College Library surveys and ebooks – guest post no.1

In the past couple of months, three College library surveys have yielded feedback on ebooks to the Advisory Group.  With thanks to Janet Chow (St John’s), Liz Osman (Homerton) and Helen Murphy (Trinity Hall) we present a collated summary.Survey

Use of ebooks

St John’s Library, using a ranked scoring system, put ebooks in the context of other materials and found that the most used learning resource was print books (6.16), followed by ejournals (4.51) and ebooks (3.86).

Looking at ebooks specifically, Homerton Library found that just over half of the respondents (57%) said they had read some of the library-purchased ebooks; 40% found them useful.  31% of respondents said they would like more ebooks in their subject.

Despite this, 29% said they would only look at an ebook if a print copy was not available, and only 10% preferred an ebook to print, a lower figure than some other surveys.

The Librarian at Homerton added that their students often still want staff to buy the physical copy, or an extra copy of it rather than use the ebook. Occasionally this is due to how diagrams display in the ebook, or that they can’t be printed or pasted into their essays, but mostly it comes down to preference. She noted that many more respondents wanted more ebooks than preferred them, and surmised that the idea and promise of ebooks is very enticing, but the reality for some is that they are a let down: possibly due to concurrent usage issues, ability to print/copy pages or diagrams, issues with screen-reading, the variety of platforms etc. Further research needed!

Trinity Hall’s survey, unusually for a College Library, yielded more responses from postgraduate students than undergraduates, although across all subjects.  Questions were framed about ebooks in general, not just those bought by the library.

Responses revealed that the preference for, and willingness to use, ebooks depends on how much has to be read.  When reading just a chapter of an ebook, their preferences were relatively evenly split, with slightly more students (28%) preferring an ebook to a print copy, and a slight majority (37%) showing no preference.  When a full book had to be read, the preference for a print copy (81%) was fairly unmistakable.

Students were also asked about the best features of ebooks, with 61% liking instant availability, and free text searching, off-campus availability, ease of access and no need to carry books around following on. This information is especially helpful in promoting ebooks to readers.

Responses to a general question suggest there are still some issues with finding ebooks in LibrarySearch (online catalogue), though this might include authentication difficulties as well, and it might also suggest that there are problems with training in the use of the catalogue and marketing the collection.  A large minority of students was concerned about the cost of printing and the restrictions on how much could be printed.  About half the students said that they did not like reading on screen, but the authenticity of ebooks was not considered to be problematic by most respondents.

Looking ahead, St John’s students were asked to predict their use of ebooks in future.  This group predicted that their use of all learning resources would either stay the same or increase.

58% said they will continue to use print books and 49% that they will only use ebooks if print copies are not available.

47% said they will continue to use ebooks on desktop or laptop computers, 37% predict using ebooks on other mobile devices (eg smartphone/Kindle/iPad/e-reader).

This may be because of the ease of reading on a larger screen and inability to download library-purchased ebooks to the Kindle.  Interestingly, Trinity Hall found that at present the majority of students use laptop computers (98%) to read ebooks, with only 14% using tablets and 19% using Kindles.

You will be aware of the heavy marketing of the iPad and other tablet computers, it will be interesting to see how accurate are these predictions in a year or two.

Sarah Stamford


Note on responses:

Homerton College  : 353 responses, majority undergraduate.

St John’s College : 41% response rate – 426 respondents of 1,040 College members

Trinity Hall College : 23% of undergraduates, 43% of postgraduates + 8 Fellows and 7 others.


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