Scholarly Use of E-Books in a Virtual Academic Environment: A Case Study

Article excerpt


E-books are digital versions of traditional print books that are readable across a variety of computing platforms including desktop PC, iPad, smart phone and purpose-designed agents known as e-book readers (Reitz, 201 la). E-books represent a new wave in the 'displacement' of traditional formats by digital information sources. Hence, e-books further evolve an existing trend toward online full-text in information retrieval in libraries (Stokker & Hallam, 2009). Armstrong and Lonsdale (2009a) justify e-books in terms of meeting the needs of remote students, short-loan or no-loan collections, the need for multiple copies/access, and additional features. The peer reviewed literature shows that e-books are growing in significance as a budget line in libraries. For example, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), e-book acquisitions accounted for 20% of the monograph budget in 2008 (Stokker & Hallam, 2009) and about 50% in 2010 (Huthwaite et al., 2011). A recent analysis of the Australian universities' aggregated data collected by the Council of Australian University Libraries (CAUL) showed a 512.3% increase from 2008 to 2010 in e-book acquisitions, with an increase of 61.9% between 2009 and 2010 (CAUL, 2012).

Adoption trends belie misgivings held by some commentators about the e-book phenomenon. For example, Crosetto (2011 : 125) contends that libraries entered the digital world with the hope that e-books would not have the perceived negative experiences associated with the print world. However, she concludes that challenges once associated with print monographs are equally applicable to e-books. These include rising costs and funding dilemmas, discipline-wise fair distribution of titles, use statistics, and preservation. Academic and research libraries also face change management dilemmas, with staff and establishment profiles that have grown up around servicing physical collections becoming less relevant.

As more of the library acquisitions budget is devoted to e-books, host libraries must establish the level and extent of use, demonstrating the worth of e-books as library resources (Crosetto, 2011: 125). User needs assessment and the analysis of e-book usage patterns have become key factors in managing library collections effectively (Al, Soydal, & Tonta, 2010). However, adoption metrics describing 'acceptance' and 'use' are often simplistic and based on user sessions, views, browsing, and reading behaviour. This is at once different, but analogous to how libraries have used circulation statistics and reference desk transactions to evaluate the worth of print holdings in the past. In an effort to move this discussion forward, the ECU study presented here, explores the phenomenon of the 'power user' as an important construct in understanding e-book adoption.


Libraries have been persistent and committed adopters of new technology. This journey began with the first attempts at library automation. Reitz (2011b) concludes that libraries first started digitising catalogues, progressed to periodical indexes and abstracts, then to serials and large reference works, and finally to book publishing. Polanka (2011: 5) claims that "e-books have been around for more than 10 years but are still a relatively new phenomenon to many librarians and publishers."

With the introduction of aggregator services that provide access to a wide range of e-books from hundreds of publishers on a single platform in a variety of disciplines, "the e-book has become mainstream, with recent triple-digit annual increases in sales" (Polanka, 2011 : 3). E-books involve a new business model for scholarly publishing that promises to deliver strategic business benefits to publishers and transform the world of scholarly publishing. For example, e-books reduce costs and risk associated with academic publishing, providing a supply side stimulus to the growth of academic publishing. …