The usefulness of an e-reader as a portable reader and connected device Print E-mail
By Wilma Kurvink   


Discussion of results

Trial limitations

The results of the trial need to be carefully considered, and limitations of the numbers of participants and the purpose of the trial need to be weighed carefully so as not to overstate the findings.
The primary goal of the trial was to test the viability of the ereader. The question was whether readers of both non-fiction and narrative texts would accept the ereader and whether the reader would transfer their ‘love’ and experience of reading into a device. To this end, the trial respondents needed to be capable and committed readers. We were not testing whether reluctant readers could be ‘won’ over with a new technology.
The goal for the library team was to test how practical and workable the ereader would be, and to meet the information and reading needs of the participants as the library would presently do with books. The trial project was intended to last eight months but became a twenty month trial, as it proved much more difficult to provide etext content to the reader than originally anticipated. 

Sample size

While student participants (21) outnumbered the adult participants (10) two to one, the results are still significant in terms of the patterns for each group. Both groups were committed readers, but the age and generational differences may account for the variations in the responses.
The adult group was consistent in age (45-58 years) and were tertiary educated. The results for the adults were quite even across the survey questions, regardless of gender.
The students ranged in age from 11 to 17 years of age. Girls are underrepresented in number which is an interesting finding in itself as the trial was voluntary. Girls in the trial were less inclined to use the ereader than boys. Students in grade five were least inclined to use the reader than their older counterparts. At year eight there was increasing acceptance, and at year ten students indicated a willingness to use the ereader, and a higher acceptance of the etext is evident. 

Generational issues

Younger students were regular users of iTunes and iPods, and other digital players. They already had experience of mobile devices as slick and contemporary, and physically the ereader did not appeal. Adults saw the ereader as an extension of their reading, and not necessarily comparable with an iPod in functionality. The one exception to this was a participant who was an information technology specialist and who felt that the ereader was infinitely more capable in a technical sense than what use it was put to. He reported frustration at not actually being able to make it ‘do more’ because ‘it actually was a computer’. 

On being a reader

From the interviews it became apparent that the adults believed that they had become more conscious and committed readers over time, and this was articulated by some specifically. In addition, all adults were keenly motivated to relate their individual stories of how and why they read, and what reading meant to them. The conversations were frequently animated and the tone they spoke in was emphatic.
The younger students seemed, by contrast, to at best feel indifferent to the ereader, and at worst to be critical of it. They appeared to see some benefits to it, but their ambivalence in continuing with it was clear. Older students were more inclined to feel positively but, once again, did not speak with the same intensity on reading itself as the adults. The survey results are consistent with the interviews in this regard. It would seem that while there is acceptance of the device, students perceive that there is no overwhelming need to use it. The ereader was not a personal choice for them, unlike the adults who saw clear benefits in it for themselves.
Students perceived that reading was already well catered for in hardcopy in the fiction titles they preferred. While many of these were not readily available in etext; most students were able read their preferred titles for the trial. There were no real gains in access, or specificity of titles for these students. An exception to this were the two students who wanted to use the ereader for their Shakespeare text, available free from the Gutenberg electronic library, who were motivated by not needing to purchase it.
Besides popular fiction, adults requested specific reading including international titles, for professional reading, and out of print materials. They had a greater variety of requests and were aware that these requests would not be readily available in the hard copy. 

Reading as a pursuit

The literature refers to many studies relating how reading as a recreational pastime is on the decline (Nippold, Duthie & Larsen, 2005). More recently, articles in the popular press cite research on the increasing of amount time spent on the internet, television and games, and reading hours losing out.

. . . the generational differences may play the greatest role in the different responses to the ereader and its linear form of etext.

It appears that the generational differences may play the greatest role in the different responses to the ereader and its linear form of etext. The generation of adults in the trial group were brought up with reading and with linear text, and it is a modality that they know well, enjoy and use every day. The students have experienced different influences in their childhood and education. The students who are younger than twelve have most likely not known a world without computers and the internet. It may be that these students may not become the same readers that the older generation has become.