E-books on the rise

"This year is definitely showing signs of being a tipping point in which the momentum builds clearly in the direction of e-books” — publisher

University librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson: "The balance is shifting to more circulation of electronic material and less of print." Photo: Dylan Matthias

E-books are becoming more and more common with readers around the world. They're on the rise on university campuses, too.

Dalhousie University Librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson says there is a move towards electronic material and away from print at Dal's libraries. She says Dal now has "several hundred thousand" e-publications and access to even more. 

Dal's online library search operates on a convenient patrons-driven acquisitions model, which means the library will allow access to whichever e-resources students are interested in, and pay for them later.

This model lets students access "all of this material from anywhere at any time of the day or night," says Bourne-Tyson. And since more than one person can use the material at the same time, it "expedites research and scholarship," she says.

"In the month of November 2011 (one of the busier usage months for students), 499 ebooks were downloaded from Mount Saint Vincent University's library and 550 were read online," says University Librarian Terrence Paris.

MSVU had 2,862 loans of print books in November, which means more than 16 per cent of loans from its library were electronic.

It's not just libraries, either. One Canadian university textbook publisher, Emond Montgomery Publications, will begin selling e-books to students directly from their website this winter.

Students are now "more likely to purchase the e-book than the paper version of a textbook," says editor and publisher Mike Thompson. Students used to buy access codes from their campus bookstores to read the material, but now they can cut out the middleman.  

"The shift to e-books from traditional textbooks is a gradual one," says Thompson. "But this year is definitely showing signs of being a tipping point in which the momentum builds clearly in the direction of e-books."

"Academic publishing... and porn"

The electronic format lends itself especially well to academics, since you can get e-textbooks out there quickly and update them easily, says Stephen Kimber, a journalism professor at the University of King's College.

Kimber, whose entire office wall is shelved with paper books, also owns an e-reader.

"The main drivers to go to e-books will be academic publishing," the journalism professor says. "And porn," he adds, laughing.

With new research happening all the time, publishers can access each person's copy of an e-book and make whatever changes are necessary to keep the information current.

Thompson agrees. He says the electronic format is convenient for updates, where they can make changes to books that go several years between printings.

This is in great contrast to many traditional textbooks, where publishers will release (and professors will often require) the newest edition of a book, even if only a few pictures or diagrams have been updated.

Kimber suggests that bookstores sell e-readers pre-loaded with a student's course materials, so they only have a single piece of equipment to carry around, and the student could keep the e-reader after their degree was finished.

"An e-reader allows us to have our whole library with us at all times," Gaeby Abrahams says. "It's a lot lighter to carry around one e-reader than a bunch of heavy books."  Abrahams is a King's student in her final year of a combined honours degree in contemporary studies and English, so she knows just how heavy schoolbooks can be. 

Have we reached a tipping point?

Many people have trouble reading off a screen, though. In some classes where readings are online, such as Dalhousie University's Environment, Sustainability & Society courses, students will print off the material, even though it means they're not saving paper.

Some interfaces can only be read on a computer, and not on a Kindle, Kobo or other e-reader, says Bourne-Tyson.  Besides, she adds, "some of the e-book platforms are not as user-friendly as they should be; particularly, unfortunately, some of the scholarly publishers."

You can't curl up in bed and read from a computer the way you can with a book either, says Kimber. "Being hunched over a computer or a laptop is not a good reading experience."

And a lot of people enjoy the physical aspect of a book too, says Abrahams. "Actually sitting down and holding a book in their hands, opening it up for the first time, turning through the pages..." she drifts off in thought.

Kimber thinks a lot of people are on the same page as Abrahams. "We're in a transitional phase right now," he says.

"We'll get to a place in 10 to 15 years where print-on-paper books are high-end and expensive." But in the same time frame, he says, "electronic textbooks will become the norm."

Comments on this story are now closed

There are bigger issues you didn't address here -- it threatens the openness of NovaNet. If MSVU buys a book as an ebook instead of a physical book, no one can get it through NovaNet. NovaNet is the strength of the libraries of the province. Also, when the library at Dal buys an ebook subscription, they don't own anything -- most of their ebooks are through databases. What happens down the road when they've paid money for literally nothing? There's more to this debate than just someone's eyes hurting. Worth digging deeper.

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Posted by | Jan 26, 2022