The ‘fully integrated electronic textbook’ could appease both bibliophiles and fans of the e-book, says Diana Hinds
When Mirjam Schokker started her MBA at Ashridge Business School in 2005, she assumed she would be using a lot of books – and even bought many of her own. But once into the course, she quickly found that using electronic resources on the internet was an invaluable study aid.
“In regular life I like books, but for study I found working online more effective,” she says. “Through the company I worked for, I had access to a company resource which meant I could scan through many of the recommended course books online. This enabled me to pick out part of a book, dump it quickly into a word file and then easily refer to it when writing.”
Schokker did, however, find the Ashridge library extremely useful. As a full-time student, she chose to do most of her work on the library’s pleasant top floor, using a combination of books, videos and online resources. The library staff, too, were a great asset.
“It was really helpful to be able to say to the staff, I don’t know where to look. There is so much information out there – including eight different online databases at Ashridge – and online you can get really lost.”
Schokker’s experiences are typical of MBA students. Some prefer to – or have to – work from home and to research online, but many still want a book to hold in their hands now and again.
“Students do still need to have books,” confirms Mary Landen, MBA director at Leeds University Business School, which gives each student about a dozen key textbooks. “They need key texts to refer to that are accessible at all times, in a way that electronic resources might not be.”
The Saïd Business School in Oxford began life in 2002 with a “virtual library” for its students, giving them easy intranet access. “We started from the virtual side of things and as we didn’t have a large back-collection to house, we decided to prioritise access rather than material on the shelf,” explains Andy Priestner, Saïd librarian.
But the library was somewhat surprised when many of its MBA students rejected the idea of an electronic course pack and said they wanted real books instead. “Surveys of our students tell us that they still love the printed word and still want the printed course packs that they can carry around with them,” says Andy Priestner. “It’s weird, because we expect them to want more e-books – yet they’re clinging on to the printed word.”
The Judge Business School in Cambridge, which was converted from a former hospital in the mid-Nineties, also started out with the belief that students would do most of their work electronically and wouldn’t have much need of a physical library. “Actually we found that students like the contact with library staff and they want somewhere to pop in between lectures,” says Jane
Kennerley, head librarian.
The Judge soon found its library so overcrowded that it has had to build an extension – in the form of an attractive mezzanine gallery, opened in January – to provide not only more shelf space but to give library users more room to plug in their laptops and work.
E-books have not developed as quickly as the Judge expected, explains Jane Kennerley, “because publishers are still unwilling to create electronic versions of their most popular titles.” But she now believes that to produce an electronic version of every book in existence is not necessarily the way forward; what is needed, she argues, are specially designed electronic texts which give students more interactive possibilities.
Jochen Runde, reader in economics at the Judge, is helping to pioneer exactly this type of text. The fully integrated electronic economics textbooks that he has contributed to, LiveEcon, believed to be the first of their kind, include moving diagrams, interactive simulation models and fully-automated self-test facilities. Runde is planning to make these texts compulsory for the next intake of MBA students at the Judge, who all begin the programme with a course in economics.
“It’s much more fun than a book; there’s a pace to it and a movement, and there’s the benefit of seeing the models physically adjusting,” he says. “One of the problems with economics is that it’s very mathematical and a lot of people have problems with maths. But with this they can see the effect of changing a variable – for instance, the Bank of England changing interest rates. They can see the connections between the maths and what’s happening on screen, and it removes some of the fear. It’s a much more intuitive way of seeing how the maths works.”
What should an MBA library have?
- An attractive and comfortable physical space. Students need desks where they can work and facilities to plug in laptops. A quiet reading room is important, as well as a space where students can talk and work in groups.
- Experienced and helpful staff. Students value a personal service and frequently need expert advice on which database they should be using.
- Printed books. To include: multiple copies of key MBA textbooks; books on MBA reading lists; a core collection of classic research works.
- Journals. Many libraries now make specialist journals available online. A small collection of printed journals is also desirable for browsing.
- Databases. To include financial, market research and news databases.
- Computers for accessing library resources.
- Videos. Many students find these a helpful way to learn.
- A photocopier. Not used as frequently as they were, but still important for printing out chapters of books.
- Paper. Most students write on screen, but paper is still required for printing out work and notes, note-taking and photocopying.
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited