Thursday, September 17, 2009

First thoughts on: Anuradha and Usha, Use of e-books in an academic and research environment: A case study from the Indian Institute of Science.

Program 40.1 (2006): p 48-62. doi: 10.1108/00330330610646807 (University of Illinois Access)

A quick note: I'm sorry that this doesn't quite follow my normal review style. I actually dredged this up from notes I took over two years ago on this article. I wanted to post them, though, because an article I'm reviewing right this moment (and am about to post a review for :) mentions this article and indicates that their own research is at odds with Anuradha and Usha's- an assertion I don't agree with. Rather than trying to just take a few excerpts from these notes and post them in the other review, I decided to just go ahead and post all my notes for this article. By the way, if you ever are wondering if I have notes on a publication regarding e-books (in particular academic e-books) on hand- well, I probably do. Just fire off an email or blog comment and I'll dig through my older notes for you.

Why should you read this: This is definitely a must-read for anyone interested in e-book use in academic libraries.

In Brief: Analysis of a 27 question e-mailed user survey of patrons of the Indian Institute of Science's 2,200+ active researchers (students and faculty) to which 101 responded in 2004 about their use of and feelings about e-books in general and several library trials from the publisher/vendors ebrary, Kluwer and Engineering Village. Starts with a good introduction to what e-books have been defined as in the past (50-51).

Key Quotes & My Thoughts:

Anuradha and Usha found, in their 27 question e-mailed user survey of patrons of the Indian Institute of Science's 2,200+ active researchers use of ebrary, Kluwer and Engineering Village that, "like all internet-based resource, e-books break down geographic barriers" (Anuradha and Usha, 49) which is true, in so much as too people at two different locations can access an e-book equally well, provided, of course, that they both can access the internet where they are. If they are not, then it is unlikely they will be able to use the e-book as easily as a traditional paper book. Although getting access initially to the book is enhanced, in cases where e-books can't be used offline, the print book, once initially obtained from the library, provides more consistently reliable continual access than most e-books, do to the unnecessary restrictions most e-book providers place on the ability to save or print e-books contents for offline viewing, even in those places without internet access. Anuradha and Usha summarize their own research and list the many real and potential advantages e-books have offered for several years now to both librarians and patrons but immediately acknowledge that "In spite of these advantages, e-books are still not very popular." Among the possible reasons they list for this are "limited availability of titles… difficulty in accessing computers or the internet… problems with printing and downloading" (Anuradha and Usha, 51).

Of the respondents (101) 60 had used e-books. Of these 60, 52 indicated that they would want to use/read e-books from the Library (54). This is not surprising, given then computer science, technology and other STM electronic publications generate more use than other subjects in most of the literature. What is surprising is that although 87 percent of the respondents who had used e-books at some point wanted to use e-books from the library, but that of the 55 respondents who gave an answer to the question "Overall how satisfied are you with eBooks?" none said they where extremely satisfied, while 37% said they here very satisfied, but 55% stated they where only somewhat satisfied while 8% where unsatisfied (Anuradha and Usha, 55). That means that although on the one hand this study indicates that 87% of the surveyed population wants to use library e-books, of those that have used them, fully 63% aren't satisfied with the e-books they have used. This, despite the fact that 70% would definitely recommend, and another 17% probably recommend, e-books to others. These seemingly incongruous findings might be accounted for when you consider the reasons they commonly gave for using e-books, and about what features of e-books that impressed respondents, the clear consensus of useful features were: search tools to locate words or quotes (72%) and instant access to content (63) followed by mobility (50%) (Anuradha and Usha, 56), so there are clearly features that are unique to the e-book as a location independent access as compared to the print book. However, mobility is a more difficult concept to define. Mobility as it pertains to e-books is usually tied to the DRM methods employed to protect the publishers content rights management and distribution interest. In all of the publishers listed in this study, there is no possibility for downloading e-books to a device that could later be used at a location that does not have access to the internet.

Among the respondents reasons for not using e-books, at the top of the lists where the fact that they where "hard to read/browse" at 22%, "lack of familiarity with products" at 19%, "used to reading print books and no wish to change" at 18% and cost at 17%. Another interesting reason, considering that all of these researchers have a high reported access and use of computer, with 100 having used a computer for over a year, and 80 percent having used computers for more than five years is that 11 percent reported difficulty in accessing computers/internet. This would seem to indicate that although they can access a computer and the internet periodically, it is not ubiquitous enough for them that they can always easily access they e-books under the format and conditions they where being provided by the publishers investigated in this survey… all publishers who subscribe to the "online or internet based" as opposed to "offline" (50).

"The main features of e-books that were disliked were the incompatibility between different suppliers,, lack of user friendliness of interfaces, the problems associated with usernames and passwords, and the variety of devices available in the market" (58).

"Thus, by carrying out user education, publicity, raising awareness about the software/hardware used for e-books, increasing bandwidth and making e-book reader devices available along with e-books through the libraries, the use of e-books can be increased" (59).