The University of California Libraries initiated the Springer e-Book Pilot Project with the goal of developing appropriate systemwide processes for acquiring and managing licensed e-books, as well as informing future licensing activities. Evaluation of the UC academic community’s experience utilizing the Springer e-book collection began in 2010, and a UC systemwide survey was launched by the UC Libraries for the purpose of assessing the user experience. The primary objectives of the survey were to determine:
- Respondents’ general preference for print books as compared to e-books.
- How respondents interact with e-books and barriers to e-book adoption and use.
- How users of Springer e-books discover their availability.
- Satisfaction level with Springer content and features, including the “MyCopy” service.
The initial survey received 2,569 responses. Respondents who indicated the use of e-books in their academic work (58%) became the core target for the remaining survey questions. Those identifying themselves as not having used – or being uncertain about having used – e-books (42%) were directed to a single open-ended question designed to explore their attitude toward e-books.
Academic users approach e-books with a range of needs, expectations, and workflows. Understanding how users interact with e-books and uncovering useful e-book functionalities are essential to providing library services to the academic community and help inform future purchasing decisions. Respondents to this survey offer a valuable window into the nuances of utilizing e-books for academic work. The consequences of the transition from a print- to a digital-based study environment are not always predictable – witness the undergraduate who prefers print books for reading and deep study because the computer presents too many distractions or the faculty member who uses a digital copy of a title for search and discovery tasks, then moves to a corresponding paper copy for note taking and text comparison. Adoption of academic e-books and the movement away from print books remains a complex dynamic that is significantly influenced by one’s area of study or research. Comments by survey respondents who both use and prefer academic e-books over print books remind us that the transition is far from easy. Users need e-books that present usable interfaces, quality content, high resolution illustrations, access at the chapter and book level, and importantly, that are easily discoverable through both the library catalog and commercial search engines. As academic e-books become more broadly available and sophisticated in presentation and functionality, users’ expectations and acceptance of them will necessarily evolve. It is essential that those providing library and information services to the academic community continue to monitor and develop innovative services in support of the changing patterns of e-book use.