E-Book Discovery and Use Behaviour is Complex

Suzanne Lewis

Abstract


A review of:
Rowland, Ian, David Nicholas, Hamid R. Jamali, and Paul Huntington. “What do Faculty and Students Really Think about E-books?” Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives; 59.6 (2007): 489-511.

Objective – To assess academic users’ awareness, perceptions and levels of use of e-books. Also to discover the purposes for which e-books were used and identify the most effective library marketing strategies for e-books.

Design – Survey.

Setting – University College London (UCL).

Subjects – 1,818 UCL staff and students.

Methods – In November 2006, staff and students of UCL were asked to participate in an online survey, administered using SurveyMonkey software. The survey ran November 1-18, 2006. Survey results were analysed using Software Package for Social Sciences (SPSS).

Main Results – The response rate to the survey was at least 6.7%. A total of 1,818 completed surveys were received from approximately 27,000 potential respondents, although it is not known whether all e-mails announcing the survey were successfully delivered. No statistically significant differences were found between the demographic profile of the survey sample and the profile of the total UCL population. Data regarding e-book usage were collected from the sub-group of respondents who were existing e-book users, and data regarding use of print collections and book discovery were collected from all respondents.

Forty-four per cent of respondents had used e-books, with age a good predictor of usage. However additional data analysis revealed complex demographic interactions underlying e-book usage, making broad generalisations too simplistic. Of existing e-book users, 61% sourced e-books independently of the UCL library. Deeper analysis showed that men were more “library independent” than women and doctoral students were more so than other students and staff. Forty-eight per cent of existing e-book users preferred reading from a screen rather than paper, with men more likely to read from a screen than women, and undergraduates more likely to do so than other groups. Responses to questions about the purpose of reading showed that existing e-book users consulted e-books primarily for work and study, and tended to obtain these from libraries. They were less likely to use e-books for leisure, but if they did so, were likely to obtain them from non-library sources.

E-books were compared to traditional print across a range of factors and scored very favourably for ease of copying, currency, space requirements, 24/7 accessibility, convenience and ease of navigation. However e-books scored poorly compared to print for ease of reading, ease of marking a place and ease of annotation.

Regarding use of library print titles, data from all respondents indicated that women (42%) were more likely to be regular users of print than men (35%). Print book discovery behaviour is complex, and age, gender and subject area all influenced book discovery preferences. Analysis of data regarding satisfaction with UCL’s current provision of print library books showed that 41% rated this service as “excellent” or “good,” but further analysis by gender, age and subject area revealed pockets of low satisfaction which warrant further attention.

Students were much more aware of e-book availability through the UCL library than academic and research staff, with differences in awareness also displayed between different faculties. The library’s Web site and catalogue were the main channels for e-book awareness, with respondents themselves suggesting the library Web site and e-mail user guides as the most effective e-book awareness mechanisms.

Conclusion – This study reveals a significant level of interest in and use of e-books in one academic community, but with differences determined by age, gender, academic sub-group and subject area. It builds on the findings of previous studies of e-book usage and indicates key areas for further study. These include whether real-life information behaviour correlates with the self-reporting of respondents, and the intersection of gender and self-reported information behaviour. This information, plus the patterns of book discovery behaviour emerging from this study, will be of interest to publishers, booksellers and libraries.

Keywords


collections

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