The overall growth in digital content of all kinds, and in particular, the increasing importance and acceptance of e-books, has presented great opportunities for libraries as well as plenty of challenges. Many libraries are coping with decreasing budgets while at the same time experiencing increased demand for content and services (Hane, 2012:1). E-books are an exciting and controversial topic for librarians, publishers and users.
An e-book is the digital representation of the printed material (print book), the reading medium can vary from (laptop) computer to digital e-book reader, PDA, mobile phone or even (through a printer) traditional paper (Van der Velde & Ernst, 2009:570).
As e-books represent a large investment for the library, understanding and analyzing both the process of acquiring, processing and accessing e-books and that of the patron experience of e-books can help determine decisions to be made by the library’s management team.
The group working on the paper consists of three departments within the University of the Free State (UFS) Library and Information Services providing the acquisition, processing, licensing and accessibility of e-books namely acquisitions, serials and cataloguing. in order to realize the vision for seamless delivery in a digital age, the division embarked on a collaborative action research project. As part of an initial context analysis a comprehensive survey was undertaken. In the mixed methods design followed, three types of data collection methods were employed. Analysis will involve both numerical as well as narrative data.
Challenges encountered by patrons include: lack of awareness, lack of know-how on accessibility, internet access and speed of internet access. Post-graduate students will populate the focus group – the UFS postgraduate students are located in the UFS Research Unit, which is a convenient place, and they have been purposefully identified due to the information they possess and their experience which will assist in the research. And, a mixed method research approach will be used making use of observation, structured one-on-one interviews, questionnaires and document analysis, using numerical and narrative data (Plowright, 2011: 42). For this study, the participants will be observed as they interact with e-books which are accessible through the UFS library. The statistics from the e-book vendors will be used to extract evidence on usage of e-books over the past year. Purposive sampling will be used.
With these results we hope to contribute to assist users and library staff in the digital age to make the transition from the limited present place to the more expansive cyberspace. The action plan we have drawn up should make a start in improving awareness and knowledge amongst users, and therefore improving service.