E-books day in Wales – a review

Around 60 delegates attended the e-books day in Aberystwyth on Friday 25th November. (I will try not to be biased in this post, although I did help organise the day. NB this post is going to be quite long!) Three out of the five talks on the programme were related to public libraries and e-books, but there was still a good mix of public and academic librarians, and also students from the Masters course at DIS. There were even a couple of intrepid souls who had come from England for the day! All presentations are available on the librarywales.org staff toolkit (librarians can access this with a generic password – contact librarieswalesorg@llgc.org.uk). 

Clip art of person giving a lecture

Image CC from Clker

Helen McNabb and Bethan Lee started the event with a presentation about the new e-books pilot in public libraries in Wales. About 12 local authority library services are now up and running with this service and two more are waiting to join once technical issues have been fixed. The service is provided by Askews.

Helen and Bethan gave us a walk through of the live website, with Bethan bravely showing her reading history as the website can show you everything you’ve borrowed. Although the first few library services didn’t go live until September, there have already been 2906 issues made, to a total of 1106 borrowers. The most popular time of download is 8pm meaning that people are doing this at home, when libraries are not open. As yet targeted marketing has not been undertaken because of awaiting the translation of the site into Welsh, although individual library services are doing their own local promotion.

Although they acknowledged the challenges involved, a huge amount has been achieved with this pilot thanks to the investment of a lot of time and effort by library staff. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved, and Neath Port Talbot local authority in particular for hosting the consortium. The pilot has been funded by a grant from CyMAL and match funding by the local authorities. 

On reflection, the next talk should have really been the first talk of the day, if the person putting the programme together [erm, that’s me then!] had thought about things logically. Chris Armstrong from IAL presented his research findings from the e-books in public libraries report that he produced with colleague Ray Lonsdale. To go back in time, the team at the National Library of Wales (NLW) who lead on the online resources strand of the library strategy with CyMAL, organised two seminar days in summer/autumn 2010 with Chris and Ray on the subject of e-books and public libraries. As a result of discussions on the second day considerable interest was shown in various aspects of e-books, including research into the situation in Wales, and potential for a pilot with a small number of authorities (see talk one above!). 

Chris and Ray were commissioned to undertake the research and their report was presented to NLW and CyMAL in August 2011. It’s now available on the librarywales.org staff toolkit, as well as the CyMAL website (in both English and Welsh). 

The report revealed a number of important issues that require further discussion and consideration by stakeholders including: implications for staff awareness and training; implications for resolving ongoing IT issues; marketing; length of contracts; evaluation methodology and Welsh-language provision of e-books. I would imagine that these issues are also relevant to academic libraries as well as public libraries. The academic e-book publishers however, seem a bit more open to the idea of libraries being an outlet for their products.

Everybody was very interested to hear what Mieko Yamaguchi from Bangor University had to say about a patron drive acquisition (PDA) pilot they have been trialling with a small grant from CyMAL. The principle behind PDA is that purchases are triggered for books users access, rather than librarians or lecturers creating a collection of materials, some of which are then never used (which happens in hard and electronic formats). The e-book records are accessed directly from the library catalogue. At Bangor, if a user comes across an e-book title and clicks on it, the first five minutes of browsing is free. After that they have to confirm that they would like to proceed with more of the book. Three users doing this count as a short-term loan (charged at c.5-20% of list price), and on the fourth time, the library is charged with the full purchase of the e-book (c.115% of cost). 

Their statistics so far show that 1/3 of the e-books bought through PDA are titles held in print by the library, and 10% are titles on recommended reading lists. Interestingly, the titles bought by PDA have been accessed more often than pre-bought e-books – yet all these titles are presented in the same way in catalogue. Are librarians ready to let their users determine an element of the collection and spend their budget? It’s a big shift in the approach to collection management. It seems to be more cost effective for Bangor at present, but how sustainable is it? What if all the budget for PDA selection is used in six months students won’t be able to choose e-books for their courses later in the year.
Still focusing on the user, Jon Hardisty from the RNIB talked about their e-book research conducted during the summer of 2011. A sample of RNIB users explored the availability of, access to, and ease of use of e-books in public libraries. Their report, available here, makes for interesting reading. Blind and partially sighted people could be a significant audience for e-books but the report highlights a number of issues that need to be addressed, such as accessibility of web catalogues and corporate websites, ease of searching for and downloading titles, and staff support. For librarians launching new e-book services, local blind and partially sighted groups should be included in communications and marketing as the availability of e-books greatly increases their access to reading material as only about 7% of books published are made available in alternative formats.Pat Beech, Manager of the RNIB library service, then gave a brief overview of the Reading Sight website which is designed for blind and partially sighted people but is also a great resource for librarians. 

Finally, we had a lively presentation from Helen Osborne of Libraries NI. Earlier in 2011 they had invested in e-books with Overdrive for the 99 public libraries in Northern Ireland. Being about 6 months or so ahead of Wales it was very timely to hear of the successes and challenges of their e-books project to date. One of the most interesting findings was the perception shift that occurred when they announced that e-books were available in public libraries. Even people who don’t use libraries changed their perception of the library service as a result. Currently they are averaging about 1,400 loans a month, and when marketing occurred in August, the loans doubled. Helen felt that social media marketing and targeting ‘techies’ had been key to their success so far.

The discussion slot at the end showed that librarians are very keen to move ahead with e-books, if the many challenges can be resolved. 

If you’re interesting in reading more about e-books in the UK, the Scottish e-books conference was held at the end of October and you can find some of the talks on the Scottishlibraries Slideshare account, for example, PDA project at the University of Glasgow, Ken Chad on PDACharles Oppenheim on e-book licencesand South Ayrshire public library e-book offerThere is also a blog about the Scottish conference here

And the day before the Wales conference, CILIP held an executive briefing day on e-books in London. Two blog reports can be found here and here.

The Wales day was organised as part of CyMAL’s online resources strand of the libraries programme 2011-12 which is led by the National Library of Wales.


About alysontyler

Civil servant, yoga teacher and former librarian.
This entry was posted in Conferences, CyMAL, E-books, Events, Presentations / talks, Scotland, Wales. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to E-books day in Wales – a review

  1. Pingback: RSC Wales Learning Resources Blog

  2. As one of the students from DIS , I must say that many of the presentations and discussions are indeed going to fit quite well into my assignments. (I will definitely acknowledge all authors whose work I will have used – thanks to NLW we all have access to the presentations).

    However,as someone working in a country where only a certain section of the population has access to and is interested in e-books, this is a good picture of what the future looks like. And I can’t help but say that I have my work cut out for me. Whether I am up to the challenge is another thing. Only time will tell.

    Finally thank you to CyMAL /Dr Tyler for the invitation and to our lecturer – Lucy Tedd for making us part of this day.

    • alysontyler says:

      Hi, thanks for the feedback and I’m glad it was useful to students as well. The ‘digital divide’ is present in Britain as well as your home country, and librarians and libraries are working to make sure that that without home access or skills, can still engage with digital developments, but it is a challenge as you note. Good luck with your assignments. Alyson.

  3. Pingback: E-books day in Wales – a review | WHELF

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