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The Battle of The e-Textbook: Libraries’ Role in Facilitating Student Acceptance and Use of e-Textbook

The Battle of The e-Textbook: Libraries’ Role in Facilitating Student Acceptance and Use of e-Textbook.

The Library NEWS | Journal | The Battle of The e-Textbook: Libraries’ Role in Facilitating Student Acceptance and Use of e-Textbook. .

By: Melanie Wiese, Giselle du Plessis 


The objective of this study is to investigate students’ acceptance and use of e-textbooks to enable libraries to make better informed decisions about their e-book collections. The data were collected in a classroom situation surveying students that had been exposed to e-textbooks. A self-completion questionnaire was used and 254 usable questionnaires were received back. The results showed that most students would prefer to have both a printed and an e-textbook, followed by a printed textbook. Although almost half of the respondents indicated that they would prefer it if the library were to buy more e-textbooks; the others did not see a need for this option; or, alternatively, they did not care at all. However, only 44% of respondents indicated that they knew how to get access to the electronic collection in the library. It was, furthermore, a matter of concern that 82% of the respondents never, or rarely, made use of e-textbooks from the library. It is up to universities, and more specifically libraries, as distributors of information, to take the lead in developing policies, processes, and strategies to deal with e-textbooks, and to manage this electronic challenge successfully.

Keywords:  Libraries, Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), e-textbooks, students

1. Introduction

Something we once loved, and love now, in the shape of a book. Maybe e-books are going to take over, one day, but not until those whiz kids in Silicon Valley invent a way to bend the corners, fold the spine, yellow the pages, add a coffee ring or two and allow the plastic tablet to fall open at a favourite page. Russel T. Davies in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams, 2009).

The advent of the internet brought about a new technological era, forcing libraries to adapt their services to a completely new set of user expectations shaped by emerging technologies. The growth of e-books, and the introduction of such projects as Google Books, forever changed the landscape for libraries. According to the Online Community Library Centre’s (OCLC) Perceptions of Libraries report (2010: 15), the battle of e-resources and services has intensified over the last five years. The report found that the library brand is still considered to be “books”; a stronger perception in 2010 even than in 2005.

As new consumer devices, technologies and online services become available, consumers’ perception of libraries as “books” has solidified, thus making it increasingly difficult to position libraries as relevant in the online, internet era. The same has proven to be true for academic libraries in particular. Many academic publishing companies have entered the e-book market (Wu & Chen 2011: 294); however e-books are yet to achieve extensive distribution across the globe (Shin 2011: 262).

The youth of today, having grown up in an environment where they encountered and were continuously exposed to new technologies (Weisberg 2011: 189), were initially expected to use e-books in a way that would render print books obsolete (Gregory 2008: 267). However, unlike other new technologies which have taken over from older methods, e-books have, to some extent, failed to “take off” as they were predicted to do in a technologically advanced society (Soules 2008 in De Oliveira 2012).

This slow acceptance of the e-book, and more specifically (for the sake of this paper) academic e-books in the form of e-textbooks, could be due to the limited number of available academic e-books , a lack of awareness of e-books, as well as a number of other factors (Muir & Hawes 2013: 1). In the academic context, e-books have started to make an appearance in some university libraries, resulting in libraries adjusting and expanding their budgets in order to include e-books (Wu & Chen 2011: 294).

Although e-books have now been around for more than ten years (Cassidy, Martinez & Shen 2012: 327), they are yet to take their rightful place in the academic context as electronic journals have done (Muir & Hawes 2013: 1; Kahn & Underwood 2013: 10).

However, despite this, some universities have started decreasing the size of print collections in order to make way for electronic collections (Wu & Chen, 2011: 294) and academic e-books, and specifically e-textbooks, are thus becoming an essential component in university library collections (Strother et al. 2009: 1361). The OCLC posed the question: “Will the ‘books brand perception’ shift as libraries increase their investments in and advertising of electronic information and electronic books?” (OCLC 2010: 20).

Students, especially those in more developed countries, have embraced technology; as a result, academic e-books have become increasingly popular among these students, due to the perceived convenience that e-books offer (Elias, Phillips & Luechtefeld 2012: 262). But in many developing countries such as South Africa this is not necessarily the case. In order to adopt the use of e-textbooks successfully, universities, as well as other academic institutions, need to provide students with the necessary resources and instructors to use them (Sun, Flores & Tanguma 2012: 63).

The resources which are necessary to enable students to use e-textbooks include e-readers or e-book reading devices. Examples include the desktop computer, iPad, Amazon Kindle, the Sony e-Reader Touch, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), as well as mobile telephones (Weisberg 2011: 191; Wu & Chen 2011: 295).

However, more importantly, students need to perceive e-textbooks as useful; and herein lies the problem. There are mixed feelings among students on the use of e-books in an academic setting, as students still prefer to use traditional printed books (Gregory 2008: 266). Although publishers, academics and libraries are not sure about the future and the possible effect of e-books, they are increasingly becoming aware that e-books warrant more attention and investigation (Vassiliou & Rowley 2008). Some research has been done about e-books in an academic setting (Gregory 2008; Folb, Wessels & Czechowski 2011; Nicholas & Lewis 2008; Shin 2011; Sun, Flores & Tanguma 2012) but several unanswered questions still remain, especially in the South African context.

For example, why is the uptake of e-books, and specifically e-textbooks, so slow? What is the role of university libraries in the e-book debate? Why do computer-savvy Generation Y students still prefer the ‘old’ technology of printed textbooks?

This paper attempts to shed light on some of these questions and, by doing so, contribute to the local research available on this topic.

2. E-books in an academic setting

Although electronic journals have established themselves as much-needed resources, the same cannot be said for e-books. Gregory (2008: 269) found that students’ main reasons for using e-books were “research, followed by homework assignments or reference”. Students indicated that they “read small portions of text on screen combined with printing portions of digital text needed and do not spend long periods of time reading from a computer screen, opting instead to read from printouts” (Gregory 2008: 270). Appleton in Gregory (2008: 268) found that

“students used e-books in a manner similar to e-journals by randomly accessing segments of text rather than … [reading] sequentially”.

Thus, students use e-books in the same way as they do e-journals, indicating a “use not read” approach. Furthermore, there is still confusion over the definition of an e-book (Tedd 2005). The Jisc report Promoting the uptake of E-Books in Higher and Further Education (2003) highlights that a source of confusion, and therefore a barrier to the uptake of e-books within the academic context, is the lack of an adequate definition. Armstrong et al. (2002) defines an e-book as

any piece of electronic text regardless of size or composition (a digital object), but excluding journal publications, made available electronically (or optically) for any device (handheld or desk-bound) that includes a screen.

Vassiliou and Rowley (2008) propose a two-part definition:

An e-book is a digital object with textual and/or other content, which arises as a result of integrating the familiar concept of a book with features that can be provided in an electronic environment … e-books, typically have in-use features such search and cross reference functions, hypertext links, bookmarks, annotations, highlights, multimedia.


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