E-book strategies confuse users

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E-book collections and the research tools that they provide are not well understood by a significant percentage of library users, according to a survey by US e-content provider Ebrary.

The survey, which had 583 respondents from mainly academic libraries, also highlighted the need for publishers to develop a variety of e-book acquisition models to meet each individual library's needs.

Around 80 per cent of the librarians that responded to the survey said they found e-book acquisition strategies at least somewhat confusing. They were split as to whether the subscription or purchase model is best, with equal numbers of respondents choosing each. Price, subject areas, and access models were indicated as the most important factors when subscribing to or purchasing e-books, but many said that they are confused about the number of access models available. These include the patron-driven model, pay-per-use and lease-to-own models.

'In general, librarians are very familiar with both purchasing and subscriptions procurement,' commented Allen McKiel, director of libraries at Northeastern State University (NSU), USA, who analysed the results of the survey. 'The written responses included nine additional suggestions for models, which I believe is further evidence of a desire to optimise the content/price purchasing factors through whatever method is most effective for an institution’s content needs.'

And it is not only the librarians who reported finding e-books confusing. The results also showed that library users shy away from using e-books in favour of the more familiar print versions.

The results reflect what is happening at McKiel's NSU libraries. E-books comprise 15 per cent of NSU's collection but are only used in favour of print about 11 per cent of the time. 'I believe that there are two related issues that account for most of the negative experiences and the under-utilisation,' said Kiel. The first of these is a lack of understanding of the strength of the research nature of the e-book collection and the second concerns difficulties with the interface to the collection.

He calls for librarians to change this situation by informing students about the benefits of e-books. 'To me this is another of many indicators that librarians have an increasing responsibility to help their faculty and students better understand the growing complexities of the information sphere and the increasing diversity of research tools available,' said McKiel. 'Knowing when and how to use the e-book collections through their vendor interfaces is as important as knowing how to use the library catalogue. It is an example of the need for instruction in information literacy comprehensively and systematically across the curriculum.'

The library catalogue is used by most students to access e-books, according to the survey results. Respondents ranked Google and other search engines as the least common ways that patrons find e-books. Google and other search engines were also indicated among the least prevalent factors that drive e-book usage, while the library’s catalogue and professor and staff recommendations were indicated as most prevalent.

'For librarians who are troubled by the misuse of Google and the subsequent erosion of reliance on the wealth of more curriculum-relevant resources provided by the library, this is a comforting fact,' commented Mc Kiel. However, McKiel believes the library catalogue is not the best interface for e-books. 'E-books need to be integrated into the catalogue, but students need to know about the research nature of the e-book collection and they need to know how to use the e-book aggregator interfaces.'