IEEE TCDL Bulletin
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TCDL Bulletin
Volume 3   Issue 2
Summer 2007


Selecting Books

A Performance-based Study

Nina Wacholder, Lu Liu, Ying-Hsang Liu
Rutgers University
4 Huntington St.
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
{nina, luliu, yhliu}



Our research compares the impact of paper vs. electronic presentation of text on the book selection process. Our focus is on the stage of book selection in which users study the content of a book to decide whether it will be useful for their intended purpose. Effectiveness is operationalized as accurate determination of whether a non-fiction book contains enough discussion of a particular topic to be useful for a research paper. 24 undergraduates participated in a balanced study in which they were given a topic-book pair and asked to decide whether the book was useful for the topic. We explore the differences in performance, with specific reference to the role of the search function, table-of-contents and index.


Book selection is an integral part of library use, whether for print or electronic libraries. In this paper, we focus on the stage of book selection that takes place as the user decides whether or not the book is useful by examining its contents. This stage of the book selection process occurs after the potential reader has located a book of sufficient interest that it merits inspection and prior to more in-depth reading of the contents, at least for books that pass this inspection.

A model of an interface intended to support the book selection process as defined in this paper is the 'Search Inside This Book' feature offered by The parts of the book that are displayed are intended to provide an overview of the content of the book; typically these include the front cover, title page, prefatory material, table of contents, and index. In terms of the substance of the book, no more than a chapter is provided; this of course is because offering the entire book is at odds with Amazon's core mission. In contrast, we are interested in helping users accurately determine the usefulness of a book based on its complete contents.

Until recently, the question of how users of electronic books determine whether books are useful was primarily theoretical, because of the restricted availability of full-text books. But the rate of digitization of printed books is increasing rapidly under the auspices of group like the Million Books Project and the Open Content Alliance. As a step toward understanding the factors that affect the selection of electronic books, we focus on the impact on the book selection process of the medium in which text is presented. Questions that drive this research include the following: Does the medium or presentation have an impact on the amount of time required to accomplish the task, the accuracy of the decision about the usefulness of books, or the process of inspecting the book? How do readers get an overview of what is in a book and determine whether specific kinds of questions are answered? How do the processes of information seeking and reading interact in book selection? What are the barriers to effective book selection and what are the implications of these barriers?

Our results show that the book selection task can be performed equally quickly and equally correctly with paper or with PDF. However, we found an interesting difference between good performers (who got more four out six answers correct) than not-so-good performers (who got less than thee answers correct). Good performers did equally well with paper and PDF but not-so-good performers did better with paper at the 0.1 significance level. Our results show that good performers made more use of the table-of-contents in the PDF version than in the print version. In contrast, not-so-good performers made much less use of the table of contents in the PDF version than in the print version, and even when they used the table-of-contents in the print version, it did not necessarily help them make the right decision. This suggests that tables-of-contents play an important role in accurate performance of the book selection task. Electronic books and book viewers should be designed with the needs of good and not-so-good performers in mind.

Thumbnail image of poster

For a larger view of Figure 1, click here.


© Copyright 2007 Nina Wacholder, Lu Liu, Ying-Hsang Liu
Some or all of these materials were previously published in the Proceedings of the 6th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital libraries, ACM 1-59593-354-9.

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