Preference for Print or Electronic Book Depends on User’s Purpose for Consulting


  • Laura Newton Miller Carleton University



e-book, electronic book, print, user preference


A Review of:
Rod-Welch, L.J., Weeg, B.E., Caswell, J.V., & Kessler, T.L. (2013). Relative preferences for paper and for electronic books: Implications for reference services, library instruction, and collection management. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 18(3-4), 281-303.
doi: 10.1080/10875301.2013.840713


Objective – To determine patron format preference, perceived usability and frequency of e-book usage, and to study use and preference of e-reading devices.

Design – Survey questionnaire.

Setting – Large public research university in the United States of America.

Subjects – 339 students, faculty, and staff members

Methods – An anonymous 23-item survey was available in online and print formats. Print surveys were distributed in the lobby of the library and throughout various buildings on campus. A direct link to the online version of the survey was included in e-newsletters, on the library homepage, and on the library’s Facebook site. A definition of e-book was placed prominently at the beginning of the survey. Questions included information on preference of format (11), experiences using e-books (3), ownership of particular devices for reading e-books (1), attitudes regarding library purchase of e-books and readers (3), demographic information (4), and additional comments (1).

Main Results – Of the 339 completed surveys, 79 were completed online and 260 in print. When asked about preference in format for reading, 79.6% of respondents preferred print books compared to 20.4% choosing e-books. If the library was purchasing a book to support class research and projects, 53.9% preferred print and 46.1% preferred electronic, but if the library purchased a book for leisure reading, 76% preferred print and 24% preferred electronic. In response to the question about how often they used e-books from the library, 50.1% of respondents never used library e-books, 21.1% used once per year, 20.8% monthly, 7.4% weekly and 0.6% daily. Of those who used e-books, 38.1% read only sections they needed, 31% searched keywords, 24.2% downloaded and printed pages to read later, 21.8% read the most relevant chapters, 17.1% skimmed the entire book and 14.2% read the entire book. If both formats were available, 25.1% felt that the library should purchase the print book, 16.7% the e-book, and 58.2% chose both formats. When asked about downloading e-books, 51.1% of respondents would use an e-book only if they could download it to a hand-held device. A majority of the respondents, 81.7%, felt that the library should provide e-readers for checkout if the library purchased e-books instead of print books. When asked which types of books they preferred to read in electronic format in an open-ended question, 22% preferred textbooks, 21% leisure reading, 18% research books, 15% other types, 6% journals, 5% reference books, and 3% anything. Regarding which types of books were preferred in print format, 42% preferred leisure reading, 21% other, 14% all, 11% textbooks, 6% research books, 2% no e-books, 2% journals and 2% reference books.

Conclusion – Preference for book format (electronic or print) depends on the users’ purpose for reading the text. This will likely change over time, as users gain more familiarity and experience with e-books, and better support is provided from the library.


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Author Biography

Laura Newton Miller, Carleton University

Assessment Librarian




How to Cite

Newton Miller, L. (2014). Preference for Print or Electronic Book Depends on User’s Purpose for Consulting. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 9(3), 95–97.



Evidence Summaries