We are all dealing with myriad questions concerning ebooks, ebook platforms, ebook providers, and ebook usage, so it was an absolute delight to be able to attend three separate sessions on the subject: “Ebook Showdown: Evaluating Academic Ebook Platforms from a User Perspective” by Christina Mune and Ann Agee (San Jose State University), “Ebrary on the Radar” by Julie Linden, Angela Sidman and Sarah Tudesco (Yale University Library), and “Exploring the Student Ebook Experience” by Kendall Hobbs and Diane Klare (Wesleyan University).
Ebook accessibility and user-friendliness are issues that come up frequently at any academic library these days. Students and faculty voice their frustration when they are unable to access, print, annotate, or down-load material that “seems to be” available via the library, and library staff (myself for one) find it time-consuming and complicated to compare the various platforms and stay informed about changes in the services they provide. Christina and Ann shared with us the results of the San Jose State University Ebook Accessibility Project, comparing 16 academic ebook platforms (both aggragator and individual publisher platforms) for accessibility and user-friendliness. Their platform evaluation summary is available to all , and gives you the content formats (PDF, HTML etc), search and navigation options, and printing and downloading policies of the various platforms. It also tells you which platforms allow text adjustments such as annotation, font resizing and zooming, and whether they provide text-to-speech services and language support (e.g. dictionaries). Save it, print it, enjoy. As the speakers acknowledged, this evaluation took place in June – August 2014 and does not take into account recent changes in the platforms, neither is this an exhaustive study of all platforms available, but for my use it will do nicely thank you very much.
Kendall and Diane from Wesleyan University referred to recent literature review articles on academic ebooks and stated that these frequently focused on how often ebooks were used rather than how they were used.
In 2011, Wesleyan University, along with two other smaller universities in their consortium, piloted a “collaborative collection development project for a patron driven acquisition program for ebooks”. They looked at the quantitative use of ebooks, but also created and performed a qualitative study “to determine what undergraduate students think of, and how they use, e-books”. This study was repeated annually, and questions based on the findings from the first three years were also incorporated in a MISO survey in 2014.
Kendall and Diane presented some interesting findings from the four years of the study: they found an increase in the use of ebooks, but while students became more used to the format they did not increase their level of sophistication with using ebooks. Instead of using available features such as highlighting or annotating, they preferred to print or create PDF-versions of the material to hand-annotate or use PDF tools with which they were more familiar.
There was also a “nearly universal preference” for scrolling through a document rather than having to click from page to page (oh, can you hear the echo from your own institutions?).
86% of the students still preferred print over ebooks if they had to choose, but three out of four preferred to have access to both.
The ebook features that were considered most important by the students were printing, creating PDFs and downloading material.
When asked what they would like e-books to be
like in five years, most respondents wanted “more intuitive
interfaces” (they found existing advanced functionality difficult to find, and did not necessarily recognize or correctly interpret labels and icons). They also wanted to be able to use an ebook more like they use printed books, to be able to flip through it, use sticky notes, highlight and annotate a.s.o.
Furthermore, they wanted new features that print does not provide, e.g. to be able to work with others in different locations, to share notes and to incorporate video features, sound and “other formats which print cannot include”. As the speakers aptly commented, at this point “few e-book platforms seem to do much to take advantage of the opportunities available with newer technologies”.
The conclusion, as I understand it, was that there is much work to be done by ebook providers when it comes to making material accessible in ways that the students want, and by us librarians when it comes to teaching them where to find and how to use the features that are already available.
Ebooks and PDA issues were also dealt with at the recent Bibsysconference in Trondheim, and if you missed it you can view recorded presentations or read the pdfs here. (See Grydeland and Løkse in particular for an interesting presentation about PDA).