Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Article Note: On Electronic Book Usage

Citation for the article:

Levine-Clark, Michael. "Electronic Book Usage: A Survey at the University of Denver." portal: Libraries and the Academy 6.3 (2006): 285-299.

Read via Project Muse.

Electronic books have not achieved the success that elections databases and journals have. The article reports on a survey conducted at the University of Denver's Penrose Library in the Spring of 2005. The survey looked at NetLibrary titles.

The Penrose librarians often get complaints about how hard it is to use electronic books, specially NetLibrary. We face those same complaints as well here, though another complaint at times is with ebrary and their reader, which requires a separate installation. In classes, I do get occasional questions about e-books, so some students have a degree of awareness about e-books. Levine-Clark points out a limitation of the study:
"the data do not show, however, how the books are used. For instance, the available statistics show that a book has been accessed but do not differentiate between a one-second click on a title and a five-hour immersion in a book. The data also do not tell us why an electronic version of a book was used instead of (or in addition to) the paper version" (286).

In the literature review, Levine-Clark points out that the literature on electronic books is still young. For example, Levine-Clark mentions a study done at Texas A&M that shows access to electronic books via the library's catalog improved usage. In my classes, I promote this type of use, but I do so casually. In other words, if I do a catalog demonstration, and an e-book appears, I will promote it. We probably should be marketing and promoting our e-book collections more, but that is another project. For myself, I would like more time to practice on the interfaces, but time is not available for that at the moment.

I found this interesting. Levine-Clark points to a study of e-books at North Carolina State done by Nancy J. Gibbs. Gibbs identified some usage patterns based on certain points of an academic semester.
"For instance, in the middle of the semester, there was high use of books on abortion, the death penalty, and similar topics for a current events paper in a required survey. At the end of the semester, presumably as students started to think about getting jobs, use of resume and cover letter books increased" (287).

According to Levine-Clark, the studies in general lack information about user satisfaction with e-books; the studies also lack data on reasons why patrons choose e-books.

The survey method is described in the article; there were 2,067 respondents to a survey with open-ended questions. One of the findings was that a small but significant portion of respondents confused e-books with e-journals or e-reserves. Other findings include:
  • "Awareness of electronic book availability does not necessarily translate into use" (291).
  • "From these answers, it is clear that the respondents value convenience (the convenience of not having to go to the library and the convenience of not having to wait for a print volume) and the ability to search within text" (292).
  • However, many users expressed a preference for print over electronic, unless for a very cursory use, due to issues like eye strain, difficulty navigating the online text, and just preference for a print format (292).
  • "Most of these respondents indicated that the amount of material to be read determines whether they will print it out or read it online. A significant number indicated, as well, the need to come back to material at a later time, and the desire to annotate or highlight the text can also factor into the decision to print" (294).
Finally, some notes from the article's conclusion:
  • Many respondents indicated they would use e-books if they knew about them. Some expressed a wish for training from the library on e-books. Thus, there is a need for better marketing and user education.
  • In terms of collection development, Levine-Clark writes, "either we can purchase duplicate print and electronic copies of books whenever possible, or we can try to determine which sorts of books are more likely to be used in one format or the other and target our selection accordingly" (298). Further study of this is suggested.

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