Pearson has launched the third version of its Biblioteca Virtual Universitária (Virtual Library for Universities), expanding its features and the number of publishers included in the service, which provides Brazilian university students access to e-books via a digital platform.
Five more publishers are now providing titles for Biblioteca Virtual’s collection: Jaypee Brothers, an India-based publisher specializing in medical texts; Martins Fontes, which publishes books on the humanities; Educs, the University of Caxias do Sul press; Rideel, specialized in law books, and also Companhia das Letras, in which Penguin acquired a 45% stake last year. A total of 13 publishers participate in Biblioteca Virtual, including Pearson.
The service was launched in Brazil in 2005 with little more than 100 e-books. The goal was to provide material for distance-learning students, since this educational model was growing quickly at the time. Biblioteca Virtual now offers 1,500 titles in 40 subject areas and is used broadly as a library service by just over 100 institutions in the country, making it the largest initiative of its kind. Taken together, the universities using Biblioteca Virtual have 2.2 million students.
Schools can choose the range of access to the library they offer their students, so the fee per capita can vary from R$0.70 (US$0.35) to R$7 (US$3.5) per month, depending on contractual conditions.
Pearson’s closest competitor is Minha Biblioteca (My Library), founded a year ago by four of the biggest academic publishers in Brazil: Saraiva, Grupo A, Gen and Atlas. Unlike Biblioteca Virtual, Minha Biblioteca has been a low-key operation, not disclosing any contracts with schools so far.
Ministério da Educação (MEC, Ministry of Education) recently made a change in its rules for Brazilian universities that might stimulate demand for digital content in their libraries. In February, MEC released the newest version of a document containing all the requirements for school evaluations (in Brazil, higher education institutions are given yearly grades by MEC). For the first time, the document allows part of the readings used in courses to be digital — before, all books had to be physically available in the libraries.
According to Laércio Dona, Pearson’s director for educational services and university-level education, e-books not only present advantages such as unlimited numbers of copies, but they may also cost universities less. “We expected this new rule to really encourage universities to provide digital library services to students,” says Dona.
Pearson is also working to develop a library service for primary and secondary education, according to Dona.
The third version of Biblioteca Virtual Universitária introduced new features. It now allows students to comment on the texts, share them through social networks and print part of the books after paying a license fee. The content can also be accessed on Android or iOS tablets.