Ebooks and Beyond: Update on a Survey of Library Users

By Duncan, Ross | Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Ebooks and Beyond: Update on a Survey of Library Users


Duncan, Ross, Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services


In April 2010 a survey was sent electronically to 40,000 members of Sunshine Coast Libraries to ascertain their use of ebooks and eAudiobooks. This was followed in April 2011 by a survey to identify changes in the electronic behavior and expectations of library members. The results indicate a high level of interest in ebooks and eAudiobooks, and a strong interest in emerging technologies such as iPhones, iPads, and Kindle. These trends present public libraries with the challenge of advocating for and rapidly growing their virtual offerings, and becoming effective advisers to their users about such emerging technologies and their capabilities.

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In the past decade, there's barely been an industry left untouched by the virtual tsunami that is the internet. You can now add books to that list. (1)

A decade into the 21st century, the digital revolution shows no signs of slowing, and the library community is both struggling to keep up and envisioning future library services that incorporate new philosophies, new technologies and new spaces to meet the needs of all users more effectively than ever before. (2)

While there have been a number of international studies of ebooks and their market uptake, the most recent conducted by the American library journal, there are no similar studies for Australia. There has been some analysis of options for audiobooks for Australian library services, (3) but little data about user perceptions and expectations for eAudiobooks, ebooks or other virtual services

Although ebooks have been around in some form for decades, it has only been in the last several years that a real market for them has emerged. There are several possible reasons for this increasing popularity. The introduction of next generation ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and multifunction devices such as the Apple iPad and other tablets, combined with increased availability of titles are beginning to make ereading a convenient and inexpensive activity.

The recent report from the American library journal indicates that 72% of public libraries in the US offer ebooks to their members and 5% circulate preloaded ereading devices (with another 24% considering it). (4)

It is clear that ebooks are gaining popularity in the general population and as libraries internationally endeavour to find their place in this sector, it is important to monitor the trends and expectations among library users.

The Sunshine Coast surveys

In April 2010 a survey containing 10 questions was distributed electronically to 40,000 library members on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland to ascertain the usage of ebooks and electronic audiobooks (eAudiobooks) and emerging local trends. This paper contains the results of that 2010 survey, plus results from a follow up survey done in April 2011 to identify whether there had been changes in the behaviour or expectations of library members. The results indicate that there is a high level of interest in ebooks and eAudiobooks in the community and also that there is strong demand for emerging technologies such as the iPhone, iPad and Amazon's Kindle. These local trends, which are mirrored internationally, present libraries with a challenge to improve their virtual offerings and advocate effectively for the role of libraries in this emerging high growth area.

Background

While electronic books have existed since the 1970s when Project Gutenberg began digitising text, there has been a lack of quality devices on which to read the material. With large global companies now focusing energy on the development of such devices and more titles rapidly becoming available, we are at a turning point for the industry.

Ebooks have now reached mainstream adoption in the consumer sector in the US. In 2009, the Kindle was Amazon's best selling product, and had more than 390,000 titles available. …

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