Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Biddy Casselden  and Richard Pears.

Volume 52, Issue 2 (2019)

Only the abstract and the conclusion are presented in this post. However, the literature search is very informative about (mis)advantages. The bold titles are introduced by myself.


Ebooks have enthusiastically been adopted by academic libraries, viewed as a golden bullet by library professionals, resulting in efficient resource use, space saving, student satisfaction and accommodating millennial generation study habits. A small-scale online survey undertaken at Northumbria and Durham Universities investigated students’ ebook use, examining aspects of learning ebooks support, searching strategies, devices used for ebook access, and reading and use strategies. Ninety-two responses were analysed using a mixed methods approach. Despite many advantages of ebooks including portability, availability, functionality and searching, results, demonstrated sentiment regarding ebooks was not wholly positive. There were frustrations regarding the complexity of ebook provision, publisher’s restrictions and the lack of compatibility with reading devices. A key finding related to ebook interrogation which involved greater targeted searching of content and a ‘bite-size’ approach to reading. Caution must be observed to ensure that library collections facilitate a complexity of learning styles, and provide opportunities for students to better digest content


Ebooks have been adopted with great enthusiasm by academic libraries, enabling efficient use of resources and providing multiple simultaneous access to reading list sources. They support part-time and distance-learning students, free up space for study and other functions within the library, and improve student satisfaction, better suiting the study style of a predominantly millennial student generation.

However, almost half of the respondents were concerned about ebook availability, although whether this was due to a physical lack of ebooks in certain subject areas, or due to a misunderstanding regarding how to find out about and access ebooks is debatable. It was also evident that personal preference for hard copy impacted on respondent feelings about ebook use, and their engagement with such texts.

Respondents chose ebooks because of certain key advantages, particularly relating to convenience and accessibility, portability, navigability and the fact that act as a preview in order to determine usefulness of a particular book. Despite these advantages, sentiment regarding ebooks was not wholly positive. For many respondents there existed a ‘soft spot’ for hard copy format, and there was a perception that this format enabled an authentic, ‘real’ and enjoyable reading experience.

Respondents accessed ebooks in a variety of ways, with online reading lists being an important access tool for undergraduate students. The personal computer was the favoured way of viewing ebooks, and this included laptops, in addition to home computers. However, this did result in challenges with reading digital content, particularly with regard to physical issues to do with eyestrain and headaches, in addition to practical issues related to navigation, such as flicking between pages, and appreciating the entirety of the physical book.

Respondents also expressed frustration regarding the complexity of ebook provision, and the apparent incompatibility with their own ebook readers. The importance of having a seamless ebook service with simplified logins was viewed as very important to respondents, and acted as a deterrent for some users, impacting on the access experience. The availability of books in online form is also a challenge for libraries and all study levels of students. Publishers’ restrictions on the availability of new core text books, and their preference for individual purchases by students rather than collective access through a library, has often resulted in libraries buying multiple copies of print books, despite this being born-digital information. The high cost of individual purchase of ebooks hints that perhaps the savings publishers have made in publishing ebooks have not yet been passed on to students or libraries. Publishers’ restrictions on the percentage of an ebook that can be downloaded or the number of concurrent readers (if available at all), also caused challenges for respondents. For respondents looking for research sources there was the further problem that books from the mid-20th to early 21st centuries were out of print but still in copyright.

A key finding from this research was that respondents clearly used a different strategy by which to interrogate an ebook, compared to a hard copy book. The keyword functionality that many ebooks possess enabled a different user behaviour with targeted searching of the content, thereby saving time, and acting as a taster for determining the usefulness of content. This resulted in a search style more akin to Google searching, which millennial students are well used to, however this did not necessarily enable full appreciation of the text, and tended to disconnect searched terms from the overall context and meaning of the book. Such a bite-size approach meant that respondents were less inclined to engage fully with the book content, and avoided the linear reading process more commonly found used with hard copy books.

Therefore, ebook use did not fully satisfy respondents, partly due to the historic paradigm of hard copy and the fact that many respondents are more familiar with using this medium; however, it was also partly due to lack of cognition and the difficulties respondents had in working with this format. Therefore, the learning styles that students adopted were sometimes challenged by using ebooks, and in addition the technology used to access the ebook resulted in difficulties in fully engaging with content. As previously mentioned, some subject areas were not well provided for by ebooks, whereas other publications were too old. Therefore, respondents predominantly exhibited a hybrid approach to their book use.

Respondents expected the ebook service to be accessible and easy to use. They liked the interactivity of an ebook, but did not want licenses to impact on what they could and could not do. They wanted a good range of books, accessible on whatever device they want to use, and also have the option of viewing a hard copy. Although not explicitly expressed, it was evident that they required user education to help them to refine their ebook interrogation skills and to enable them to learn more deeply.

Therefore, information literacy training is vital for students, particularly training that focuses on searching for ebooks, and the role of digital serendipity, in addition to examining strategies for enhancement of active learning using digital resources.

In summary, caution must also be observed in ensuring that a library collection facilitates the learning styles of all student levels, and provides the opportunity for students to better digest and engage with book content, through the use of hard copy format. There is a danger that ebooks may be frustrating certain users to engage less deeply with concepts, or result in long-term physical harm for the user, depending on how they choose to read the ebook.

Further research questions that arose from this research included a variety of aspects, including why respondents preferred ejournals to ebooks; what level of recall do they have after engagement with an ebook; the extent to which the challenges of ebook use deter user engagement; the ways in which hardware impacts on the ebook use experience; the new learning styles that result from ebook use; and to establish the key information literacy skills that would help to improve deep learning with ebooks.




Views: 0