Libraries are challenged to remain vital and dynamic in an age where users are addicted to the internet and demand that information be delivered electronically. Although the literature suggests that the substitution of electronic journals is fully established in most disciplines, the use of electronic books is often reported as flawed, limited, or largely unacceptable to library customers. Understanding how electronic books are used is fundamentally important for the future of libraries and the ultimate creation of a true library without walls.
This paper analyses the delivery models of electronic books and their integration into library collections. Usage statistics are presented, along with the results of two surveys in 2004 and 2005 which analysed customer knowledge and preferences for book formats.
What do our learners want with respect to electronic books? There are a few surveys and use studies that indicate the growing importance of electronic books in academic libraries.
Croft and Bedi (2005) found that once students are introduced to the advantages of electronic books, they are more likely to use them again. Secondly, the librarians tested students’ preferences between two models because of perceived difficulty with the NetLibrary delivery model, and showed that the users did not prefer one model to another. To test the assumption of preference for print or electronic books, the librarians referred students to both versions of certain texts. Students opted for the electronic version over print at a rate of 3:1. Students used e-books for research and reference, but not primarily for reading (Croft and Bedi, 2005, 95).
Dillon (2001a, b) wrote two papers on e-book purchases between libraries in the University of Texas system. Since 1999, the system librarians have selected the items although the materials were not acquired as they were published. Dillon (2001a) wrote that it was too soon to place much validity in usage statistics, but he outlined many of the problems intrinsic in comparing print and electronic usage.
The printed book circulation data is particularly vexing in that, even though we know the patron checked the book out, we don't know how intensively they used each title, or whether they even opened the book at all. With the e-book data we don't know if the usage represents one user intensively reading a title in many different sessions, or if it represents brief examinations by many different people.(Dillon, 2001a, 116–17)