Scholars' Reactions to Book Formats and Characteristics
Scholars reporting easy access to a networked computer spend more time on-line and are more likely to prefer to use one of the forms of the on-line book.
In our in-class surveys in spring 1997, students claiming easy access to a networked computer (74% of the 209 respondents) were greater users of on-line resources overall. Only 27% of students claiming easy access reported as few as one to two hours on-line a week, while 53% of those lacking easy access had this low level of on-line activity. About 31% of the former group spent six or more hours a week on-line while 18% of the latter group did.
About 26% of the easy access group gave some form of on-line book (reading directly on-line, printout of text, or download of text and reading away from the Web) as their preferred method of reading an assignment for which an on-line version was available, while only 13% of the students lacking easy access did so.
This combination of responses suggests that, over time as members of the scholarly community obtain greater access to computers linked to the Web, on-line books will achieve greater acceptance.
Students report that they particularly value easy access to the texts that are assigned for class and an ability to underline and annotate those texts.
Students seek the ability to print out all or parts of the on-line texts that they use for their courses, again indicating their desire to have the paper copy to use in their
studying. Computer access to a needed text is not equivalent to having a paper copy (whole book or assigned portion) in one's backpack, available at any time and at any place (see Table 17.10).
The cross-tabulation of preferred method of use and reasons for that preference produces logically consistent results. For example, all the respondents who gave "Printout using non-JAKE printer" or "Download of on-line text to disk to be read away from CWeb" as their preferred method gave "Less costly" as one of their reasons, while few of those students who preferred their own copy gave that reason.
If the effective choice for completing a required reading is between borrowing a book from the library, probably on a very short-term basis from reserves, and accessing the book on-line, the student is facing a parallel situation of needing to photocopy or print out the reading to obtain portable, annotative media. However, the on-line book's advantages are that it will never be checked out when the student wants to use it and that it will be accessible from a computer anywhere in the world at any time (as long as that computer has an Internet connection and a graphical Web browser).
In surveys and interviews, scholars indicate that they value the ability to do searches, to browse, and to quickly look up information in an on-line book.
They also like the ability to clip bits of the text and put them in an electronic research notes file. Willingness to browse and to read on-line for extended periods varies from person to person, but it does not seem to be widespread at this time.
Some scholars perceive gains in the productivity and quality of their work in using on-line books, particularly reference books.
Two key questions asked on all our questionnaires, other than those distributed in class, seek to determine the effect of on-line books on scholarly work:
1. In doing the type of work for which you used this book, do paper books or on-line books help you be more productive?
2. Do you find that you are able to do work of higher quality when you use paper books or on-line books?
The questionnaire offers a range of seven responses from "Much greater productivity (quality) with paper" through "No difference" to "Much greater productivity (quality) with on-line" plus "Cannot say."
As Table 17.11 shows, 52% of OED users felt that they were as productive or more productive using the on-line OED, while 39% of the users of the other on-line books felt that they are as productive or more productive using the on-line format. These responses are somewhat puzzling because the reference book most used on-line is The OED, suggesting that scholars do value it, and the CWeb version of the on-line OED provides as much if not more utility than does the print version (with the exception of being able to view neighboring entries at a
glance). Thus, one might expect the productivity rating for the on-line ODE to be higher.
The distribution of responses to the quality of work question supports the print format in general, although 47% of ODE users and 43% of the users of all the other books felt that quality was as good or better with on-line books.
Table 17.12 shows considerable correlation in the responses to these two questions-those who supported the paper version for productivity tended to support it for quality as well.
In the last part of the spring 1997 semester, 52% of the on-line book users who went to the on-line survey responded to it, but only 15% of users chose to click on the button taking them to the survey.
Designing an on-line survey that is available to the reader without overt action might enhance the response rate significantly. We are working on doing that using HTML frames on the on-line books. We are also experimenting with other methods of reaching the users of the on-line books, e.g., registration of users that will bring e-mail messages about new books in their field while also enabling us to query them about their reactions to on-line books.