am lucky in the fact that my staff on the ground are excited by this new resource and not afraid to bore people to death singing its praises.

Where to start

?As an introduction to electronic books the eBooks for FE Project, which is free to further education providers is ideal. Without having to take any financial risk further education colleges are able to demonstrate the benefits of ebooks to students and teaching staff. For us, it also provided the opportunity to review any problems and familiarise ourselves with the solutions before signing up to any particular supplier. We now also purchase titles which we access via Myilbrary and EBSCO.

Ruth Hutchinson is learner services manager of Northern Regional College

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