Friday, April 25, 2014

Article Note: On E-book Literacy and Undergraduate Experience with E-Books

Citation for the article:

Muir, Laura and Graeme Hawes, "The Case for e-Book Literacy: Undergraduate Students' Experience with e-Books for Course Work."  The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39 (2013): 260-274.

Read via ScienceDirect.

I was interested in this article because we are in the midst of discussing our philosophies or approaches when it comes to e-books. We are asking questions now such as:

  • what is the role of e-books?
  • are they just for brief, scholarly uses? 
  • do we want or wish to encourage people to actually read them? 
  • academic books versus popular books? which to collect? how much of each? do we even bother with or consider popular reading materials as e-books? 
I was also interested in this article due to a recent reading experience. I read a book on readers' advisory, and I wanted to see if I could get other titles in that series. My library has a couple of the titles in question as electronic books (part of the EBSCOhost e-book collection). I noticed that to "borrow" it and download it to a reading device (if I recall, it would work with my iPad with Bluefire in this case), after setting up an account with the EBSCO system, I could only have the book for five days give or take. I can read fast, but I cannot read that fast, so naturally I ask our electronic resources manager about it. She informed me that the loan could be renewed if need be or that in the long term we (the library) could decide to change the loan limit. That got me thinking what about other people who may want to read a full book for any number of reasons and they get the issue I got. This is a bit of a long way to express some of the things I am thinking about as I read this article.

The article reports on an observation-based case study where students were given an assignment that required the use of e-books. The idea was to see how the students used the e-books and to learn about their experience with them. The study took place at St. Andrews University, and it was students in a Quantum Mechanics class. To collect data, they did a pre-assignment questionnaire, a direct observation of a sample of students that had taken the questionnaire, and an interview after the tasks. The article includes appendices so readers can see the survey instruments. I know that some of the questions in the initial survey are ones we might want to integrate in our data gathering down the road.

Notes from the article, with some comments:

  • "Some of the reasons for slow acceptance of e-books have included limited academic e-book provision by publishers, lack of awareness of e-books among potential users, user discomfort from reading online and poorly designed interfaces on e-book platforms" (260). (Not to mention different platforms, and they all have different technical requirements and obstacles to overcome, and more.)
  • From the literature review, reasons given for the appeal of e-books: 24/7 availability, "instant online access," and "no need to visit the library" (261). This from a 2009 study by Chelin (link to Chelin article here).
  • "If e-books are to be widely adopted as an alternative to the printed book for academic work, then they must provide better user experience and tangible enhancements for scholarly work" (261). (We are are way behind on this issue. It is a big reason why when we offer students an e-book, they almost inevitably answer, "do you have the real book?")
  • From the findings of the first questionnaire: "Most of the students (98.3%) had used e-books prior to the study. Of these, 95.2% had used them for academic study." Now, what we really need to pay attention to is this: "However, this does not imply that they had successfully mastered the features of e-books and it was evident (in the observed task) that some of these students struggled, even with basic navigation, despite having used e-books previously" (262). This also prompted me to ask if we should be adding some instruction on how to use e-books to our library instruction program, be it in the instruction sessions or maybe as workshops (the article will make a case for e-book literacy, so it would certainly provide me with evidence to support making such a case here). 
  • Notice the latter part of this statement: "This suggests that the students had perhaps used e-books because they were instructed to do so, or out of interest or desire to explore the format, but that further engagement with e-books would be driven by need to access a text in whatever form was available (with print as the preferred option)" (262). And do note the part in parenthesis. In other words, e-books may tolerated as the only option available, but they are not the preferred option, and in my experience at the reference desk e-books are the option to avoid unless there is nothing else available. Now I think some of that has improved a bit over time, but there is still a long way to go. In classes, we may show students that we do have e-books, and we may highlight a feature or two, but there is certainly no formal instruction on how to use them. This is something I realize we need to work on, but then the usual question of time constraints in an instruction session arises. 
  • Students often reported problems with the search functions of e-book platforms. This caught my eye because often when talking up e-books, the fact that "you can search it" is a talking point. However, depending on the platform, the search function may or not do what one intuitively expects it to do.
  • "Most of the participants in the observed task struggled with page to page navigation: from discovering the features which allowed them to navigate the pages; to using them properly; to general frustration at the slowness of page loading and the inability to scroll down through pages" (266). This right here is one of various reasons that e-books are not going to beat print books any time soon no matter what some tech guru says.
  • Furthermore, a student respondent: "I'm thinking about using a [print] textbook as opposed to this, in terms of finding something unknown it would be a bit quicker because, you know, you can flick back and forth through the pages at a faster speed." [Student E]" (267). For me, as a user of e-books (a lot of them being books I review), this is a big reason I prefer print books. Nothing that frustrates a reader faster than trying to move back and forth in a book and the pages "freeze up." 
  • Yet not all hope is lost. Here is something contrary to the common wisdom: "This suggests that students will read e-books online at length where they perceive the value of doing so" (267). Making those e-books work better certainly would help more. 
  • In addition, the inconsistent nature of platforms, access, and other issues with e-books could raise other concerns, such as "accessibility issues could arise for students with additional learning needs (such as Dyslexia or Dyspraxia)" (268). Overall, many of the e-book platforms I have observed are not necessarily the most friendly to students who may have learning or other disabilities.
  • Here is a totally cynical observation on my part as to why e-book issues do not get fixed (or at least do not get fixed in any reasonable time frame): it is not commercially viable for the providers to fix them. After all, as the article quotes, "a solution which addresses user requirements but is not commercially viable is of no value. . . " (272). It's of no value to the e-book provider that is. 
  • On what librarians can do: "Availability is only part of the issue, however. Librarians have a role to play to effectively market and promote collections and make e-books easily discoverable via Library OPACs-- perhaps even at chapter level. . . " (272). 
  • This goes to my previous question on e-books and instruction: "For librarians and academics, the onus is on developing skills for effective use of e-books. This study has revealed that current approaches to training students to use e-books effectively for scholarly activity is generally lacking. Instruction tends to be focussed on locating the e-books for study rather than on their use to achieve students' goals" (272). How can we address this becomes my question. Additional workshops? For the students? In our campus here, could we do it with the peer tutors? For faculty? The authors propose a useful typology of skills and use experiences. For me, I do wonder then how it can be integrated into our information literacy program's objectives and assessments. That is thinking a bit further down the road for me. 
The article certainly gave me a lot to think about. I did briefly discuss it with my library director, and I know this will be a topic we will continue to explore. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Booknote: The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd Edition)

(Crossposted from my personal blog, The Itinerant Librarian)

Becky Siegel Spratford, The Reader's Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd edition). Chicago: ALA, 2012. ISBN: 9780838911129. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, readers' advisory, horror

This book was a serendipity find for me at the public library. I picked it up to get a refresher on the genre and help keep up my RA (readers' advisory for my non-librarian friends) skill set. I did take the coursework for RA in library school, but I am also an avid reader and strive to keep up with various genres. After all, if this academic librarian gig does not pan out, I think I can still get employed at a public library. Plus, for me, reading is fun. As for the horror genre, I would not consider myself a "horror reader," but I do read in the genre, which I enjoy now and then. This book is part of ALA's RA series, and it was pretty good in providing an overview of the genre. It is a good aide for librarians who may not know much about horror.

The book focuses on horror; it does address what could be labeled as "related" genres such as dark fantasy or paranormal, but the bottom line here is true horror. However, in this day and age where paranormal fiction (often romance with paranormal elements) is such a big hit with readers, it needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of horror, and the book does that, providing some small guidance on those given the crossover appeal. This is to address, for instance, the nice lady who reads, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and wants to read more "horror." What that reader probably wants is more paranormal fiction, possibly with romance elements, but it has vampires and werewolves, so it has to be horror, right? The librarian does not have to "correct" the lady. Just know the distinctions so you can provide the best advice possible and help your reader get to their next great read. Yet at the end of the day, the core of the book is horror.

For the purposes of the book, the author defines horror as:

 "a story in which the author manipulates the reader's emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonist and provoke terror in the reader" (13). 

That definition is the starting point.

The book's first three chapters provide a history and genre overview. The next set of chapters provide annotated lists with some readalike suggestions in these horror topics:

  • classics, 
  • ghosts and haunted houses
  • vampires
  • zombies
  • shape-shifters
  • monsters and ancient evil
  • witches and occult
  • Satan and demonic possession
  • comic horror.
The last two chapters deal with using your collection and marketing. The chapter on whole collection RA was good as it reassures librarians they may already have many horror titles in the collection they can start promoting right away. This chapter also looks at other genres such as supernatural, paranormal, nonfiction, and graphic novels that horror readers may like as well.

The book is mainly designed for librarians, especially public librarians. However, I think the chapters with book lists could help some advanced horror readers as well as readers new to the genre. As I mentioned, I do read some horror; I have read some of the basics, including some mentioned in the book, but I also found some new reading suggestions that I jotted down.

Overall, this is an accessible, concise book that provides a lot of reading ideas and suggestions. As a reader and librarian, I really liked this one. It does make me willing to go look for other books in the RA series too.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

This is the list of titles I jotted down from the book to add to my TBR list. In parenthesis, I am putting the label the book used and any comments I may have. I am also including WorldCat links to help my four readers and me find them later.

Books I jotted down from the opening chapters (i.e. caught my eye right away):

  • Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (I have been told this is pretty much classic. Only Joe Hill I have read, which I enjoyed, is his Locke & Key graphic novel series.) 
  • Brian Keene, Castaways (the author mentioned this book a few times, deals with one of those "Survivor" type of reality shows.)
  • Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (I have read Bradbury, and I can't believe I have not read this. We need to fix that gap.)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Terror and Mystery. (1906)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (I have actually read some of his works, but would love to read more)
Other books I jotted down as I read the book: