This paper evaluates the e-book usage and information seeking and reading behaviour of thousands of business and management students. Comparisons are made with students in other subjects. The data largely come from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)-funded National e-Books Observatory (NeBO) project as well as the JISC User Behaviour Observational Study.
The main sources of data were:
a) transactional logs obtained from the MyiLibrary platform regarding 127 UK universities;
b) questionnaire data for more than 5000 students and staff at these universities;
c) hard-copy library circulation and retail sales data; and d) focus groups held with 50 staff and students from selected universities.
The main findings were that e-textbooks can prove to be extremely popular and widely used, mainly for obtaining snippets of information and for fact finding. The main reason for using e-textbooks was ease of access and convenience.
The e-textbook behaviour of students and the impacts of this behaviour have been investigated in considerable depth. NeBO proved to be a big success, with virtually every university in the country joining together in a hugely strategic and methodologically innovative study; a study in which hundreds of thousands of students, nationwide, were provided with e-texts which they consumed with great alacrity, recording more than three quarters of a million page views in the 14-month experiment.
The level of interest by students and staff was demonstrated by the fact that more than 50,000 of them responded to the questionnaires.
Clearly the main lesson learnt was that if e-textbooks are of good quality, lecturers recommend and reference them in their e-reading lists and if they are made widely and easily accessible they will be used in large numbers. And the very large volumes of use (82,787 page views) associated with Organizational Behaviour and Analysis: An Integrated Approach is very much proof of that.
The results of this study confirmed what we have found in the literature that business students are major and significant users of e-books and e-textbooks in that they view them more frequently, spend longer viewing them, view more of them and use is increasing fastest. Popularity could be put down to a number of factors: a) the books were more attractive to university users; b) the nature of business studies means that e-books are especially attractive; c) staff and librarians promote them more; and d) there are more business and management students.
The other key findings of the study were:
- E-textbook use did not appear to have a negative impact on hard-copy sales.
- There was a relatively high concentration of use. Thus, in the case of Management Concepts and Practices the top 10 (of 127) universities accounted for 36% of its use.
- A high proportion of e-textbook use came from the newer universities (and this was true for other subjects too).
- Business students were the least likely to have bought their own copy of a textbook or to haveobtained one from the open web.
- Business e-book users tended to search off campus and were more likely to access the books via Virtual Learning Environments.
- Multiple routes to e-books confused students and the library catalogue/OPAC was the main means of accessing e-textbooks.
- E-textbooks were mainly used for obtaining snippets of information and fact finding. Power browsing of multiple e-textbooks was characteristic, a function of massive choice. There appeared to be very little extended reading of e-books.
- The most important reason for using e-books was convenience – of transporting and accessing them.
- The main problems encountered were: a) lack of e-book titles; b) access and navigation; c) reading electronic text; and d) poor promotion.
- E-textbook searching in business is less tied to the rhythms of the teaching year than other subjects and this could be because students have more project work or because of the large postgraduate numbers in the field.
- Business e-book users tend to search off campus (the fact that many are part-time provides part of the explanation).
- Business students clearly substituted print in favour of electronic in the library context and still bought the books.