In my September blog post, ‘E-books and students: an uneasy relationship?’, I introduced my study into e-books usage by Pharmacy students, funded by Digitally Ready. The project is now well underway. An online survey on the usage and awareness of e-books, which was filled in by 53 of our Pharmacy students, revealed some interesting tendencies.
There was great variation in the usage of e-books. Even though our Pharmacy e-book collection is quite extensive and the Pharmacy course relies heavily on textbooks, which leads to a very high demand on the print copies in the Library, almost one third (28%) of the surveyed students have never used an e-book. The results suggest that this is due partly to low awareness, partly to a lack of the digital skills needed to find and access e-books.
However, even amongst those students who make use of e-books for their course, the differences in the extent to which they make use of the advantages that the digital medium offers are striking. One fifth of the surveyed students are unaware of the most essential advantages that an e-book offers over a printed book, such as off-campus access (20%), full-text searching (19%) and a clickable table of contents (23%).
Furthermore, there is very little awareness of the other advantages that the medium offers. 69% of the surveyed students did not know you can export or copy the citation for an e-book to your bibliography, and 75% did not know you can add personal notes to e-books.
These numbers indicate that many students lack the digital literacy skills to recognise and exploit the potential of the e-book as a digital medium. It is a problem that will be familiar to many academic librarians: whereas students generally possess the necessary digital skills to access the world of online information, they often lack the skills to navigate their way through the myriad of possibilities they encounter there, which prevents them from making the most of them.
The results from my survey serve as a reminder that even in our increasingly digital world, it would be misleading to think of our students as digital natives. As technology is always developing, digital literacy is not a skill set that can simply be acquired and then applied. It is part of an ever ongoing learning process.
A focus group I am facilitating at the end of this month will dig deeper into the barriers to the efficient usage of e-books that students experience. The findings from the group will inform the formulation of a strategy to increase the awareness and the use of our Pharmacy e-book collection. As libraries are in the process of migrating to the digital world, I hope to be able to equip my students with the skills and tools they need to follow.
Liaison Librarian for Pharmacy, Mathematics and Statistics
University of Reading Library