Perspectives of Librarians and Educators
Rachel Wexelbaum, Plamen Miltenoff, Susan Parault
Academic libraries are currently questioning whether or not to invest in Kindles (or other mobile EBook readers, in this paper referred as “ereaders”) to increase access to electronic books (EBooks). The decision making process is influenced by monthly subscription costs, limited resources for academic libraries, maintenance costs, and license agreements—as well as demand for online reference books and textbooks. While academic libraries decide how to increase access to EBooks, and where to build EBook collections, the focus on “convenience” often overrides a deeper conversation on how a fast, large-scale replacement of paper books with EBooks may affect student reading comprehension or retention of information. In addition, similarly to academic librarians’ consideration of taking “diversity” into account when building subject collections, it is also necessary to take the “diversity” of reading styles and user behaviors into account when developing collections.
This paper will present a bibliographical overview of the literature on EBooks and short historical overview of EBooks. Therefore, the authors of the paper, an educator, a librarian and information specialist, intend to establish the foundation for a future research on the importance of EBooks for education, reading comprehension in particular.
Definition of Ebook
An EBook (also spelled Ebook, ebook, eBook, e-book, or e-Book) is electronic text (also known as etext or e-text) that is available in a digitally encoded format readable via an electronic device. Etext itself is a digital version of a published work such as a book. For this reason, the terms EBook and etext are sometimes used interchangeably. What distinguishes an EBook from etext, however, is that the Ebook exists in a specialized, often proprietary, file format that must be read using a particular program and/or electronic device. Etext, on the other hand, is distributed in ASCII (plain text). Etext also does not include hyperlinks, images, or audio, while an EBook can include all of those features.
Unlike etext, an EBook must be read using a particular program and/or an electronic device. Early EBooks were originally published in plain text format for ease of file storage and the ability to read them as plain text documents. Plain text can also be incorporated into HTML files for web publishing. EBooks published as HTML files can be read using a web browser, but storage capacity is limited. As of June 2009, there are 28 different EBook file formats, most of which are proprietary. Proprietary file formats can only be read using specific software programs, with or without the use of a specific electronic device. For example, an EBook published in Portable Document Format (PDF) can be read or printed from any computer or electronic device that can run Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is a freely available application. Amazon Kindle Format (AZW), however, can only be read through a Kindle device. Currently there is no consensus among writers, software developers, hardware engineers, publishers, or vendors regarding a standard for packaging and selling EBooks. Thousands of classic works are available as free eBooks through public domain websites, but EBook versions of newer works must be purchased like traditional print books. Libraries that purchase EBooks also must comply with a license agreement, which requires them to pay an annual fee to continue making the EBook available to patrons.
The Emergence of Ebooks in Academic Libraries
NuvoMedia released the Rocket, the first hand-held EBook reader, in 1998. The Rocket revolutionized ereading by allowing EBooks to be downloaded from a PC into its system for mobile storage and access. It was the first handheld EBook reader that was reviewed by librarians interested in increasing the circulation of their first EBooks. Due to its cost ($499 for a Rocket Ebook reader in 1999), many librarians did not want to circulate an Ebook reader to the public. In 1999, EBooks were also priced much higher than traditional paper copies, and many libraries were highly selective about EBooks added to their collection.
In 1999, netLibrary was developed with the assistance of academic librarians in order to provide academic and reference books online for students and faculty. At the time, netLibrary could only be used with Knowledge Station software, downloaded onto a PC. The Knowledge Station software “develop[ed] mechanisms for controlling copying and printing of EBooks from both the Internet and Knowledge Workstation”
(http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/a2168.cfm). Many readers who prefer reading print cite such mechanisms that control copying and printing as deterrents to their EBook usage. To date, academic Ebook providers such as ebrary and SafariTech, as well as large academic publishers such as Sage, GaleCengage, and others that provide EBook platforms and collections, do not give users the ability to print or download their EBooks. These limitations cause students and faculty to question the use of an EBook that cannot be read anywhere other than a library PC.
EBook Usage in Academic Libraries
Although EBooks appeared on the academic library scene in 1999, few if any libraries had adopted Rocket EBook readers for general use. Typically, individual libraries analyze their own EBook usage statistics to further develop their EBook collections, and compare EBook usage to print circulation statistics. To date, there are no known libraries that have traced their EBook use statistics over the past ten years in which EBooks have been available. EBook companies and individual academic libraries have also conducted studies to find out which academic users would be most likely to use EBooks, as well as how those users employed EBooks for their research.
In 2008, Springer conducted a study on EBook usage. in five academic institutions in the United States, Europe, and Asia, academic library. According to the study, users primarily access EBooks for “research and study purposes.”,The types of EBooks most frequently used in academic libraries are reference works and textbooks. According to the Springer study, users perceive the benefits of EBooks to be convenience, accessibility, and enhanced functionality. At the same time, users who prefer e-versions of reference books and textbooks for research prefer print books for the perceived “ease and enjoyability” of reading. When asked “What do you expect to happen with EBooks in 5 years time?” 53% of users surveyed responded “For some books I will prefer to read the print books, for others I prefer the Ebook” while 35% responded “I will mostly read print books”, and a mere 7% stated that they would mostly read EBooks within five years’ time (springer.com).
In the spring of 2008, ebrary surveyed 6,492 students on their EBook usage from nearly 400 colleges and universities from around the world. 50% of the students stated that they never used EBooks, and 30% stated that they use EBooks less than 1 hour per week. Of the students who stated that they never use EBooks, 60% said that they do not know where to find EBooks, and 45% stated that they preferred printed books. Other students who never use EBooks gave reasons such as “Ebooks have not been required by my professors as part of my program”, “I have not had a need for ebooks”, “I cannot print, annotate, highlight, or underline text in ebooks”, “Ebooks are not portable”, “I primarily use journals as a main source of information”, and “I do not know how to use ebooks”. Although some students indicated that lack of portability was a factor in their reluctance toward using EBooks, when asked to rank the importance of EBook features, 87% of students surveyed rated “Searching” as the most important feature for EBooks; 42% rated “Downloading to a handheld device” as most important. Students also indicated that it was very important to them for EBooks to be available in multiple formats, as well as have the ability to link to and search other databases and reference books.
In the United Kingdom, the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), a national e-books observatory project board and members of the Centre for Information Behavior and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER)e-team at University College constructed an online survey asking British university students and faculty about their academic usage of EBooks in 2008. The researchers collected data from 20,000 surveys, primarily focusing on students and faculty in Business, Engineering, Media, and Medicine. According to the survey results, 91.6% of users consulted EBooks “for work or study”. When asked “How many EBooks have you used in the past month?” roughly half of students and faculty stated that they used one or two titles that month, with students being heavier EBook users than faculty. According to this study, regardless of level of education or gender, EBook usage decreased with age. Engineering students and faculty were the most likely to read EBooks; 43.3% responded that they consulted three or more titles in the past month for their research.
While EBooks appear to be popular research materials in the CIBER study, 87% of students surveyed indicated that they go to the physical library primarily to borrow books, and over 70% of students surveyed visit the physical library once a week. While the CIBER study did not gather data on whether or not students preferred EBooks to text, the number of surveyed students who borrow books and visit the physical library frequently show that print books are still valued by students. In the ebrary study, traditional print books were still perceived by students as “the most trustworthy resource for research”.
As shown by data from the available surveys concerning the use of electronic readings in academic settings, patrons are aware of electronic readings. It becomes also visible that the usage and application of electronic readings will vary across disciplines, age groups, possibly through demographic factors, e.g., gender. It is also obvious that a comprehensive study and survey is needed to draw firm conclusions.
Popularity of EBooks in Different Academic Disciplines
Comparison studies have been conducted in regard to rates of EBook usage or perceived EBook “popularity” among faculty or students of different disciplines. Results from these studies have not always been consistent, for many reasons. First of all, course requirements for different majors in each college and university vary, as does the ability or desire of each institution to support those requirements. Second, each college and university has access to a different number of EBook collections. Usage of EBook collections will often vary depending on how well EBooks are advertised, whether through the library catalog or a link from a course management web page, and how usable the EBook platform, the e-reader, or the EBook itself is to the users.
Popularity of EBooks among college students and faculty varies according to the academic discipline to which they belong. Popularity of EBooks among academic disciplines may vary due to the nature of the discipline rather than the availability of EBooks themselves. Literature students, for example, may have access to free EBook classics through Project Gutenberg or other EBook collections, but many still prefer reading print books as they may experience discomfort reading an EBook from beginning to end on an electronic device (Rowlands & Nicholas, 2008). According to the CIBER study, students from disciplines that use books as ready reference resources may have a stronger preference for EBooks, especially if the EBook platform includes search capability (UCL: CIBER, 2008).
In the attempt to cut textbook costs and make them more accessible for students, Northwest Missouri State University almost became the first public university to provide e-textbooks in place of traditional print textbooks for all academic disciplines (Young, 2009). The university ran a pilot study using the Sony Reader, a Kindle-like device, which would be provided to students who wanted the convenience of reading from a mobile device. Students with Sony Readers quickly asked for their print textbooks back because they did not have sufficient experience or training with the Sony Readers to have a smooth reading experience. Students who chose to keep their Sony Readers had to troubleshoot the new technology in order to relearn how to annotate and highlight text, scan text, and open multiple windows at a time on the device. They also struggled with having to recharge the device every few hours, thus limiting its true mobility. During this pilot study, students and faculty discovered that for many disciplines EBooks were of less value than print books. For example, after using the e-textbooks for their courses, accounting students and faculty stated a preference for print textbooks due to the illegible pop-up versions of dense numerical charts that would be easier to read in print. Science or medical students who wanted to use their Sony Reader to study color illustrations also had a difficult time, as the Sony Reader only handled black and white.
It is possible that, in the near future, advancements in e-reader technology may improve the reading experience for students and faculty in all disciplines, thus increasing the popularity of EBooks over print, but at this time one style of EBook, e-platform, or mobile devices does not fit all.
Use of EBooks to Enhance Instruction
There is limited evidence yet to show that incorporating EBooks into instruction has greater pedagogical value than using traditional print books. Educators have stated that using EBooks familiarizes students with the technology that they will use as adults, and that reluctant readers are often more motivated to read from EBooks than traditional print books. Most of the literature dealing specifically with the pedagogical value of EBooks has addressed the K-12 student population.
In today’s schools, K-12 teachers are being trained to integrate EBooks and hypermedia into language arts instruction in order to familiarize students with changing information resources and technology. According to some studies, K-12 teachers are adding EBooks to the curriculum in order to motivate emerging readers while promoting comprehension, literacy development, and personal “meaning making”. Larson (2008) incorporated an Electronic Reading Workshop (ERW) into a Language Arts methods course to introduce pre-service teachers to EBooks, online discussion, and blogging. Larson found that pre-service teachers liked the simple downloading procedures, access, and convenience of storing EBooks on their computer hard drives. While the pre-service teachers found the technology behind EBooks easy to manipulate for the language arts projects geared toward middle school students, the teachers themselves did not actually enjoy reading the EBooks. Negative comments about EBooks included “reading on the computer often proved to be restricting and time consuming”, “It was a struggle for me to sit at the computer and read the book without being on the Internet, and listening to music and the other 10 things I am usually doing while on the computer”. All of the pre-service teachers also commented on the lack of a physical bond with an EBook.
Weber and Cavanaugh (2006) accentuate the convenience of having an EBook library available at the click of a mouse in order to provide new, challenging reading material on various subjects with difficult vocabulary and concepts for gifted readers. They make the claim that gifted readers “may lose sight of their schools as the place to find challenging books because they don’t find and interact with appropriate materials”. Not once do Weber and Cavanaugh mention public libraries in this article, or the fact that a great number of gifted students can also obtain special borrowing privileges at college libraries. Instead, Weber and Cavanaugh do not seem to know what is available in public libraries when, in justifying EBooks for gifted readers, they state: “For example, most libraries have the children’s favorite The Wizard of Oz, but how many of the other books in the series are available?” The article also misinforms readers about text-to-speech capability for EBooks; they state that “Many of the eBook formats, such as MS Reader and Adobe Reader, for the desktop or laptop have text-to-speech capabilities”. An EBook will only have this capability if the writer and publisher agree to it when their book is published in EBook form. They also state that “most eBook programs provide the ability to highlight text sections, and take notes”. This is not the case for eBook programs provided by academic libraries, which may be the reason why some college students with dyslexia have complained about them. At the same time, Weber and Cavanaugh do mention that all students may benefit from reading a larger text size on the screen, which can easily be adjusted when reading an EBook.