Tips from the Trenches: Ebooks, ebooks everywhere and not a helpful link

Author: Cinthya Ippoliti, Head, Teaching and Learning Services, University of Maryland Libraries

Editor’s note: “Ebooks, ebooks everywhere and not a helpful link” is the third in a series of blog postings, “Tips from the Trenches,” by Cinthya Ippoliti.

With the increased presence of ebooks in our collections, the UMD Libraries are attempting to address the needs of our users by conducting an internal usability testing project to identify issues such as accessibility, discoverability and general functionality. This project will lead to the creation of a troubleshooting guide for users as well as accompanying programming slated for Spring in the Terrapin Learning Commons in the form of an open house where we will work with our campus community to get readers and devices ebook ready. This seems to be the most logical unit to provide this type of support as ebooks cut across subject areas and disciplines and present more technological issues as opposed to content-related challenges.

So what are the issues we’re encountering and how do we translate them into an opportunity to assist our users? For the purposes of this testing, we’re using data collected via our LibAnswers system, but this could easily be the subject of a needs assessment survey or similar effort. Most of our e-book issues have to do with discoverability and accessibility. Patrons simply don’t know what titles we have available. We have had very few questions regarding e-book downloading to a particular reader. Most users simply want access – we have not had too many questions regarding check-out or keeping permanent copies either. It seems that most people have a particular chapter or section they need and as long as they can get access to that content, that’s their priority.

We’ve also heard from liaisons that they are getting questions from faculty about how to use e-books and we don’t have a good system in place for referring them to additional support. While we can troubleshoot accessibility issues such as links to titles we should own, there is no one area of the libraries that deals with the other sets of problems, such as vendor imposed limits on checking items out, formatting/printing and self-service options for more advanced users.

Our testing consists of the following activities and equipment with a volunteer group of about 12 staff from a variety of units and departments:

o Specify what vendors and titles to test
o Have a good variety of devices
o Try to “break” each e-book and test all possible options
o Each person should be testing every title
o We will then combine results from those who are using the same or similar devices for a comprehensive look at all the issues based on vendors, platforms and readers

1. iPhone 5
2. iPad or other tablet (Dell tablet and Android)
3. iPad mini
4. Kindle
5. Nook
6. Sony
7. Microsoft surface

We are also interested in asking the following types of questions regarding functionality:
1. Checkout and downloading options
2. File formats such as PDF’s or other
3. Capability to save, print and take notes
4. Necessity to use third party software

Testing is currently under way, and we hope to utilize the results of our study to create a troubleshooting guide and host an e-book open house in Spring 2014 based on a “petting zoo” approach to assist users who bring their own devices to get them set up, troubleshoot on the spot, and pre-load specific titles.

So what are the takeaways for this type of testing?
– This does not have to be a formal committee or initiative-we were able to purchase a modest amount of devices for those who did not already own one

– Internal testing is key-chances are if you’re having issues, so will your users

– There should be a unit or area that takes the lead in support and troubleshooting, otherwise users will not know where to go and there will not be a centralized effort

– Use existing or collect whatever data you need to help you decide where to start, as that’s often the most challenging aspect

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