"But I Want a Real Book": An Investigation of Undergraduates' Usage and Attitudes toward Electronic Books

By Gregory, Cynthia L. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

"But I Want a Real Book": An Investigation of Undergraduates' Usage and Attitudes toward Electronic Books


Gregory, Cynthia L., Reference & User Services Quarterly


During the fall of 2004, the Head of Electronic Resources at the College of Mount St. Joseph's Archbishop Alter Library conducted a survey using a paper-based questionnaire and administered it to several randomly chosen undergraduate courses. The goal of the study was to investigate the college's undergraduates' usage and attitudes toward electronic books. The study grew from the college librarians' informal observations of students' reactions, many times negative, to e-books over a four-year period. Results ran counter to what one might expect of undergraduates belonging to the Millennial or "net" generation. The findings show that students have mixed feelings about using e-books; students will use e-books but prefer using traditional print books. The study gives insight into where electronic and print media are in the current academic realm.

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When electronic books first appeared on the commercial market in the 1990s, many information technology experts predicted that print books would become obsolete. (1) Despite the paperless-society predictions, the printed book persists into the digital twenty-first century and remains a much utilized and integral part of our research, media, and leisure cultures. At the same time, e-books (both Web-based and device-based) have experienced continued growth and an undeniable presence despite their own growing pains in recent years.

After the dot-corn crash in 2000, many e-book vendors folded or merged with other companies. In fact, of the twenty-four initial e-book firms, only eight are still active. (2) The e-book market initially weathered this change by shifting focus away from device-based models toward Web-based databases. Currently, trends in the e-book market reflect concentrations in three areas: (1) Web-based aggregated collections with academic content, such as reference, business, and information technology; (2) audio e-books, due in large part to the combined popularity and ubiquity of Harry Potter audio books and iPods; and (3) a curious resurgence in dedicated e-book devices, such as the 2006 Sony Reader and the 2007 Kindle Reader from Amazon. (3)

Academic libraries have long served "as repositories of the written word, regardless of the particular medium used to store the words." (4) As early adopters of e-books, college and university libraries have continued adding these electronic texts and other multimedia to library collections. For students in an academic environment, Web-based electronic books such as netLibrary offer twenty-four-hour access to research orientated e-content from anywhere, whether it is a wireless laptop or a dorm-room desktop. While usage data may indicate that patrons access these e-book databases, what the data does not tell us is our students' attitudes toward e-books.

BACKGROUND

During the fall of 2004, the Head of Electronic Resources at the College of Mount St. Joseph's Archbishop Alter Library conducted a survey that investigated undergraduates' usage and attitudes toward e-books. The study grew from the college librarians' informal observations of students' reactions (often negative) to e-books over a four-year period. The Archbishop Alter Library obtained the e-book database netLibrary in 2000 through its OhioLINK membership. To replicate simultaneous use, checkout time for each netLibrary book was limited to two hours. In subsequent years, other e-book databases were added to the library's collection, including Safari Tech Books Online, ABC-Clio Reference Books, and Oxford Reference Online. The librarians heavily marketed these resources to students, faculty, and staff. In particular, they promoted these resources with brochures, bookmarks, Web pages, campus-wide e-mail announcements, and during instruction sessions. In an effort to increase access and exposure, the library's Technical Services Department loaded approximately thirteen thousand netLibrary e-book MARC records into FOCUS, the library's OPAC. …

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"But I Want a Real Book": An Investigation of Undergraduates' Usage and Attitudes toward Electronic Books
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