This time, our literature review report explores the theme of ‘reading behaviour’, focussing on student preferences and perceptions of e-books.
The results of this theme suggest that e-books can certainly add value to students in their academic study, and recent increased usage has also led to new forms of reading behaviour taking place with electronic content. New trends in technology are certainly having an influence of student preference for e-books, with personalisation now important to students who want their content to be delivered in a similar way to that of social media feeds. Mobile use is also increasing, as it suits the way students are now studying in shorter and more concentrated bursts. Nevertheless preference for print is still strong amongst supposedly tech-savvy students, many of whom opt for print when engaging in serious academic study or extended reading. The literature also suggests that libraries could provide more effective support and training in e-book use, and this in turn would give libraries a better understanding of the evolving habits of students, like as one study remarks, ‘we continue to experience the revolutionary technological, behavioural, societal and neurological aspects of online reading.
I have been a student for the last 15 years (gasp!) and I have also had to work and study at the same time to make ends meet financially. I can appreciate how frustrating and socially exclusive it can be when there are books that you really need but you just can’t afford to buy them. Although the books I needed for my PhD were not part of any core reading lists, when I heard about the Books Right Here Right Now project it made me think about how much easier the research process might have been if I had been able to access the texts I needed electronically.
During my studies I submitted a paper to the UK Kant Society conference, based around a chapter of my thesis. Submitting the paper required me to read a new book that cost £65 to buy. This is a fairly standard price for philosophy texts (though during the course of my thesis I referred to over 200 titles, many of which cost a lot more!). As this book was new and focused on a niche area, the Library did not have a copy and it was not available as an e-book at the time. I did manage to order it as an interlibrary loan, making notes and photocopying relevant pages, but this was a slow and time-consuming process and the book had to be returned within a few weeks.
My conference paper and thesis included some criticisms of the book’s findings but it was while preparing my conference paper that I realised that the author of the text was going to be attending. Due to the limited access I’d had to the full book, I suddenly felt very nervous about the content of my paper. Although the paper was well received – and I spoke to the author and we had an interesting discussion about our differing interpretations – the whole experience would have been much less stressful if I’d been able to refer back to the original text in full as and when I needed it.
The Library offers a ‘Books on Demand’ service to postgraduates, enabling them to order books that are essential for their research either in print or online. The availability of e-books to all members of the academic community, through this and the work of Books Right Here Right Now, will make a real difference to the quality of academic study and research.
Dr Nicola Grayson, University of Manchester Library