Monday, December 07, 2009

Article Note: On Off-Campus Students Using E-Books

Citation for the article:

Grudzien, Pamela and Anne Marie Casey, "Do Off-Campus Students Use E-Books?" Journal of Library Administration 48.3/4 (2008): 455-466.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

In brief, the author's study did find that rates for e-book usage had gone up. However, the article does raise various questions that, given current conditions, make me say we should not be jumping on the e-book bandwagon just to get rid of the print collection. Some brief notes:

  • The definition of e-book: "Electronic books (e-books) are those that are the equivalent of a print book in a digital format. They are read on a computer or other digital reader" (455).
  • Yes, some challenges might disappear: "If a library can provide a comprehensive e-book collection to off-campus users, the challenges associated with shipping, costs, delays, and customs regulations when sending to other countries should disappear" (456). I don't think we send books overseas, so the customs issue would not be applicable to us. However, e-books do not come with challenges of their own, which at least the authors do mention.
  • Some findings from the article's literature review about trends of use: "In a further analysis of the same data, they determined that faculty and students in the humanities tend to use e-books only if there is no print available, and they prefer print books (Levine-Clark, 2007). In a study at Simmons College in 2006, the investigators discovered through survey and observation that students browse or scan e-books for specific information but do not intend to read them in their entirety (Hernon, Hopper, Leach, Saunders, & Zhang, 2007)" (qtd in 457). The issue of scanning would seem to match our own observations here. That is if the students do open the e-book. We still have some degree of resistance to e-book use. However, when they do open the book, they are just scanning for specific pieces of information. Overall, from reading this part of the literature review I got the impression that usage trends vary by subject and by local and very specific needs at times. No major generalizations can be made.
  • The one thing we do not have here, which makes a significant difference to collection development: "The university library has an annual acquisitions budget allocated by the university" (458).
  • E-books as cumbersome to off-campus students: "Off-campus students, who were interested in the e-books for ease of accessibility, found the process to access them very cumbersome" (459). I think this is probably the main reason e-books are not taking off as well as a lot of administrators would like. Here, at this time, we get at least 2-4 calls a month, give or take, for off-campus access issues related to e-books. We have a few e-book collections, but the usual "culprit" tends to be NetLibrary. From authentication issues to the PDF reader just not opening to a plethora of other complications (some out of our control, such as the student trying to access the e-book while at work, and their workplace has a firewall), we get the brunt of bad karma, so to speak, when the e-books do not work as they should. And then there are the students who just get frustrated and choose not to call us at all about the issue, giving up instead. As long as the process is not seamless, e-books are just not going to take off, let alone, replace the print collections. At this time, I don't see this getting solved any time soon.
  • Another question I had as well from the study: "In addition, there is no way to determine what constitutes a use. Did the student read the book, a chapter, or a page? Did the user search for just the section needed or access the book and decide not to use it all?" (465; emphasis in the original).
  • "Some ideas for further study in this area would be to survey students for their patterns of use, their satisfaction with e-book platforms, and their suggestions for new titles" (465). These are things I would like to know as well.

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