Panlibus Blog

Archive for August, 2009

e-Readers and e-Textbooks: current reality and future possibilities

north-west-missouri-state-universitye-Readers and e-Textbooks: Current reality and future possibilities turned out to be easily the most interesting webinar I’ve ever attended. This Educause webinar featured Dr Jon T Rickman and Dr Roger Von Holzen from North West Missouri State University in the States and describing an initiative there around the evaluation of e-Readers and e-Textbooks over the past year.

Like other universities, North West Missouri State university had found itself under considerable pressure to deliver electronically, and the introduction of new devices in the marketplace has acted as a catalyst for an explosion in sales. There is focus on textbooks specifically in the relentless pursuit of cost reductions. NW Missouri State University is, in terms of its computing provision, unique as it has had a computer rental scheme in place for over two decades – the university charges $360 to its students for a wireless notebook computer.

They set about evaluating the e-Readers out in the marketplace and chose Sony Reader. The Kindle people at Amazon weren’t really interested in participating in the project. The Sony Reader looked attractive for a number of reasons. It was going to cost $250 per unit with bulk purchase (Kindle would have been $299 plus shipping). Sony will be transitioning to the EPUB format. The device has a 6 inch (15cm) display. Text is available in three sizes. It also uses electronic ink technology, which is almost like paper and retains good levels of readability even in strong sunlight, as well as having low power consumption and thus offering great battery life.

They had discounted the idea of offering a paper textbook rental service as the notional cost savings would have been cancelled out by the difficulties in running such a service.

The difficulties they ran into with e-Readers turned out to be considerable. For example, formatting content for e-Readers can take weeks. For campus-wide deployments there are currently not enough e-Reader-compatible e-Textbooks. Keyword searching and annotating are very important features for both students and academics, so despite the strong affinity that students have for hand-held devices, enthusiasm waned without those functions.

They also encountered a number of issues intrinsic to the e-Textbook format rather than the device. For example, the multiple components to the textbook including graphs and images, all have separate copyright. PDF format textbooks provide very restrictive options. And it turned out that what students really want from e-Textbooks is interactivity, animation and the ability to integrate content into other online tools.

They accepted that the whole area of e-Readers and e-Textbooks is subject to rapid change. It’s already the case, for instance, that keyword searching is now offered by e-Reader suppliers even though it wasn’t at the time of evaluation. Nevertheless, they were happy with their decision to move away from e-Reader provision, and instead set about making e-Textbooks available on the notebook computers that they were already renting out to students. They perceived that e-Reading devices and notebook computers are merginginto each others. They also felt uneasy that e-Readers aren’t the platform that authors are creating on – they’re actually creating the content on notebooks. With issues such as these in mind, it was hard to justify an additional $2million costs to add e-Readers to their raft of student services.

A Notebook approach to e-Textbook provision would also integrate with other software and services, including email and web access, thus meeting a key student requirement. And user support was already in place.

The delivery of a range of eTextbooks provided by five publishers to students via notebooks turned out to be simple and efficient. Students were able to complete the download of e-Textbooks with little support.

Rickman and Von Holzen don’t expect e-Textbooks to replace the traditional textbook any time soon. They foresee a transition, but expect academics to continue to select resources on the basis of content. In the meantime, they will continue their search for a new delivery platform, seeing the tablet PC with integrated eReader as an option. Overall, then, they’ve found that e-Readers simply don’t have the functionality to support the richness of e-Textbooks right now, and are more suited to a leisure-type read.

Opening the Walls of the Library – SOA & web services

It doesn’t happen often, but it is really nice when when you receive something produced for one purpose to find that it has been produced so well that it is good for so much more.  Let me explain….

My colleague Andy Latham has been pulling together a white paper Opening the Walls of the Library – SOA and web services at Talis[pdf].  It’s main purpose is to support the marketing effort behind Talis Keystone, our SOA platform that underpins Talis Library Integration Services.  To help explain those services, to the not necessarily technical people in library and other departments considering integration, he needed to explore the history, principles, and practical considerations of this approach.  It is in this explanation, I believe that he has produced a document that is a great introduction to the application of SOA and library web services in general.

Because of it’s original purpose, and the fact that for obvious reasons the examples and case studies come from Talis products and customers, the document could be considered by some as being a bit marketingy.  Nevertheless, if you want an overview of real-world issues (many of which are to do with people not technology), or business models, or web service functions, or why choose REST in favour of SOAP, in library SOA I can recommend this White Paper as an informative easy way in.

As Andy says in the conclusion:

SOA is not all about technology; SOA is a business journey that needs to follow a path with small commercial and technical steps towards a known vision of business maturity. Commercial and Open Source technology has paved a way for businesses to begin introducing an SOA strategy. Introducing an SOA strategy is as much of a technical challenge as it is an operational challenge as the technology will break down silos between teams, departments and organisations and conflicting business processes which worked well in the silo will need to be redeveloped to meet the new needs of the more agile business.

The release of the OLE’s report, which I commented upon previously, plus vendor initiatives such as OCLC’s Web Services and Ex Libris’ URM, have served to raise the prominence of web services in the world of libraries.  On a recent Library 2.0 Gang show about the OLE project it was clear, in the discussions between Andy, OLE’s Tim McGeary, Marshall Breeding and Ex Libris’ Oren Beit-Arie, that there is much more to integration than just technology.

I think it is fair to say that Libraries as a sector have not been at the leading edge of the SOA/web services debate.  It is also fair to say that for whatever reason the UK seems to been a few years ahead of some areas in reaping the benefits of such integration in libraries.  As Andy’s document shows, there is the potential for significant financial and organisational benefits when undertaking integration in this way.

“The 25,000 students at one of the largest Universities in the UK are now able to pay their library charges online using either debit or credit cards, enabling further efficiency savings for library staff and improving student services.”

“Getting relevant information from Voyager into personalised portal sites has been a key requirement for the University for some time…..  By building a SharePoint integration we are maximising the positive impact of our new VLE and enhancing elements of the Library service.”

“The University of Salford is in the process of transforming the way that the identities of its entire user population are managed across all key systems in the organisation. An essential part of the solution employed (using Sun Microsystems’ IdM suite) is the transition and management of up to 23,000 Talis LMS borrower identities via Talis Keystone.”

To reap these sort of benefits in a sustainable way a library has to be aware of, and have, a SOA strategy.  There is much in this white paper that can help those new to the subject to understand the issues.  As someone who thinks he knows about these things, I also found it very useful for checking and clarifying my assumptions.

So as I say, a recommended read….