Survey of British Academics’ Use of Digital Tools!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this week that British scholars continue to rely largely on traditional channels of communication, including peer-reviewed journals and monographs, despite a growing emphasis on the use of social media and blogs for obtaining or disseminating scholarly information. They also still look primarily to their institutional libraries to provide them with the articles and books they use for research and teaching, even if they do not necessarily spend time in the physical buildings where the resources are housed.

Those are among the findings of a new survey of almost 3,500 British academics published on Thursday. The survey, the first of its kind in Britain, was conducted by Ithaka S+R, the consulting-and-research arm of the nonprofit Ithaka group, which works to help the academic community make better use of digital technologies. It is similar to one Ithaka has conducted in the United States every three years since 2000.

The Executive Summary of the report appears below.




Executive summary

In 2012, Ithaka S+R partnered with Jisc and Research Libraries UK (RLUK) to survey academics in the UK higher education sector in order to learn about their attitudes and practices related to research, teaching, and communicating. In addition to the findings reported here, this project will provide a national dataset that can be analyzed by discipline, institution type, and other demographic characteristics, compared with findings from a parallel US-based project, and tracked for changes over time.

Key findings

Discovery starting points differ noticeably by disciplinary grouping; for example, medical and veterinary respondents are more likely to start with electronic research resources and less likely to utilize web search compared with others. While peers are not a significant discovery source for several types of research, they are very important for maintaining current awareness of the scholarly literature.

Large majorities of scientists and medical and veterinary respondents are comfortable with the transition to electronic-only publishing and collecting for journal current issues, and majorities are comfortable with the deacces­sioning of journal backfiles. 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.

Freely available materials are seen to be having a real impact on access. 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. Disciplinary groupings differ noticeably in several cases in their access practices. 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.

Learned societies are valued primarily for organizing conferences, publishing peer-reviewed academic journals, and defining and advocating for the field’s values and policy priorities. Conferences are valued for their formal function of helping academics keep up with new scholarship, and the informal role of connecting academics with peers.


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