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Friday, October 28, 2011

Academic eBook Survey by UC Libraries

University of California Libraries recently released an interesting survey report entitled “ UC Libraries Academic e-Book Usage Survey.”  The survey’s intent was to evaluate UC academic community’s experience utilizing one of their e-book collections.  The primary objectives of the survey were to determine general preference for print books as compared to e-books, how  respondents interact with e-books, and barriers to e-book adoption and use.

The frequency of use of academic e-books were highest among postdoctoral researchers (68%) and graduate students (67%), followed by faculty and lecturers (57%), and then undergraduate students (55%).  Among disciplines, the physical sciences and engineering reported the highest rate of academic e-book usage (68%), followed by arts and humanities (57%), life and health sciences (57%), social sciences (54%), and then Business and law (47%).

In terms of format, this study is reflective of other recent studies that illustrate a shift in print versus electronic preferences.  The survey found that 49% of respondents prefer print books, 34% prefer e-books, and 17% had no preference.  By discipline, business and law reported the highest preference for e-books at (54%), followed by life and health sciences (44%), physical sciences and engineering (32%), social sciences (31%), and then arts and humanities (17%).   Postdoctoral researchers reported the highest preference for e-books over print books at (49%), followed by graduate students (35%), faculty and lecturers (33%), and undergraduate students (27%).  Perhaps surprising to some, undergraduate students expressed the highest preference for print books over digital (53%), but even in this case the numbers reflect a significant shift in preference as compared to other studies just a year ago. 
Other survey findings reported related to specific e-book functionalities:

·    Search functions within and across e-book content is acknowledged as the primary advantage of e-books.

·    Annotating and highlighting within the e-book environment is perceived as vital to the majority of respondents who use academic e-books.

·    Downloading the entire e-book to a device for later use is a highly valued feature.

·    e-Book readers, such as the Kindle, and mobile devices, such as the iPhone, offer significant advantage over the personal computer.

The survey also reported several other interesting findings related to the relationship between an e-book and its print counterpart:

·    Borrowing or purchasing a print copy of an e-book is not uncommon.

·    Undergraduate students express the strongest desire for a corresponding print copy of an academic e-book for borrowing from a UC library, with 66% rating it as important.

·    41% of respondents said that access to a “print-on-demand” copy of an e-book is an important feature.

The study provides a number of interesting insights into digital adoption in higher education from a different perspective.  The data corroborates other information out there related to how we understand current campus attitudes towards ebooks.  At the same time, it reinforces the beginning of a shift in preference from predominately print to decidedly digital.  This is a trend we will continue to monitor as it may be among the first signals that we are passing the knee of the curve for digital books on campuses. 


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