UCL News


E-books used by nearly half of UCL community

9 February 2007

Forty-four per cent of the UCL community use e-books, according to a survey conducted by UCL Centre for Publishing last term.

The survey found that nearly half of all users are aged between 17 and 35 (47 per cent), while only three per cent of users are over 55. Three-quarters of all users are either undergraduates or masters students.

Engineering Sciences and Social & Historical Sciences are the most 'e-book aware' faculties, at 41 per cent and 38 per cent respectively, with Life Sciences (22 per cent) and Mathematical & Physical Sciences (20 per cent) at the other end of the scale.

Textbooks are the most popular type of e-book, used by sixty per cent of e-book readers, followed by reference works (52 per cent), and research monographs (46 per cent). Perhaps surprisingly, nearly a third of e-book users read fiction in this format (28 per cent).

The study has turned up some surprising results: two out of every three users are men - who accord greater importance to features and functionality than women - but this pattern reverses in Engineering Sciences and Social & Historical Sciences. There seems to be no correlation between how often people use UCL's print and e-book collections. The research also uncovered a strong tendency for users to print out the contents of work-related materials, but to read non-work related material from the screen.

E-book advocates listed the benefits of e-books as convenience; ease of making copies, their space-saving and around-the-clock availability. They also perceived them to be more up to date than print books. However, hard copy was strongly favoured in terms of ease of reading.

The findings are based on nearly 2,000 responses from across the UCL community to the survey, which forms the first phase of the 'SuperBook Project': the first large-scale national user study of e-book use by academic staff and students in higher and further education in the UK. It is being led by the UCL Centre for Publishing and UCL Library Services, which has a considerable number of electronic titles among its holdings.

"E-books have slipped quietly onto the scene with little of the fanfare surrounding other electronic information resources - both earlier formats (e-journals) and the more recent (blogs)," said Professor David Nicholas, Director of the UCL Centre for Publishing. "E-book publishing has been growing rapidly, with the International Digital Publishing Forum reporting a 23 per cent increase in e-book revenues in 2005 on the previous year, and a 20 per cent rise in e-book titles published."

Dr Ian Rowlands of the UCL Centre for Publishing added: "One of the most interesting lines of future inquiry opened up by this survey is the notion that the way people find out about e-book titles is highly patterned, with readers using different underlying strategies at different times to meet different kinds of information need. This could have major implications for publishers and booksellers as well as libraries. All of these issues and more will be explored in the next phase of SuperBook."

To find out more about e-book usage and provision at UCL, follow the links at the bottom of this article.