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Students’ attitudes towards e‐books in a Scottish Higher Education Institute: Part 3 – search and browse tasks

Noorhidawati Abdullah (Department of Information Science, Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
Forbes Gibb (Department of Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 6 February 2009




The purpose of this paper is to present the third of three inter‐related experiments investigating the use and usability of e‐books in Higher Education based on experiments conducted at the University of Strathclyde. This study has looked in greater detail at user interactions with e‐books for reference purposes by focusing on searching and browsing tasks using three search tools: back‐of the‐book index (BoBI), table of contents (ToC) and full text search (FTS).


This study was carried out by subject‐specific users and using a between‐subjects approach. The target population was MSc and research students in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, at the University of Strathclyde and involved a total of 45 responses.


The study found that a BoBI was more efficient compared to a ToC and FTS tool for finding information in an e‐book environment. A BoBI was found to perform the best for accurately finding relevant content in e‐books. The usability evaluation also found that a BoBI was more useful compared to a ToC for finding information in an e‐book environment.

Research limitations/implications

The study was focused only on the usability of e‐books, and in particular on retrieval performance, user satisfaction and preferences regarding BoBI, ToC and FTS, and not on other features such as the user interface. The e‐book usability evaluation was constrained in so far as the e‐books used were: non‐fiction; in the domain of information retrieval; e‐books that already had BoBIs with hyperlinks from the BoBI to the text; e‐books that had ToCs with hyperlinks; e‐books that had FTS tools; and e‐books that were available in PDF format.

Practical implications

The study is important in gaining a better understanding of the retrieval performance of three search tools (BoBI, ToC and FTS) for browsing for relevant, and searching for specific, information in e‐books. This will be of value for designing better e‐books and access systems.


The strengths and novelty of this study are the methodology that was used, the comprehensive inter‐comparison of tools, and the size of the population. The findings have supported empirically – through an assessment of the performances of BoBIs and ToCs – the need for an enhanced library catalogue system in order to improve users’ browsing and searching capabilities for relevant book content.



Abdullah, N. and Gibb, F. (2009), "Students’ attitudes towards e‐books in a Scottish Higher Education Institute: Part 3 – search and browse tasks", Library Review, Vol. 58 No. 1, pp. 17-27.



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Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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