Electronic book usage amongst academic librarians in South Africa
Amongst university libraries e-books are gaining wider interest since the introduction of portable electronic reading devices and software-based readers. With the growing electronic environment within universities, a need for competent and knowledgeable librarians has come to the forefront of information seeking and use. The research question addressed in this study is to what extent are e-books being used among academic librarians in their work environment? The purpose of this study was to investigate the usage of e-books amongst academic librarians; in particular which e-books are available to academic librarians, why they choose this format, what impact e-books have on librarians’ professional practice and what the usage patterns of ebooks are amongst academic librarians. The methodology used to collect the data is survey research. An electronic questionnaire was distributed on the Library and Information Association of South Africa (LIASA) mailing list. The population sample for this study was the subject and reference librarians at South African university libraries who all subscribe to the LIASA mailing list. A user study is the theory that frames this research. The purpose of the user study was to obtain an overview of users’ habits, preferences, and conventions when interacting with in this case, ebooks in a work environment. The majority of user studies concerns clients of the library such as students or academics and how they search for information or what they want from a library service. This particular study is different. The academic librarians are the users in this instance and their use of e-books in their professional work the focus of the study. The results revealed that academic librarians (48% of respondents) would often select the e-book version before print materials if available within their institutions. The results reflect more a gradual trend towards e-book uptake. There is still a preference for print or a “bit of both” – print and electronic. This is because of the high costs of e-books using the subscription model as the predominant e-book acquisition model and the lack of sufficient e-books in all subject fields. Ebooks are used for “browsing for information” and are selected for functionalities such as having the ability to search the document, anytime access and automatic citation. Major problems identified with e-books are (1) the cost of the equipment to read e-book formats, (2) the cost of the e-books especially if the subscription purchasing model is used, (3) the reliability of the internet and (4) the lack of training in how to use e-books. The study concludes by making recommendations for further research.