Replacing textbooks with eReaders?

Todd Vandenbark

e-readers in higher ed logoIn an article posted last fall by the Chronicle of Higher Education, one way to reduce textbook costs for students would be to charge students a class materials fee which could then be used to buy eBooks for everyone in the class. Ebooks are “far cheaper to produce than printed texts, making a bulk purchase more feasible. By ordering books by the hundreds or thousands, colleges can negotiate a much better rate than students were able to get on their own, even for used books. And publishers could eliminate the used-book market and reduce incentives for students to illegally download copies as well.” Colleges and universities could even get bulk pricing on the e-readers themselves, either in software or hardware versions.

What would this mean for libraries? If every student has every book for every course, libraries would not have to purchase a copy to keep on reserve. They could focus more on purchases that would complement a given course’s content, including professors’ preferred journals.

But what form would this complementary content take? If eBooks become the norm, replacing print, we would need new ways for students to access our resources — journals, reference materials, etc. In other countries, to pay for purchases it is common to swipe one’s cellphone. Would libraries need a kiosk or similar device where students would swipe their eReader and receive materials they ordered during their research? Or would that functionality be handled by a learning management system (a later version of Blackboard)? If the latter were the case, libraries might simply become database-purchase-and-management centers, gradually losing the library-as-place concept and function.

Or, librarians could take the lead, and build a system that pulls topics from the instructor’s syllabus in a course management system (CMS), noting which areas will be covered at what point in the semester. The librarians could then uploading links to helpful resources directly to the CMS tailored to the class schedule. As students submit topics & descriptions for assignments to the CMS, librarians monitor them and offer personalize search assistance, even inviting students to the library for one-on-one search coaching.

These are two visions of the future of libraries. What do you think? What is your vision? Tell us!