Who’s Using E-books?

Which Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) users are accessing e-books—students, faculty, or clinicians? Do they prefer print or electronic for specific types of books? How should HSLS allocate its financial resources between print books and e-books?

These questions led to a recent online survey of HSLS patrons. 5,293 surveys were distributed, with a response rate of over 16%.  Preliminary findings have begun to expand our knowledge about user preferences, findings that will guide collection development decisions.

Preliminary survey results indicate:

• Survey respondents’ preference for e-books or print books differs depending on the type of book.  More preferred textbooks and manuals in print, while pharmaceutical books and reference books were preferred in electronic form.
• E-books are being used to support research and clinical care.  Of the respondents, 77% of post-docs and 54% of the faculty use e-books in support of research. 75% of attending physicians, 86% of interns, residents and fellows, and 35% of nurses in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) system reported using e-books to support clinical care.
• 62% of University students reported choosing e-books to support class assignments, but only 12% of faculty members reported assigning readings from e-books to their students.
• HSLS users prefer e-books for quick reference or short reading tasks.
• The feature of e-books most valued by HSLS users is the ability to search the full text of a book.  Not surprisingly, the HSLS full-text e-book search was the most favorably rated of the 5 e-book discovery tools on the HSLS Web site.

As findings continue to be examined, more decisions can be made about the purchase of electronic versus print books. The principle investigator of the study, Barbara Folb, comments in her initial report, “The survey results support further development and promotion of the e-book collection, but not wholesale removal of the print collection from the shelves.  Respondents value both formats, and make pragmatic choices based on issues of time, accessibility, and availability at point of need in choosing between print and e-books.”

The survey was created and administered by Barbara Folb, with consultation from Leslie Czechowski and Charles Wessel. Folb is on leave from her faculty librarian position at HSLS to pursue a Master’s of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh.

~ Leslie Czechowski and Barbara Folb