UK Survey of Academics 2012

June 20, 2013

The recently published UK Survey of Academics 2012 jointly commissioned by Jisc and Research Libraries UK makes for some interesting reading for librarians and academics alike. Here are some of the highlights from the Executive Summary –

“Six out of 10 respondents overall reports having used a scholarly monograph in digital form in the past six months, but while significant shares like e-books for exploratory uses a majority prefers print for in-depth reading.

Academic libraries collections are most likely to be seen as an important source for providing journal articles and books for research and teaching purposes, but following closely in second place are freely available materials online. When an item is not held in the library collection, the highest share of respondents report that they look for a freely available version online, while the second highest share gives up, both of which outrank using the library’s interlending or document supply service … Overall, a third of respondents report that they can almost always get satisfactory access to needed journal articles not immediately available through their institution.

In selecting areas of research to pursue, nearly all of our respondents indicated that they are guided primarily by their own personal interests, though many also consider the availability of funding or opportunities to publish.

Virtually all respondents indicated that it is very important to them that their research reaches academics in their own subdiscipline or field of research, about 4 out of 5 identified academics in their broader discipline as an important audience, and over half ranked “professionals in my field outside academia” as a very important audience. Beyond these core audiences, a relatively small share of respondents identified the general public as a key audience, with especially few scientists doing so.

Academics’ audience prioritization is clearly reflected in choices they make regarding the publication of their work, where traditional measures of influence are most important in selecting where to publish their articles.

Overall, about 45% of respondents indicated that they would describe themselves as very dependent on their college or university library for the research they conduct. Almost all respondents rate the library’s role as a purchaser of needed resources as very important, while other roles are less universally indicated as important.”

Comment from Massey Library –

Perhaps not surprisingly the digital book is seen primarily as a discovery and data-mining tool rather than as a medium for reading, and this would parallel our much longer experience with electronic journal articles which are very often, perhaps usually, printed before being read. Inter-library loan is not seen as an inviting option when the university library does not hold a specific book, but this may well be different at Massey where the Bonus+ system provides a seamless and fast alternative, while the ability of academics to source journal articles and other research documents through their own networks is well-known, however unwelcome this may be to publishers.

In their choice of research topics academics appear to operate much more within their disciplinary communities than according to institutional priorities – according to the report “academics’ own interests, their perceptions of gaps in the existing research, and the practicality or feasibility of a project” outweighed any other factors when choosing research topics with “the availability of funding or the availability of opportunities to publish” also showing up as significant motivators. Similarly, academic and professional communities constitute a much more significant audience than the general public, particularly to scientists, and choices of publishing outlet are based on measures that ensure a good fit with these communities rather than reaching out to a broader constituency. This is where the role of intermediaries – journalists and popularisers – becomes important.

Finally, and perhaps comfortingly to libraries, 45% of respondents describe themselves as “very dependent” on their libraries. While we are living in a era of rapid change many of the basics of academics’ information and library use seem to be remarkably stable.

Bruce White
eResearch Librarian
eResearch on Library Out Loud

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