Survey One

About Survey One

The Library Simplified Survey One was designed to understand library patron use of eBooks. Namely, the survey tries to understand who they are and what may or may not be unique about library patrons who use eBooks and those who do not. For this survey, about 50% of the partner libraries participated. There were over 1900 responses to the survey with over 50% of responses coming from Kent District Library. The remaining balance of respondents came from Sacramento Public Library, Santa Clara Public Library, Alameda Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. The survey was fielded via web links in e-mail and on library web properties. As such, survey response was on a volunteer basis, and the sample is disproportionately comprised of highly engaged library users.

Over all info about the responses
  • Responses: 1911
  • Reported Gender: 80% Female
  • Education
    • Did not graduate high school: 2%
    • High school/or equivalent: 7%
    • Associate's Degree: 24%
    • Bachelor's Degree: 36%
    • Post-college/Advanced Degree: 31%
  • Read eBooks: 74%
  • Acquire eBooks
    • Public Library: 66%
    • eReader platform's storefront: 12%
    • Online Store/Website: 18%

Insights should not be misconstrued as representative of the general population. All insights are preliminary and directional at this stage. All implications are hypotheses. A subsequent survey, Survey Two, will build upon this initial survey and seek to improve upon and validate this survey's findings across the remaining libraries. Additionally, this subsequent survey will seek to get a better picture of non-users of libraries as well as further explore questions posed by Survey One.

These findings represent the overall conclusions the team drew from the survey. Some general overviews of eBook readers and some comparison against non-eBook readers are provided. The subsequent sections provide a look at the key points of difference identified in order to surface a "user profile" through side-by-side comparison on demographic cuts of income, gender, and library usage behavior.

A hard copy of the report can be downloaded here.


In short, the survey suggests that eReaders behave just like non-eReaders when it comes to reading. Because they primarily use eBooks for pleasure reading and convenience, they use the library, better known for print books, for research and children’s book needs. As such, eBooks readers do not look to Library recommendation services with respect to eBooks. This may reflect the nature of the leisure reading and its social connection; it could also be the influence of income and the ability to pay for convenience. Due to this, many people using eReaders have become accustomed to using retailers and online promotion/recommendation lists, since most eBook readers are not using library services. Logically, it could reflect the fact that library physical spaces are more conducive to discovery of physical material (physical arrangement of material ready access to library personnel) and research activities. Alternatively, digital properties and systems in use by libraries require users to understand sophisticated taxonomies or interfaces to search for material as opposed to users being pushed or subscribed to recommendations. The following list provides itemized summary of findings.

  1. eReaders most often use the library to look for print books
  2. On average, eReaders visit the library slightly less than non-eReaders
  3. Generally, eReaders are reading for the same purposes as non-eReaders, with pleasure reading most dominant
  4. eReaders prefer eBooks for their speed and convenience—they are most often the preferred format for travel and bed, while print is still preferred greatly for kids and sharing
  5. The majority of eReaders look for recommendations from
    • friends (92%)
    • online bookstores (84%)
    • librarians (61%)
    • seeking more recommendations across sources than non-eReaders
  6. About half of eReaders read newspapers and magazines in digital formats
  7. Just over half (52%) of eReaders use multiple devices to read
  8. Most eReaders are using a tablet (58%) or an eReader (50%), while some are using their smartphone or a PC
  9. 45% of eReaders own a Kindle, and 20% own a Nook
  10. On average, eReaders are wealthier, more likely to be employed, and have higher levels of educations than non-eReaders

The following data points from the survey are informative to the technology decisions for the Library Simplified program.

How do you find the e-books that you read?

The survey responses suggest that folks typically use "search" features to find particular titles that they would like. This could be that search functionality, logically, is the most efficient path after a recommendation for locating a title vs browsing through long lists of titles or book jackets typical to most eReading applications or library catalogue interfaces. However, as responses seem to indicate, "Browse" features, while less efficient if one knows what they are looking for, are arguably important in finding a book. This opens possibilities for recommendation-based browsing, subscriptions or other faceted browse experiences. More importantly, it reinforces the notion that recommendation is a key area of investment for Library's seeking to help users discover their collections.

Do you plan on purchasing a dedicated eReading device?

As we see, dedicated eReading devices are not a favored technology for readers going forward. While this may merely reflect the large percentage of persons reporting to already own a device in the survey, it may also suggest that they have no intention of replacing or refreshing that particular technology in favor of a Tablet of other multi-function device.

The charts and graphs below provide some detailed high-level findings with regard to the summary conclusions bulleted above.

What do you most often do at the library?

The responses from the survey seem to indicate that eReaders and non-eReaders are very similar in their use of libraries except for finding and borrowing eBooks. One possible explanation may be that library recommendation services (librarians) are readily available in physical venues for borrowing a book but NOT in the digital venue (e.g. applications) used for borrowing a book.

Often do you physically visit the library?

Additionally, the responses in the survey seem to report that eReaders and non-eReaders are very similar to each other in their frequency of use of libraries. Logically, one could assume that eBook readers are likely aware of eBook offerings from the library, but willingly choose not to use the library as a source of eBooks.

Do you ever read for the following purposes?
(Percent a few times a month or more)

As we see from the responses, those that identified themselves as eReaders, prefer the digital format for leisure reading. This may be a crucial factor for libraries. As we know, the hold process and limited license for use of library-based eBooks can make them inconvenient or unreliable, compared to commercial acquisition of eBooks. One could imagine that ad-hoc or planned leisure use of eBooks would necessitate ready access and reliability of access. Commercial sources are readily available for easy access.

Do you ever get recommendations from the following sources?

In the survey, respondents indicated that libraries are not a prime source of recommendations. This could be due to the libraries not being a convenient source of eBooks so they are not the first consideration when looking for an eBook to read.

Circumstances where eBooks are prefered
(Percent who prefer eBooks, eBook readers only)

Survey respondents indicated a preference for eBooks for leisure reading. It is logical that eBooks are preferred for this activity due to the portability of the electronic format over physical. On the other hand, one could assume that this merely reflects the fact that most eBook content is targeted at leisure reading versus educational or research-based reading. As a commercial product, leisure books are typically consumed, whereas other content such as research and reference material is used in an ad-hoc nature over a longer period of time. Therefore, the preponderance of content provided in eBook format is for rapid consumption.

What Devices to you use to read eBooks

Of those that responded to the survey, we can see that the multifunction tablet has overcome the dedicated eReading device as the eReading platform of choice. Respondents also indicated that the eReader is preferred over smartphones. One could conclude this is likely a combination of both larger format and portability and not just larger format. Additionally we see, PCs are least used despite having larger dimensions over all other devices. However, PC eBook solutions tend to be "web based readers" which require connectivity reading. Strangely, this is the technology being regularly provided to libraries as a solution despite being the least favored.

Key Points of Difference

This section of the summary analysis provides a look at several variables (income, gender and library usage) that surfaced some key differences in eBook usage across library users. While these key points of difference may be the result of some sort of interaction between the variables (e.g. visits to the library may bring more awareness of services and therefor use of such services) that level of correlation analysis has not been done. The analysis stops at merely identifying logical or implied relationships between variables.

The following observations and data from the survey describe and contrast the effect of income on library and eBook usage.

eReading and income

In the survey, respondents indicated that people with higher income tend to read more eBooks than folks with lower income. This is likely explained by the fact that higher income folks tend to have more leisure time for reading as well as the disposable income to purchase eBooks, tablets, eReaders, smartphones and PCs.

Device use and income

Of respondents who self-reported as being in the top income bracket (greater $100K/yr,) individuals use "high-end/high dollar" multi-function devices such as smartphones and tablets for eReading more than respondents who self-reported as being low income (less than $25K/yr.) Mostly likely this is due to a number of reasons such as the higher costs of multi-function devices vs dedicated eReading devices, the disposable income to “refresh” or augment their reading devices with newer tablet and smartphone technology.

Physical library visits and income

Of respondents who self-reported as being in the top income bracket, compared to those respondents who self-reported as being in the lowest income bracket, the high income respondents use the library less. This most likely reflects the obvious fact that high income folks are not dependent on libraries for digital access, employment search services, and access to information services. They also have the disposable income to seek such services and pay for convenience to content and services.

Recommendation source preference and income

We also see that high-income respondents differ in their preferred source of recommendations for reading material. This may merely reflect their overall limited use of libraries or that when they read for leisure, current events or work they seek friends and coworkers for such content. All three uses are not well supported by prevailing library eReading solutions and service offerings.

eBook format preference and income

While not conclusive on its own, we see that high-income respondents have a preference of convenience in their regular reading activity more than respondents in the lower income brackets.

Quality of life and income

This data point is sort of obvious and not revealing other than maybe reinforcing the fact that high-income folks tend to have more time for leisure and reading.

The following observations and data from the survey describe and contrast the effect of gender on library and eBook usage.

Physical visits to libraries and gender

Amongst the survey respondents, women are more likely to visit a library compared to men. Logically, this may result in more awareness of Library offerings and services, which could influence their use of eBooks.

Purposes for reading and gender

Women respondents reported to read more for leisure than the men who responded to the survey. By contrast, the male respondents reported to read more for current events. Because libraries typically limit periodical access to physical locations, this could explain the lesser use of library services for reading by men.

Recommendation source preference and gender

As we see, like overall library use, female respondents reported to use librarians as a source for reading recommendation more-so then male respondents. Because men tend to read more for current events, they typically do not require recommendation services from a library for news and events. Additionally, women use friends as a source of recommendation for reading. This is expected as women tend to read for leisure, and one would presumably look to better connect with their social network in this leisure activity.

Number of books read and gender

Women respondents reported to read more than the male survey respondents. This could be a combination of factors ranging from their overall reported greater use of libraries, to their reported preference for leisure material preponderance of that material in library circulating collections.

Device preference and gender

Male respondents reported to use multiple devices for their reading in contrast to women. While convenience is apparently linked to leisure reading, which male respondents reported to do to a lesser extent than female respondents, men who reported to read current events would logically look to the more accessible channels to such content. Outside the library there are a myriad of online news and mobile news apps available for free for such reading that do not require a visit to the library.

The following observations and data from the survey describe and contrast overall library use profile (heavy users vs light users) with regard to the use of library services, eBook reading, device preferences, purpose for reading, and income.

Use of eBooks and overall use of library services

Although it is not substantial, infrequent users of library services reported to read eBooks more often than frequent users of libraries. This is logical seeing that heavy user of libraries tend to resemble researchers who are not well served by eReading devices and applications in general due to the limited nature of digital content, licensing arrangements for duration of use and single use access and interaction.

eReader device and overall use of library services

Of respondents who self-reported as eBook readers, most indicated that they look to retail channels for eBook reading content or news sites and apps for current events and do not use the library as often. It would suggest that there is an opportunity to bring light users into the library through a more compelling eBooks service offering.

Borrowing books and overal use of library services

Of respondents who self-reported as frequent users of libraries, most indicated a preference for use of libraries to support physical books to a greater degree than digital content. And those that reported to prefer digital reported to use the library less. This suggests that the libraries digital offering are not as appealing or convenient as physical offerings.

Purpose for reading and overall use of library services

Of respondents who self-reported as heavy users of libraries, most reported that they are conducting research. Respondents who self-reported as light users of libraries indicated that they more often prefer digital formats and read for leisure or current events. This may be explained by the nature of the collections and the ability to access and interact with content.

Recommendation source and use of library services

This is data is not enlightening by itself. However, one can imagine that those that prefer digital who don't need to visit the library or are not compelled by library digital service offerings would not look to the library for recommendation services since they lay outside their reading supply chain.

Reading and use of library services

While this seems to make sense, it does suggest that researchers seem to typify heavy users of libraries and indicate that they read more books than the respondents who reported to be light users who report reading more for leisure and current events. This would also suggest an opportunity to offer a more compelling research friendly eReading service offering.

Adoption of eBooks and use of library services

This observation offers a very compelling data point that suggest libraries have an opportunity through eBooks to encourage more reading if this is a goal of libraries.

Income/employment and use of library services

This data corroborates itself and is most likely reflective of the fact that libraries provide a substantial service offering to communities in need.