Monday, October 19, 2009

First thoughts on: Carlock & Perry, Exploring faculty experiences with e-books: a focus group

Library Hi Tech 26.2 (2008): p244-254. doi: 10.1108/07378830810880342 (University of Illinois Access)

Why should you read this: It's hard for me not to recommend this one, because the final concluding point of the article is one that resonates so completely with me. This article is very well written, easy to read, and can be knocked out in 10-20 minutes. However, there isn't much new data contained here (although, as the author's note, their approach to getting the data is different from previous research). The information they've culled from the focus group does largely validate the findings of a great deal of the research on e-book use to date (generally survey based). If you're trying to put together a foundational set of materials to get up to speed on e-books, this probably isn't one of the items you should include. But if you have a few minutes, then go for it!

In brief

"In the spring of 2007, Arizona State University Libraries [Carnegie Foundation Research I institution, 65,000 students] held a [90 minute p. 249] focus group of [6] selected faculty [represent[ing] the following fields: political science, history, graphic design, industrial design, marketing, and bioengineering… including assistant, associate and full professors p. 249] to discover their perceptions and use of electronic books (e-books) in their research and teaching… Major themes explored were: use of e-books as textbooks; use of e-books for personal research; comparison between e-books and print; disciplinary differences in perceptions of e-books; and motivators for future use... Overall, the focus group revealed that faculty had generally unsatisfactory experiences in using e-books in their research and teaching owing to the unreliability of access, lack of manipulability, and the steep learning curve of the various interfaces. However, most faculty agreed that e-books would be a very viable and useful alternative if these issues were resolved." p.244 " ASU Libraries have been aggressively collecting electronic books (e-books) since 2000 from several vendors, including NetLibrary, MyiLibrary, Ebrary, Safari, Knovel, and STAT!Ref, as well as from other providers that include e-books in their electronic collections. As of December 2006, the libraries provided access to over 30,000 electronic books." p.245 [My note, ASU looks to have a print collection of about 4.2 million volumes, so e-books represent about 0.7% of the entire print+electronic book collection]

Interesting quotes and my thoughts:

From the lit review section of the article:

"Faculty have identified several disadvantages, weaknesses and uncertainties about e-books. Cox (2004) finds that faculty are least sure about downloading, printing, bookmarking, and emailing content, and the faculty at the Indian Institute of Science state that the most common reason (22 percent) they do not use e-books is that they are hard to read and browse (Anuradha and Usha, 2006). Other disadvantages include eye strain due to reading online and the difficulty of navigating an online book (Levine-Clark, 2006). Responding to the question of what would make e-book usage more suitable, faculty reported that having a larger collection of e-books (55.8 percent), the ability to download (52.4 percent), the ability to print and copy with fewer restrictions (49.9 percent), would make e-books more attractive (Ebrary, 2007)." p. 247

" A focus group of undergraduate midwifery students conducted after instruction on how to access e-books found that students saw more disadvantages than advantages with e-books. The primary disadvantages cited were accessibility issues (one user at a time per book), navigation and limited number of titles (Appleton, 2004)." p.248

From their focus group research:

"contracting a third party to conduct the focus group would ensure a more neutral session and prevent library staff from influencing the course of the focus group or trying to teach or inform during the session. To this end, ASU Libraries enlisted the Institute for Social Sciences Research (ISSR), an ASU-based organization, to recruit participants and moderate the focus group at their facility." p.248

The questions asked:

  1. How familiar, if at all, are you with e-books?
  2. What do you know about them?
  3. Have you used them in your classes? If so . . . What did you think of them?
  4. How often do you use them?
  5. What was student input about them?
  6. How likely are you to use them in the fall semester? If not, why not?
  7. Do you use e-books as textbooks? If not, why not? If not, have you ever considered using them? If not, why not?
  8. Have you personally used e-books in your research? If so, how often? Describe your experience with them. If not, why not?
  9. How would you find out if a book is available as an e-book?
  10. Let us say you are using a textbook in class. The textbook is available in print and as an e-book. Which would you assign? Would you give students the option to choose? Why or why not?
  11. Would the subject matter of the book affect your decision? If so, why?
  12. Would you have any concerns about choosing an e-book? If so, what are your concerns?
  13. What about a book that is not a textbook? Do you think students prefer print or e-books?
  14. Do you see any advantages to using print rather than e-books? If so, what are the advantages? What about disadvantages?
  15. Do you see any advantages to using e-books rather than print books?
  16. Would you use e-books any differently than you use print books? In what ways? Why?
  17. What kind of information would you want about e-books before you decided to use them or use them more frequently?
  18. If you have not tried them before, what could the library do to encourage you to try them?

"Our first question was a general inquiry into the participants' familiarity with e-books. The participants expressed mostly negative responses… 'I think it's the technical difficulties of trying to deal with it that put me off of trying to use that type of materials in class'. Another mentioned that using e-books was 'very tedious, and it wasn't worth the time'" p. 249

"one of the primary concerns with using e-books as textbooks was the question of reliability… you could never be certain whether the students could get into the e-book… The industrial design professor tried to avoid this concern by teaching the students how to access the e-book at the start of class, but still received complaints from the students about the difficulties of using e-books. She said that the limitations imposed on viewing e-books are particularly frustrating: 'It will only let you look at a certain percentage of pages at a time and then your time is up and you have to login [after] another 24 hours… That, to me, is mind-boggling, because it's being deliberately built into the system and that it's the fallacy of the previous system" [referring to print books]." p. 250

"'With a live book . . . you can photocopy the pages that you need . . . and you don't have the ability to do that with an e-book.'" p. 251

" Some professors use e-books to help generate interest in print books amongst their students, 'I've often seen students . . . they look at it online . . . a couple weeks later you see they've gone out and bought it to add to their personal collection.'" p. 251

"Several of the professors indicated an interest in saving their students some money, and would be more likely to use e-books if offered as a less expensive alternative to textbooks." p. 252

"When asked what would make them more interested in using e-books, most faculty talked about looking past the print equivalent: "A lot of e-books are directly scanned from the actual book itself so they aren't taking advantage of the fact that it's online and can be hyper-linked . . . it should be interlinked and hyper-linked and referenced to other materials that are out there." Additionally, professors wanted… the same freedoms allowed by print books: the ability to write notes, link to related items or citations, highlight passages, and copy and paste from the text." p. 252

"Most professors agreed that the primary factor that would increase their interest and use in e-books would be the ability to trust that the e-book would be reliable and accessible to themselves and their students, whenever they needed it. Their current experiences have not given them cause to believe that this is currently the case." p. 252

"… when speaking about the limitations of e-books, such as having to "check-out" an e-book in NetLibrary or downloading specific software for Ebrary's proprietary reader. Faculty were surprised to learn from the moderator that the e-book vendors rather than the library set these limitations." p. 253

"while faculty are open to the concept of using e-books, their experiences have not been positive. The limitations of e-book accessibility and practical use cannot be overlooked at this time. Faculty are especially cautious about using them as textbooks or for course readings… believing that the technology is too unreliable, which has been proven by their own experiences… Were these issues resolved, particularly with respect to accessibility and interactivity, most faculty would be willing to use them." p. 253

"academic librarians have a responsibility to advocate the needs of their users to e-book vendors to consider when planning future product development. Without the input of libraries, e-book vendors' primary clientele, there is no guarantee that the necessary improvements in usability, accessibility, and interactivity would ever be made." p. 253

Here, here! I think perhaps I have found a few new founding members to help craft my Academic Library E-book Manifesto. :)