Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

How E-Books Are Used: A Literature Review of the E-Book Studies Conducted from 2006 to 2011

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

How E-Books Are Used: A Literature Review of the E-Book Studies Conducted from 2006 to 2011

Article excerpt

This literature review synthesizes the findings of some two dozen studies of e-book usage by members of academic communities. The studies included in the review were conducted between 2006 and 2011 mostly at colleges and universities in the Anglophone world. The studies yielded different results as to the issue of awareness of e-books among members of the academic community, but otherwise the rate of agreement between the studies was high. Most of them found that academic users typically search e-books for discrete bits of information, a behavior summed up by the formula "use rather than read." They also show that such use of e-books is typical across disciplines, but that members of the humanities and social-sciences were on the whole less satisfied with e-books than their counterparts in the hard-sciences and business. The two main advantages of e-books cited by library patrons surveyed by the studies were searchability and around-the-clock availability. The most frequently cited disadvantages were difficulty of navigation and loss of ability to perform customary research practices such as perusing and shelf-browsing because of e-books' lack of physicality. The latter part of the review develops some implications of the "use rather than read" formula and considers the impact the widespread adoption of handheld e-readers would have on academic libraries. In its concluding section, the review presents the studies' chief recommendations for academic libraries with regard to e-books, and offers suggestions for further investigation into their use by members of the academic community.

Of all the changes the digital age has brought and will continue to bring to libraries, e-books have the potential to be the most drastic. The e-book is not just another way of conveying content that might otherwise be presented in physical form; the translation of the text of a book into digital format can be expected to alter, in subtle ways that we are only beginning to understand, one's fundamental experience of that content. As for libraries themselves, it is already clear that books that do not exist physically obviate the need for the performance of the basic functions for which libraries came into being in the first place: the gathering, harboring, and displaying of physical volumes. Thus, while libraries have accommodated themselves to such changes in their traditional profile as the disappearance of physical journals into the digital realm and the shrinking of once-imposing reference collections, the possibility of a sweeping e-book revolution that has been predicted for over a decade presents a basic challenge to the library's very identity. Understandably, academic librarians have been keen to get a handle on this phenomenon with the potential to remake the library so fundamentally, even though it has not been until recently that e-books have made more than halting inroads into most collections. From the early days of e-books, librarians have published studies of how patrons in academic settings relate to this now format, sporadically at first but now in sufficient numbers to warrant a synthesis. (1) The purpose of this literature review is to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive review of those studies. Most of them, even the most recent, do not--and indeed cannot--take into account the ways in which those practices and attitudes may continue to evolve if handheld reading devices or tablets become a standard device for most users. Nevertheless they provide valuable insight into how academics at all levels are currently responding to the e-books provided by EBrary, Netlibrary, Springer, Ebook Library, and the other sources for the online e-books held by most academic libraries.

More than two dozen studies have been published in the last decade that probe patrons' attitudes and behaviors with respect to e-books. This survey concentrates on usage studies done since 2006, as these are more likely to reflect the current experience of users in academic libraries. …

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