In order to gain an understanding of student reading patterns and preferences regarding the use of e-books and electronic reading devices (e-readers) particularly in an academic environment, we established a two-phase user study of undergraduate and graduate students in New York, NY. The research was designed and implemented by Professor Pattuelli’s Human Information Behavior class during the Fall 2012 semester.

Seventeen students participated in two focus groups held at the Barnard College Library. Seven students with e-book experience were recruited from Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Information and Library Science to participate in semi-structured interviews. Transcripts from the focus groups and interviews were consolidated and reviewed according to Holistic and/or Structural Coding methods in order to identify common themes.

Common themes began to emerge from the data collected. For most participants, the type of material being read influenced the format on which it was read; in general, e-books were preferred for leisure reading and print books for academic reading. Participants indicated that availability of materials for their electronic reading devices also influenced their choice of what to read and in what format to read it. Time constraints and physical space where reading occurs also affected participants’ reading habits. The convenience of portability, storage, and level of privacy afforded by e-readers were among the most important reasons the participants chose an e-book over a print book. Overall, this study shows that the choice of an electronic book over a print book is conditional, and depends on both the nature of the material as well as the situation one is in.