April 23, 2018

College Students Prefer Print for Long-form Reading, Ebooks for Research | LJ Survey

chart regarding ebook convenience

While many students prefer print for long-form reading, 66% agree or strongly agree that ebooks are more convenient to obtain

Most college students prefer to read print books for pleasure, but when they are conducting research, almost two-thirds now prefer ebooks or express no format preference, according to the 2018 Academic Student Ebook Experience Survey, conducted by LJ’s research department and sponsored by EBSCO. Featuring the opinions of 306 students currently enrolled in four-year colleges and universities (65%), graduate programs (20%), and two-year or community colleges (15%), the survey examines current and emerging trends regarding preferred devices and research sources, changes in ebook usage, important features, preferences by format characteristic such as ease of use, thoughts on download and print restrictions, and more.

When reading for pleasure, almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) said they preferred print books, compared with only 12 percent who prefer ebooks (14 percent expressed no format preference).  Similarly, 68 percent said they preferred print for assigned narrative reading, compared with 23 percent who preferred ebooks.

By contrast, 45 percent of respondents prefer ebooks for research, and 20 percent expressed no preference. Further, 52 percent reported that they had used more ebooks for research during the past year, while 35 percent said they had used the same amount as they had in the previous year.  Increases were most notable among students in graduate programs and four-year colleges—particularly those in online classes.

When asked why their ebook usage had changed, those who had reported using more ebooks cited convenience, better availability of relevant sources, class requirements, technology improvements, lower prices, and ease of search. Several respondents who reported using fewer ebooks emphasized their preference for print, with a couple noting that the selection of print books at their university library offered them the option.

Students view print books as easier to read and ebooks as easier to obtain. Three-quarters of respondents (75%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I have an easier time reading print books than ebooks,” while two-thirds (66%) agreed or strongly agreed that “ebooks are more convenient to get than print books.” Also, a sizeable majority (81%) agreed or strongly agreed that “if a print book is not available, an ebook is a good alternative.”

In write-in responses, students noted that their professors “want current info, so e-references are easiest,” or “the type of research I have been doing in grad school and the final year of undergrad has been more intense and targeted. I now need a wider variety of sources, and need those sources to be searchable for speed,” or “I have less time to physically go to the library,” and even “it’s easier to carry ebooks than printed books.”

But many students dislike the inconveniences imposed by digital rights management (DRM), such as restrictions on printing portions of the content, or on downloading chapters or entire ebooks for offline reading. More than half (56%) of respondents said that they were always (3%), often (19%), or sometimes (34%) frustrated by DRM restrictions. And 57 percent—led by graduate students—described the option to download ebooks as important (33%) or extremely important (24%).

When asked what ebook features are critically important, having page numbers to use in citations topped the list (75%); followed by the ability to resize text to fit a device’s screen (67%); readability on a phone or tablet (64%); the ability to bookmark pages, highlight text, or take notes for later reference (60%); downloading the entire ebook (57%); linking to references at the end of a chapter (52%); downloading chapters (50%); and allowing content to be transferred between devices (43%).

Several comments also noted that search bars and other search features would be particularly helpful, while others suggested “the ability to copy and paste,” “extra study tools like practice tests,” and simplified navigation, enabling users to “jump to [specific] pages.”

Laptops and smartphones were, by far, the most popular devices for accessing library ebooks, with an overwhelming majority of students saying that they “always” or “often” use a laptop to access this content (96%), followed by smartphones (48%), desktop computers (22%), or tablets (12%). Tablets do not appear to have taken hold as devices for conducting research: 63% of respondents said they rarely or never use tablets for accessing library ebooks, and almost half (49%) said the same of desktop computers.

Many of these findings roughly correlate with the perceptions of academic librarians surveyed a year and a half ago in LJ’s “Ebook Usage in U.S. Academic Libraries 2016” report. In that survey, 60 percent of librarian respondents said their users prefer print to ebooks for long-form content such as monographs, with many noting student frustrations with ebook printing limitations or other DRM restrictions. However, 56 percent of respondents said that students prefer digital reference materials, compared with 16 percent who said they prefer print.

Download the full 87-page 2018 Academic Student Ebook Experience Survey report here.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com, @matthewenis on Twitter, matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. Still there are many users who like to read books then PDF or e-books. I really love reading offline books while studying as phone distracts me.

  2. Jane Andrews says:

    306 students! I may have read it wrong, but that seems like a very low number of students based on how many students there are in undergrad, grad, and community colleges. Bet that number is huge. Hard to believe the headline based on the number surveyed.

  3. There is nothing like the feel of a physical book. Yummy!

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