E-books: an account of the student experience

Presenters: Bonnie Tijerina, Julie Griffin, and Heather Jeffcoat King, Georgia Institute of Technology’s Library & Information Center

Summary: As e-book platforms change, so does the experience for readers of scholarship in electronic format. Georgia Tech Library’s web usability working group undertook an e-book study in early Spring 2007 in order to gain insight into user expectations and perceptions of this increasingly popular research tool. Presenters will discuss the variety of e-book platforms, the techniques used in the Library’s usability study undertaken at Tech, and the effect of the study’s outcomes on e-books as licensed electronic resources in our library.

E-book readers have been available since 1990, but as pdas, smartphones, iphones, ipods, and the rest of small handheld devices serve more uses for all ages, the use of electronic text and technology of e-book readers has begun to change as well. Question: are e-books/ readers becoming more interactive? Do they have the potential to match the prevailing and essentially permanent fascination we see with handheld devices for media, music, and communication? Do electronic books offer more convenience for schoolwork, a new and potentially better way to read and study?

Since 2005, these librarians, who work together at the Georgia Institute of Technology Library and Information Center, have collectively been observing e-books and similar devices, and their use among students. Beginning in Spring of 2007, they conducted two surveys to determine the potential of e-book formats among students. This session was a review of this very current research among students, consisting of usability testing of e-books. They brought the Sony and iRex iLiad e-book readers with them, and sent these around through the audience so that we could all try them out. A librarian attending this session told us that she had just bought a Sony reader, and she was impressed with how useful and practical this was for trips. She had all the books she wanted to read for the flight to Denver in this lightweight format, and she said it worked very well. What follows here is a summary of this interesting presentation, but you might contact the presenters should you want to know more.

No surprises: For all the incredible wealth of electronic and print resources in the library, most students never used the physical library. Survey results of undergraduates showed that 198 out of 200 total students in the survey worked from their dorm and elsewhere. “I use what’s freely available online.” Almost never did they use the library web site. Typical response: amazement at discovering what the library offers to them for research online through the library web site.

Conclusions from the surveys:

“Young people are open to accessing electronic material on mobile devices.” E-book readers should be like print, but better. E-book readers should offer the same types of flexibility and options that are expected with other mobile devices. They should merge the benefits of digital with that of paper: create something new that allows for taking notes in the margins of a hypertext medium.

What students liked about e-books and readers; the features that were most valued:

· Students wanted hypertext or rollover text tags like the way the internet works, allowing linking to other concepts and information.

· From a law student: “I would love to have all my law texts on this type of device.”

· Portability: “keep all my books in one place” and “load everything on one device and read it anywhere.“

· What students liked best, in order of preferred options:
zooming, portability, legibility, searching, annotation, bookmarking.

· E-books offer enhanced ways to use books (annotations, search features, etc.)

Concerns and problems with e-books and readers:

· battery life – would it last for study all night?

· inconvenience of turning off and on if taking a break

· speed of loading pages was slow

· navigating was hard to do between sections, easier in a print book than e-book

· lack of color in the e-book reader interface – black and white only

· none of the e-books support multiple windows at the same time

· not as intuitive – takes study to learn

Interesting responses to e-books and readers from the surveys:

· Students were interested in etexts, since they thought that the etext would be free. An intriguing commentary about how the internet is considered to be free content for music, text, and images without copyright and intellectual property rights or ownership issues. The idea of dual publication of a text in print and electronic formats for purchase generated numerous comments from students.

· Results were opposite in the two surveys for types of use: In the first survey, 6 out of 7 students would choose e-books for schoolwork; only 1 out of 7 like to use them for leisure reading. From the second survey, a comment that: “novels, other leisurely reading would be best: not really suitable for school textbooks.” The presenters concluded that purchase of popular fiction titles in e-book format would be a more effective and cost-effective way to provide more leisure reading titles for students than print.

· In the Admissions Office, admission counselors asked new students: would you use resources if they were available in an i-pod or similar device? – answer : yes.

· A faculty member discovered that one of his required texts was available as an e-book, and planned assignments using the electronic version. However, the number of simultaneous users was not sufficient for the class.

· Licensing and copy issues related to e-books are not very clear to students.

Surveys used for this study:

1st survey: Spring, 2007:
Purpose: find out if the library should purchase more e-books and develop use.
Methodology: sent email to 2000 students to request participation; offered i-pod shuffle to students who contributed responses to e-survey of 10 questions.

2nd Survey Sept. 2007:
Purpose: A usability study with undergraduates to compare e-books readers. Three readers were tested using Netlibrary and other e-book systems.

E-book readers they used for the 2nd trial and results:

1. Sony Reader:
Cost: $300
Weight: 8.8 oz.
Features: 64mb ram; memory stick 4gb, rechargeable battery, variety of formats (pdf, jpg, mp3, text, gif, bmp, etc.)
Pros: user friendly, lightweight, offers an option to play music while reading.
Cons: didn’t like black & white, no color / no touch screen; no annotation; screen burn from text.

2. iPhone: The presenters considered this option though it is not solely an e-book reader.
Cost: $399
Weight: 4.8 oz.
Features: storage 8G, flash drive, built-in rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
Pros: portability, zooming, touch control, color interface, great resolution, easy to use in low or minimal lighting, multifunctional, good control over display variables.
Cons: web-based, no accessibility of pdf content or other applications, no way to make annotations, with zoom feature it is easy to lose context, hard on the eyes to read over longer spans of time, requires web access or 3rd party access.

3. iRex iLiad:
Cost: $700
Weight: 13.7 oz.
Features: 64 mb RAM, 256 flash memory
Pros: designed specifically for e-book reading, offers ability to annotate text, create notes pages,
bookmarking, zooming, wifi capability, large display, intuitive flip bar & stylus , allowing you to flip from one page to another easily.
Cons: steep learning curve, confusing interface, large & clunky

Survey conclusions:

Students interviewed in the survey are ready to try e-books and readers; the library will purchase Sony Readers to expand this service.

· Librarians concluded that it would be effective to increase promotion of both e-books and electronic resources overall that are available from the library’s web site.

· These devices can be used to meet an increasing demand for popular fiction.

· More comments comparing print, computer online books, and e-books:
“ Reading on a computer can be difficult because of the brightness of the screen”
“An e-book feels more similar to reading a physical book than reading a book on the web”
“An e-book is easier to read than a physical book”
“I don’t believe that e-books are the same as having the books on the shelf. The uses are different & both fill a need “ –librarian response

· New products, such as Amazon Kindle, and others coming on the market, will offer new options for us to try.

Future uses of e-books/readers based on these surveys and usability studies with students:

· The increasing demand for popular fiction can be managed with e-books.

· Provide Sony e-book readers for circulation.

· Improve catalog integration of e-books and other electronic resources.

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