Tell Us What You Think About e-Books

The Duke University Libraries recognize that the format of the book, along with the content, plays an important role in the research process. The Libraries are committed to advocating for optimal e-book functionality in every phase of the research process. The guiding principle behind our E-Book Advocacy Statement is that e-books should have the described functionalities as an essential part of research support.

The Libraries are

  • exploring the complexity of the research process and how e-books fit within this process
  • learning from readers about their preferences
  • advocating to publishers on behalf of researchers’ needs
We want to know about your experiences with e-books.  Please leave your comments below on when you use an e-book, when you prefer print, your desired functionalities, or other thoughts about how e-books fit, or don’t, into your research process.

17 thoughts on “Tell Us What You Think About e-Books”

  1. I love e-books and honestly wish I never had to use a paper book for school again. My main reasons for this are:

    1. E-books have a search functionality which is so crucial when you want to quickly locate all the instances of a name or concept in a text.

    2. E-readers have built in dictionaries that quickly allow me to look up words as I’m reading.

    3. E-books are weightless, so I can bring them all with me on my kindle and write research papers outside in the gardens.

    4. E-books allow for highlighting and are backed up/ synced with other devices. E-books remove the organizational headache of holding and maintaining a bunch of print sources. Never again will I lose my notes on something I read.

    5. E-books are environmentally friendly. I don’t care about this one that much but I know that this point will help a lot of people make the switch so it’s an important quality.

  2. eBooks have numerous frustrations, and in my research, I would prefer a hard copy about 80% of the time. I have recently gone so far as to request a title [snip] from as far away as Wake Forest U since all libraries in the area, maddeningly, use the eBook.

    The issue here was that I am a beginning programmer and need to reference the book/instructions at the *same* time that I am typing the “code.” Since I don’t have two screens, the only way to do this is with a hard copy. This is largely personal preference– I don’t have an ipad, etc. and, additionally, can’t bring put an ebook on my nightstand to read before bed, make physical notes in, quickly turn the pages of, etc.– but if I were under the gun, I couldn’t readily use the eBook for practical reasons either– if I open two windows simultaneously (one with the eBook, one with the code), the eBook print rapidly becomes too small for me to process a page of information at a time (and/or text along with illustrative graphics that I need to see).

    Secondly, until eBook platforms (laptops, desktops, iPads, kindle, etc.) can consistently replicate the level of eye strain a book (i.e. vs. LCD screen) presents, I will prefer eBooks– and I have 20/10 vision 🙂 Anecdotal evidence here might be my mother, who has retinal cancer and recently retired from her teaching job and took disability, in no small part because the long hours of engaging with a screen strain present an excessive eye strain. I think there are real disability/ADA issues here that would suggest that a hard copy of a book should be readily available as an alternative to an eBook (even if, say, the hard copy had to come from a distant library– I smell a grant!).

    Finally, in the absence of an accessible print copy, if a patron herself tries to “convert” an ebrary book into a print copy herself (via printing pages), there is a printing limit– and this is if it’s even possible to print the pages using the software (I’ve gone so far as to take screen shots and paste them into a Word doc rather than use an eBook). I understand that restriction is probably due to licensing agreements that make eBooks cheaper to libraries than print copies (and, along these lines, publishers don’t want people “cheating”); however, I think patrons can widely intuit the strategic move here and, to be honest, resent it.

    As you could observe, there is real, widely-distributed opposition to eBooks, across all generations and disciplines– for all the reasons above– that won’t (as I suspect many publishers believe) inevitably phase out as the digital tide sweeps over us.

    Thank you so much for looking into this. I hope my commentary isn’t too direct here, and is helpful.

  3. Comments about netlibrary/ebsco ebook platform:
    Viewing Suspensions of perception: attention spectacle, and modern culture 1999 by Jonathan Crary (

    Text is too small to read on screen.
    When adjusted bigger, text doesn’t wrap to fit screen; increasing the font size shows only part of page and reader must scroll back and forth, sideways.
    Resets zoom at every page turn.

    This interface is horrible.

  4. I’m sure e-books are useful at times and I’ll leave their praises to others.

    My main concern is that increasing e-availability will (over the next ten years) cause libraries to degenerate and lose funding until they are nothing but named websites from which one can get various scanned books, but no assistance, advice, or sense of academic community.

    1. Yes! This is a fundamental concern of the issue. In general, I think e-books actually create a platform for the increase of control on the way readers use books. They offer some new functionality, but for the time being I think this probably is limited to a sense of immediacy: immediate downloading; immediate access to the material; immediate search capabilities. That said, it dictates the way you actually search through a book, the way you copy a book, and it eliminates entirely the importance of a book’s length and spatial development. So, not only are we presented with a culture that satisfies itself through the narrow terms of an interface-user community – essentially deeming the library culture as unnecessary – but we are also forced to accept very determined ways of approaching a work. That said, I think the most interesting function of an e-book would be to work WITH hard-copy books; not AGAINST them.

  5. Kindle and other eBook editions broadly available for download are typically priced lower than a printed book, so researchers commonly assume the same is true for the Libraries’ eBooks. However, scholarly titles available to the Libraries through netlibrary/Ebsco, eBrary and other platforms and publishers in my experience are most often the *same price* as the print edition. If we would like multiple user access (such that more than one researcher can access the ebook simultaneously), the price is even higher.

  6. The ebsco host ebook platform is nothing more than a collection of PDFs. To call this ebooks is inconsistent (or a false comparison) with the kindle (or other) platform.

    As it stands, ebooks are far too difficult to integrate into a workflow via ebsco. The lack of a proper epub format makes reading on a dedicated ereader very difficult.

  7. I really enjoy recreational reading on my Kindle, but I don’t think it can really handle the scientific articles I need to read for class. Maybe in a few years the technology will be there but for now, it’s basically just for novels for me. However, some of my social science friends like doing their reading on e-readers – they don’t have as many tables and figures to contend with.

  8. E-books are useful for teaching when an unlimited, or at least very high, number of users can access the same book at the same time–this is superior to putting a single (or even multiple) copies on reserve for students. There are also times when I need to look up something in a book outside of library hours, and access then is priceless.


    I recently had the rude experience of discovering that the Ebsco e-book I had told my students they could access on line was limited to being checked out for 5 days by ONE user at a time! That is so ridiculously inferior to a hard copy I don’t know where to begin; obviously Ebsco keeps on charging the library a yearly fee for this miniscule access, so year-over-year, it ends up being more expensive than getting a hard copy.

    Also, Duke can’t lend ebooks via ILL. The more titles we acquire as ebooks, the less useful we shall be to our ILL partners. Not a good idea, when (e.g.) UNC-CH has many out-of-print titles in my own discipline (classics) and other disciplines that our collection does not.

    And lastly, what happens when the company who controls the database when the ebook originates goes bankrupt or changes hands? That information will no longer be accessible, whereas a hard copy will be on the shelves as long as human ingenuity can preserve it. We are not beholden to any outside commercial entity for hard-copy titles we have already acquired, but e-books make us servants to the e-masters of those books.

  9. I have found little use for the ebook platform through the library website — the formatting is difficult to read and awkward to navigate. Until someone comes up with an easy way to page through the book–and easily page to end notes without having to manually go searching for the page you were originally reading–I will continue to use print over electronic form.

    One of the greatest possibilities with ebooks is the portability–kindle, iPad, other eBook readers. Many of these devices, however, present problems of their own: most academic presses are not on kindle (last I checked); you CAN upload PDFs onto a kindle, but the interface makes it IMPOSSIBLE to actually read the thing unless it’s formatted perfectly; the back light of the iPad (and other like devices) give me extreme eye fatigue; and it is not possible use library books (which limits my reading to only books I’ve purchased).

    There seems to be the technology to solve these problems, but the time/energy/money has yet to be invested. Until then — regular print, print, print, print, print is the way to go.

  10. I wanted to leave one piece of feedback about the E-book Advocacy Statement. There is one feature that I would like to see highlighted as a desirable benchmark: reproduction of pictures, charts, and other visual materials in a manner that is legible and placed correctly within the text. Perhaps this is so obvious that it was overlooked, but it has been one of my primary sources of displeasure in e-book experiences (especially with books formatted for the Kindle). Perhaps the average paperback can be converted to a stream of ASCII with little loss of content, but for many scholarly publications, the layout, ancillary materials, and ability to print special characters is crucial. I was just looking at a new ebook that seems to do a good job of this:

    1. Andrew, thanks for this feedback. The e-book example you linked to is very useful to us at the library.

      Aisha Harvey, Duke Library E-Book Strategy Committee Member

  11. E-books are good so long as the formatting quality is really high. I would also need to be able to access them on my ipad, as I don’t want to have to read them on my computer screen. Some e-book access so far has been frustrating – for example reference books where only one volume has been scanned and uploaded. If it is cheaper to have the print copies then the library should take that route. I am for e-books overall so long as the access is as good or better than print and the quality of the book is at a high level, for example, as good as a Kindle book.

  12. The one problem I have with the e-book readers is that the interfaces are, frankly, terrible.

    For Ebrary
    While reading _Specters of the Atlantic_ in ebrary, to navigate through pages I have to read, scroll down the page, get to the bottom of the page, then scroll back up to the top of the page in order to click a button to get to the next page. This is absurd. There is no reason why the text cannot just fit to the screen. Google does it with any ebook you purchase from the google book store. It is clear that whoever designed the ebrary interface never actually sat down to read a book for it. If it is too difficult to fit the text to the screen then why can’t we just scroll down through pages like one would while reading a pdf in Adobe on the computer? The button-click-to-turn a page interface seems like a needless encumbrance.

    ebscohost ebook reader is even worse.
    While reading _Suspensions of Perception : Attention, Spectacle, and Modern Culture_, I clicked to make the text bigger on a given page because the default text size is minuscule. But then, when I clicked the button to go to the next page, the text size was reset to the microscopic default size. That means I would have to click the text increase button _again_ to get the text back to a readable size. Additionally, once the text is at a reasonable size, the page is bigger than the reading window. This means that in order to read all the way to the end of a line of text you need to scroll over to the right, and then scroll back to the left in order to start reading the next line of text. Again, why can’t an interface be designed where the text just fits to the screen? Just trying to read one text involves an endless number of clicks and scrolls, which is absurdly distracting when I’m trying to read a book and follow an argument. There is no reason why this can’t be better, and Duke Libraries should insist that these ebook companies redesign their interfaces.

  13. I love to read printed book rather than eBook. Although eBook has some advantages but I don’t know the reason of attractiveness of printed book.

  14. I’ve tried using Overdrive books from my public library, an excellent library that gets lots of awards. I’m an avid reader of fiction, but want good, first-rate fiction. Unfortunately, the books available electronically are nearly always second-, third-, and fourth-rate books. Why can’s we get popular authors like Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Kazuo Ishiguro, or even less well-known authors of good quality.

    The learning curve to use the software is bad enough, but I refuse to waste my reading time on inferior quality books.

    It would be an advantage to me, since I have minor physical limitations, making it somewhat difficult to hold a book for long periods. I’m sure that for other disabilities, like vision problems, it would also be a great advantage. So, it’s a shame that better books are not available.

    When I see proposals to make libraries virtual instead of bricks and mortar with printed books, I just shudder. Another nail in coffin for a discerning public.

    I know it’s an old post, but thought I’d give my opinion anyway.

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