The Online Books Evaluation Project includes two types of nonreference books: Past Masters, 54 classical texts in social thought; and modern monographs and collections from Columbia University Press, Oxford University Press, and Simon and Schuster Higher Education. Most of these books came on-line during the 1996-97 academic year.
On-line scholarly monographs are available to and used by more people than their print counterparts in the library collection.
Once a print book is in circulation, it can be unavailable to other scholars for hours (the reserve collection) or weeks or months (the regular collection). An online book is always available to any authorized user who has access to a computer with an Internet connection and a graphical Web browser.
Table 17.3 tracks usage of the contemporary nonreference books in the on-line collection for the last part of the spring semester 1997 and in the print circulation of these titles for the first six months of 1997. Fourteen of these books had no online use during this 2.5-month measurement period; 12 had no print circulations during their 6-month measurement period. In total, the on-line versions had 122 users while the print versions had 75 users. Looking at only the on-line books that circulated in print form, we find 122 on-line users and 45 print circulations, or that there were nearly three times as many on-line users as circulations. These data suggest that, compared for an equal period, these books will have many more users in on-line form than in print form.
An on-line book may attract scholars who would not have seen it otherwise.
Once a group within the community becomes aware of the on-line books, they are likely to review books in the collection that seem related to their interests-at least while the collection is small. For example, half of the use of Autonomous Agents: From Self Control to Autonomy was from social work host computers. This title might seem related to social work issues even though it is not a social work book or part of the collection of the Social Work Library.
The fifth and sixth most used books-Self Expressions: Mind, Morals, and the Meaning of Life and Bangs, Crunches, Whimpers, and Shrieks -are both philosophy titles.
• Self Expressions is listed in the Current Social Science Web page along with the social work titles. Five of its seven users were from the School of Social Work, one from the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, and one from Electrical Engineering.
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• Bangs, Crunches, Whimpers, and Shrieks is listed under Physics in the Current Science Web page. Two of its seven users were from the Physics department, another two from unidentified departments, and one each from Electrical Engineering, Engineering, and General Studies.
It is not clear whether scholars' productivity or work quality will be enhanced by such serendipity. The important concept of collation is transformed, in the networked environment, to a diversity of finding and navigational systems. As the online collection expands, browsing will require the focused use of on-line search tools rather than use of project-oriented Web pages. However, the Web's search systems may uncover a book's relevance to a scholar's work when the library catalog or browsing the library or bookstore shelves would not have done so. This new ability to identify relevant books should improve scholars' research and teaching.
Scholars use some on-line books relatively little.
As Table 17.3 shows, use of on-line books is not evenly balanced among titles. Instead it is driven by course demands or other interest in a book. The initial use of the 54 on-line Past Masters classic texts in social thought confirms this finding. In academic year 1996-97, these texts registered a total of about 2,460 hits from the Columbia scholarly community. However, 1,692 (69%) of these hits were on only eight (15%) of the titles, for an average total of 212 hits each, or 24 hits each per month. The other 46 texts averaged about 17 hits each over this period, or about two hits each per month.
Patterns of usage may be expected to change over time as various texts are used in courses or by researchers and as the Columbia community becomes more aware of the on-line collections. In general, it is likely that nonreference books that are being used in courses, but which the students need not own, will be in greater demand on-line than will books that students must own or books that are of interest to only a small set of scholars.
The data to date suggest that to the extent that there are meaningful costs to creating on-line books and to maintaining them as part of a collection, publishing and library planners must select items for the on-line collection carefully. The decision rules will vary depending on what type of organization is taking on the risks of providing the access to the on-line books.
Some scholars, especially students with a reading assignment that is in the on-line collection, are looking at on-line books in some depth, suggesting that they find value in this means of access.
As Table 17.3 shows, the on-line books averaged 5.5 hits per unique user, suggesting that some users are looking at several elements of the book or at some elements repeatedly. In fall 1996, three social work books were most intensively used because they were assigned reading for courses. We analyzed the server statistics through the end of 1996 for these books in an effort to learn how deeply the books
were used-to what extent use sessions included book chapters, the search engine, the pagination feature, and so on.
Table 17.4 shows that relatively few sessions (7%-24%) involved someone going only to the Title Page/Table of Contents file for a book. Many sessions (28%-59%) involved use of more than one chapter of the book; sessions averaged 1.4 to 3.5 hits on chapters, depending on the book used. Some users would seem to be repeat users who had set up a bookmark for a chapter in the book or had made a note of the URL because some sessions (9%-17%) did not include a hit on the Table of Contents/Title Page.
Table 17.5, illustrating the distribution of hits on the on-line books collection per unique user over the last part of the spring 1997 semester, indicates that while many users are making quite cursory use of the on-line books, more are looking at multiple files (e.g., reference entry, chapter) in the collection. As Table 17.6 shows, the distribution of unique titles viewed by these users over this period indicates that most users come to the collection to look at a single book. The greatest number of books used by a single person was seven (by two persons).
Not surprisingly, there is a certain correlation between number of hits and number of titles used. Those users with only one hit could only have looked at one title (42% of those using one book). The range of hits among those who used only one book is wide-20 (9%) had more than 10 hits. Six users had more than 25 hits; two of them looked at only one book, one each at two and three books, and two at seven books. These statistics indicate some significant use of the collection as measured by average number of hits per title used.
However, hits on several titles need not indicate heavy use of the on-line books collection. The individual who looked at five books had a total of only six to ten hits, as did four of the seven people who looked at four books (one to two hits each). The person who looked at six books had 11 to 15 hits in total (an average of about two hits per book).
Table 17.7 shows that graduate students tended to have more hits, and undergraduates and faculty, fewer hits.
The preceding discussion highlights the current data on usage by individuals. Using newer data on sessions, we will be able to derive valuable information on user behavior-not only number of books used and hits on those books but parts of the book used and repeat usership. We will begin to see revealed preference in user behavior and will be less reliant on responses to questionnaires.
Data for the last half of the spring 1997 semester suggest that when a social work book available in both print and on-line formats was used in a course, the share of students using the on-line version was at most one-quarter.
Table 17.3 shows that the four most used nonreference books were all in the field of social work. Almost 91% of the users of these books were from the School of Social Work; they accounted for 98% of the hits on those books. The vast majority of these users (56 of 64) were graduate students. With the exception of the
most used book, Task Strategies, these texts were on reserve for social work courses during the spring 1997 semester.
• Three sections, with a total of about 70 students, used Supervision in Social Work as a key text. Thus, potentially, if all seven graduate students who used this book were participants in these courses, about 10% of the most likely student user group actually used this book on-line during this period.
• Three other course sections, again with about 70 students in total, used Mutual Aid Groups. This book was a major reading; in fact, one of its authors taught two of the sections in which it was used. Sixteen graduate students used this title for a potential penetration of about 23%.
• Philosophical Foundations of Social Work (as well as Qualitative Research in Social Work ) was on reserve for a doctoral seminar that had an enrollment of 11 students. The instructor reported that this book was a major text in the course that students would have bought traditionally. She did not know how many of her students used the on-line version. If all eight users-seven graduate
students and the one professional student-were class members, that suggests a substantial penetration for that small class. However, it is likely that some of these users were not enrolled in that course.