Each year’s Horizon Report, the result of a collaboration between the New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE, “identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, or creative inquiry on college and university campuses.” The 2010 Report first identified electronic books, or ebooks, as “likely to be widely adopted in two to three years.” It is on the “One Year or Less” adoption timeline in the 2011 Report.
The popularity of electronic books has risen steadily in recent years, due in part to the number of devices that can support the technology. The ubiquitousness of mobile devices, from smartphones to tablets to dedicated ebook readers, has lent itself to ebook usage in all markets, including the education sector.
Electronic books offer our patrons several benefits, such as anytime, anywhere access and better searching of text.
Electronic books have had a presence at Queen’s since as long ago as 2005, when Eighteenth Century Collections Online became the first ebook acquisition of Queen’s Library Systems. Since that time, the size of the collection has exploded, and as of September 2011, the ebook collection was just shy of half a million titles, with a growth of almost 12,000 titles between May and September 2011 alone. “Electronic books offer our patrons several benefits, such as anytime, anywhere access and better searching of text,” notes Leslie Taylor, ebook specialist for Queen’s Libraries.
However, despite these impressive numbers, there are challenges in developing an electronic book library. There is a general lack of standardization among publishers and ebook vendors in formats, platforms and licenses, making it difficult for the library to build a cohesive ebook collection. To add to the confusion, certain restrictions, such as how much electronic material can be downloaded and printed, vary from publisher to publisher. In addition, the release of an electronic version sometimes lags behind that of a new print title, making it impossible for the library to introduce the print and electronic versions of the same title concurrently. “Nonetheless, ebooks are growing in popularity among library users, and as the numbers indicate, the library is working hard to respond to the growing demand,” says Taylor.
The availability of electronic books on campus is not restricted to the library system. The Campus Bookstore offers Digital Study Versions (DSVs), which are free versions of print texts. These are available at no cost, either because the titles are in the public domain, or because they are royalty-free materials authored by instructors. DSVs are available in a universal and free ebook format known as EPUB, and the Campus Bookstore currently has access to more than 200 such unique titles. In addition, this fall the Bookstore will be expanding its roster of available titles by introducing the commercial distribution of ebooks, a process that’s currently in the final stages of planning and testing.
Ebooks are not the only form of electronic materials offered by the Campus Bookstore. They also sell web access codes, electronic keys to dynamic content offered by publishers to complement print books. The cost of the code is included in the purchase of the textbook, and can be purchased separately if the text is bought used. “Web access codes are by far the fastest growing area of digital support we see,” says Chris Tabor, General Manager of the Campus Bookstore. “Access to supplemental material such as lab exercises, practice exams and interactive videos is highly valued by students.”
The building of the Campus Bookstore’s digital materials has not been a solo effort; it has been done in concert with Campus eBookstore, a North American partnership founded to develop affordable alternatives and complements to traditional course materials. “Queen’s was instrumental in building this platform,” states Tabor. “Currently it is being used by more than 100 institutions in Canada and the United States, and we are proud of the role we have played.”
Electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds.
As mentioned, a number of logistic elements still need to be overcome before electronic books are widely adopted in an educational environment. However, as noted in the 2011 Horizon Report, “Audiovisual, interactive and social elements enhance the information content of [electronic] books and magazines … What makes electronic books a potentially transformative technology is the new kinds of reading experiences they make possible. Publishers are beginning to explore richly visual interfaces that include multimedia and collaborative elements … Electronic books have the potential to transform the way we interact with reading material of all kinds.” The development and adoption of ebooks in educational environments will clearly be a contributing piece of the technology puzzle that continues to redefine the concepts of teaching and learning.
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