Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Adoption of E-Book Readers among College Students: A Survey

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

Adoption of E-Book Readers among College Students: A Survey

Article excerpt

To learn whether e-book readers have become widely popular among college students, this study surveys students at one large, urban, four-year public college. The survey asked whether the students owned e-book readers and if so, how often they used them and for what purposes. Thus far, uptake is slow; a very small proportion of students use e-readers. These students use them primarily for leisure reading and continue to rely on print for much of their reading. Students reported that price is the greatest barrier to e-reader adoption and had little interest in borrowing e-reader compatible e-books from the library.


Portable e-book readers, including the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader, free e-books from the constraints of the computer screen. Although such devices have existed for a long time, only recently have they achieved some degree of popularity. As these devices become more commonplace, they could signal important changes for libraries, which currently purchase and loan books according to the rights and affordances associated with print books. However, these changes will only come about if e-book readers become dominant.

For academic libraries, the population of interest is college students. Their use of reading formats drives collection development practices, and any need to adjust to e-readers depends on whether students adopt them. Thus, it is important to research the present state of students' interest in e-readers. Do they own e-readers? Do they wish to purchase one? If they do own them, do they use them often and regard them suitable for academic work?

The present study surveys students at Queens College, part of the City University of New York, to gather information about their attitudes toward and ownership of e-books and e-book readers. Because only Queens College students were surveyed, it is not possible to draw conclusions about college students in general. However, the data do provide a snapshot of a diverse student body in a large, urban, four-year public college setting.

The goal of the survey was to learn whether students own and use e-book readers, and if so, how they use them. In the midst of enthusiasm for the format by publishers, librarians and early adopters, it is important to consult the students themselves, whose preferences and reading habits are at stake. It is also vital for academic libraries to understand whether and how students are using e-book readers to respond appropriately. As new media formats emerge, libraries must avoid both extremes: uncritical, hype-driven adoption of new formats and irrational attachment to the status quo.

* Research Context

Recently introduced e-reader brands have attracted so much attention that it is sometimes difficult to remember that those currently on the market are not the first generation of such devices. The first generation was introduced, to little fanfare, in the 1990s. Devices such as the SoftBook and the Rocket E-Book reader are well documented in the literature, but were unsuccessful in the market. (1) The most recent wave of e-readers began with the Sony Reader in 2006 and Amazon's Kindle in 2007, and thus far is enjoying more success. Barnes and Noble and Borders have entered the market with the Nook and the Kobo, respectively, and Apple has introduced the iPad, a multifunction device that works well as an e-reader.

Amazon claims that e-book sales for the Kindle have outstripped their hardcover book sales. (2) These numbers may reflect price differences, enthusiasm on the part of early adopters, marketing efforts on the parts of these particular companies, or a lack of other options for e-reader users because the devices are designed to be compatible primarily with the offerings of the companies who sell them. Nevertheless, they certainly indicate a rise in the consumption of e-books by the public, as the dramatic increase in wholesale e-book sales bears out. …

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