Faculty and Student Use and Opinions of E-Books at University of Maryland

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Like most university libraries, the University of Maryland Libraries purchase e-books from a variety of vendors and in a variety of formats, and statistics show that our e-books are heavily used by our patrons. Also like most university libraries, we face space constraints and other factors that increasingly pressure us to purchase a significant portion of our collection in e-book form, rather than in print. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that many patrons still prefer print. Many of our colleagues have experienced interactions similar to those reported by Cynthia Gregory (2008), wherein a student shown a catalog record for an e-book responds, “But I want a real book.” Beyond such amusing anecdotes, however, it was clear that there was a serious gap in what we knew about our users’ preferences for print or electronic books. Will scholars in the Humanities and Social Sciences, for example, support a collection shift to e-books, which may not be compatible with research methods practiced and taught in these disciplines? The purpose of this study, then, was to gather data on use of and attitudes about e-books among faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland (UMD). To keep the quantity of data manageable while providing a thorough cross-section of the Humanities and Social Sciences departments on campus, we limited the survey to participants from three colleges: Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Education. Specifically, the purpose of this study was to learn about user preferences for accessing certain kinds of written materials (e.g., scholarly monographs, edited collections, reference works, etc.), difficulties encountered when identifying, accessing, and/or using e-books, and the suitability of e-books to research methods in disciplines within the Humanities and Social Sciences. Research questions included:

  1. Do (or how often do) Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and students use e-books for research purposes? Do (or how often do) they use e-books for recreational reading?
  2. How do Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and students identify, access, and use e-books for their research and/or recreational reading? Which e-book sources and/or collections do they use most frequently?
  3. For what materials in their discipline do Humanities and Social Sciences faculty and students prefer the Libraries to buy e-books? For what materials do they prefer us to buy print books?
  4. How do use and attitudes compare among UM respondents of different statuses (faculty, graduate student, or undergraduate student) and colleges? Conducted in spring 2012, the survey netted 1,343 valid responses, an overall response rate of 8.6% (and, for faculty, a response rate as high as 24.8%). This presentation highlights some of the most interesting data and results from the survey.


Presentation to library staff, August 14, 2012.