Format Shift: Information Behavior and User Experience in the Academic E-book Environment

Daniel G. Tracy


This article seeks to understand information behavior in the context of the academic e-book user experience, shaped by a disparate set of vendor platforms licensed by libraries. These platforms vary in design and affordances, yet studies of e-book use in an academic context often treat e-books as a unified phenomenon in opposition to print books. Based on participant diaries tracking e-book information behavior and follow-up interviews and focus groups on troubleshooting and format shifting behaviors, this study seeks to provide a deep qualitative look at decisions that academic users make about formats when encountering e-books. It identifies reasons for noted disparities between stated user preferences for print books while often using e-books instead. It also demonstrates the importance of considering e-books as a set of formats, rather than a unified experience, when evaluating e-book platforms or providing information services around a set of platforms. While e-book studies often point to a distinction between “use” of e-books and “reading” of print books by users, this study shows much more willingness to both use and read e-books for some tasks if platforms allow for offloading reading of content to preferred reading devices and apps. This has implications for collection development, advocacy with vendors, and for marketing to or consulting with users about e-book access and use options.

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