Academic libraries are purchasing access to ebooks for their campuses, but are faculty and students actually using them? Edward W. Walton has reviewed the discussions taking place in academic literature. He examines the results of a survey of the perceptions that faculty and students have of using e-books at a small liberal arts university, and tries to project the future of e-books based on the available criteria in Faculty and Student Perceptions of Using E-Books in a Small Academic Institution.

The concept of e-books has existed in the realm of science fiction, however, it was only with the advances in computer technology of the late 20th century that brought those science fiction ideas into the world as a practical reality. By the late 1990s, there were several companies marketing viable e-book systems. In 2001 the number of available e-book systems reached eighteen. The growth of open standards for ebooks like MOBI and EPUB has had the effect of making most of those systems disappear through irrelevancy. A couple of producers have continued to develop and adapt their closed systems but none have gained widespread popularity.

By the early 2000s some academic libraries were purchasing e-book collections for students to provide them with copyright protected e-books alongside access to the growing number of public domain e-book collections.

This access was acquired based on the assumption that students would come to embrace and read e-books. Walton describes this as the “if we build it, they will come” model. It was a bad assumption. These collections came online and early research showed that higher education students were not embracing the new technology, and did have a preference for e-books.

Some anecdotal reporting suggested that students perceived learning to be more difficult when using e-books rather than physical books. However, studies showed neither an identifiable improvement nor degradation in students’ learning when using ebooks.

Walton concludes that e-book use in higher education is indeed viable.

Academic libraries seeking to purchase an e-book collection can find ample evidence that if they do “build it” students will come and use it. Students are beginning to embrace the use of e-books for the purpose of conducting research and are receptive to using e-books as a textbook.

Read the full report at Faculty and Student Perceptions of Using E-Books in a Small Academic Institution.