Researchers were asked how far away their office (the one they used most often) is from the campus library. Geographic situations, as shown in Figure 2, are differ among five institutions. OU provides the most geographically convenient library service to its patrons, as more than 40% of researchers could visit a library in the same building in which they work. This is likely because of OU's large library network, which has six departmental branches. Additionally, all of the OU study participants are in natural science departments, which house the majority of the branch libraries. In the other four colleges, most researchers have to walk a very short distance (one-quarter mile) to visit the library. Despite the physical proximity of the library to the majority of subjects, participants indicated a preference for searching for and acquiring information electronically. It is interesting to note that less than 10% of researchers at CSU and USF are able to visit a library in the same building in which they work. As mentioned before, this probably results from the fact that these two institutions have fewer branch libraries, and so it is less likely that there is a branch library in the same building or nearby for researchers at those institutions.
Table 2 summarizes answers from a survey question that asked how many hours researchers spent reading information relevant to their work in a typical week. Average reading times per week were similar among the institutions, with slightly higher averages for FL and USF, and less for CSU and OU. Faculty and graduate students reported spending approximately 11 hours per week reading information from all sources to support their work. The relatively high standard deviation among reading hours suggests there is a large variance among individuals. The reading times reported in this study are larger (average of 495 hours per year, assuming 45 weeks of work per year) than those reported in previous studies, which ranged from 80–400 hours per year (Tenopir & King, 2002; Quinn, 1994; Brown, 1999; Majid, 2000; Friedlander, 2002; Tenopir, King, & Bush, 2004; Fancis, 2005; Schwarz & Hondras, 2007; Tenopir, King, & Wu, 2008). Although the larger number of reading hours in this study may suggest an increase in reading in recent years, there are some confounding factors. In this study, participants indicated how much time they spent reading for research, so this would include other activities beyond just reading journal articles, which was what several studies recorded (Tenopir & King, 2002; Tenopir, King, & Bush, 2004; Tenopir, King, & Wu, 2008; Brown, 1999) Also, other studies examined different groups of scientists who likely have different reading patterns (Tenopir, King, & Bush, 2004). Comments from participants suggest that more articles are being read, but with less time spent per article, i.e., supporting the “strategic reading” observed in other studies (Tenopir 2009; Renear 2009).
Table 2. Average reading hours of researchers in a typical week.
Regarding background information, researchers were asked how many articles they have published in the last 5 years. As illustrated by Figure 3, more than 60% percent of participants in UNC, FL, and OU have very few publications (only 0–4). This survey question was modified for the last two sites to breakout the number of publications through more appropriate grouping of publication numbers. The results for CSU and USF, using the new breakdown, are shown on the right side of Figure 3. More than 35% of researchers still did not report a publication and about 25% reported 1–3 publications. As expected, the graduate students, who are just beginning their research careers, comprise the majority of the participants who have zero or few publications. Removing the graduate students and including only faculty results in a more even distribution, as seen in Figure 4.
When the survey was distributed at CSU and USF, a new question was added to address how much interdisciplinary collaboration was occurring in these universities. Responses from the two institutions were similar, with half the respondents indicating their percentage of collaborations was in the range of 0%–20%, one quarter in the range of 21%–40%, and each of the other quintiles were 10%. This suggests that interdisciplinary collaborations are becoming more common. Potentially, this survey question may provide a baseline for future measurements of interdisciplinary collaborations.
Resources Used for Research
To identify researchers' resources of information and how frequently these resources were used, participants were asked how often they used books, journals, preprints, Web pages, online databases, and personal communication and attended conferences and conference proceedings. There is similarity across the five universities. The primary resources are journals, Web pages, and personal communications, which are used on a daily basis to support research activity (see Table 5 in Hemminger et al., 2007). In addition, they read books monthly or weekly, attend conferences annually, and rarely use preprints. This finding appears consistent with prior work, which generally finds that journals and personal communications are the most important tools used by researchers (Brown 1999; Majid et al., 2000). Most studies before 2000 did not include Web pages as a potential response (Bichteler & Ward, 1989; Brown, 1999; Grefsheim, Franklin, & Cunningham, 1991; Majid et al., 2000). With researchers now having high-speed Internet in their office, accessing online Web pages has become an important tool and is used more frequently than personal communications. The five universities demonstrate slight differences in using conference proceedings and personal communication. As shown in Figure 5, more scholars at UNC and OU tend not to use conference proceedings, while at FL, CSU, and USF around 35% prefer to use them annually, which matches with their frequency of conference attendance. As to personal communication, more than 25% of scientists at UNC, FL, and USF regard interpersonal talking as a daily activity, while 30% of those at OU and CSU talk with their colleagues weekly. Some contributing factors to personal interaction might be discipline differences and academic atmosphere in a specific university. It is also interesting to note that more than 10% of researchers at UNC, FL, OU, and USF do not list personal communications as one of their information sources.
Survey respondents were asked whether they used alerts to keep current about new information. Results were consistent across the universities, with all sites very close to the average rate of 36% of respondents utilizing alerts. When a researcher did use alerts, the average number was fairly consistent across sites, with 2 being the average number of alerts used at UNC and OK, 3 at FL and CSU, and 3.6 at USF. The most popular alerting services were also consistent across universities, with PubMed the clear favorite; the others were Nature, Science Direct, ISIS, eTOC, and Faculty of 1000.
One of the survey questions asked scientists to estimate the number of articles they retrieved from specific sources. As shown in Figure 6, the overall trend of source preference among institutions is similar. Researchers showed a strong preference for electronic versions of resources rather than print formats, as indicated by the top four resources. Electronic journals accessed through the library and open access electronic journals are the two primary methods of accessing electronic resources. There are minor differences among universities. On average, FL researchers retrieve 25 articles from library-subscribed e-journals in 1 month, 11 papers more on average than those from CSU. This may be because of the FL library subscribing to a large number of journals in electronic format, while CSU has relatively fewer e-journal subscriptions.
Also notable is that the institutional differences of library-subscribed e-journals are parallel to those of free online content, with FL researchers retrieving the most and CSU the least. More scholars at CSU use interlibrary loan probably because the interlibrary loan program at CSU is very fast and cost effective (https://rapid2.library.colostate.edu/PublicContent/AboutRapid.aspx#t1), and because they have comparatively fewer journal subscriptions than institutions with larger budgets.
Today, people ubiquitously use search engines to begin their information searches. Most all researchers have experience with search engines, Google in particular. Using search engines appears to have affected researchers' expectations for library searching, in that, first, they often express a preference for metasearching (a single search over all resources instead of identifying and searching resources individually; Hemminger et al., 2007), and second, they want to have the ability to instantaneously see results and bring up the content item (Hemminger et al., 2007). The vast majority of academic searching for research purposes now appears to be conducted in this fashion, either from the library Web site or via a search engine.
To identify which type of interface is preferred by researchers in this academic setting, the survey asked participants to indicate their preference between the Google search interface and their library homepage interface. Responses from participants in the five universities were consistent and split nearly half and half, with only a small difference (Figure 7). These results disagree with some findings that suggest that academic searching is predominantly done via search engines like Google, for instance, Haglund and Olsson's (2008) conclusion that there is now an “almost complete dominance of Google as a starting point for searching scientific information.” This study's results suggest that many scholars still prefer the library homepages as a pathway to the many academic resources it holds, perhaps for reasons such as that suggested by Vibert et al. (2007): “Google is too generic and cannot guarantee the relevance of the results it gives…” It may also be because library Web sites increasingly support “Google-like” text search boxes that allow their patrons to interactively search across all library catalog content. An interesting question is how users prefer to use the combination of text searching popularized via search engines, with faceted-based searching possible via the metadata. Empirical research at North Carolina State and UNC libraries using an Endeca interface for their library catalogs (Antelman, 2006; Cory, 2008) suggests that although users predominantly prefer to begin their searches with text searches, they do make use of metadata a significant fraction of the time (Cory, 2008). Overall, there is an increase in the use of text-based metasearch interfaces for library catalogs, including, in some cases, the outright adoption of Google search boxes on library homepages. All five institutions in this study supported a text-based search box on the library Web site. UNC, USF, and UF Web sites show resulting matches, with the ability to refine the search via faceted metadata. CSU supports the text searching, but not the refinement, via faceted metadata. The text search at OK does not lead directly to results, but directs the user to resource categories to search within (locations, Web pages, knowledge Bbses, LORA, catalog).
From the open-ended questions in the survey, researchers across the five institutions indicated frustration when they were required to identify and search many different content sources. They indicated a preference for metasearch tools by which they could enter a single search string that would search against all content in all resources. However, many researchers still felt that something more than a simple Google search interface was needed. Examples of some of the shortcomings mentioned included the need for bibliographic searches, a better ability to find references to specific articles, too many matches being returned, making it difficult to identify the most relevant content, and assurances about quality of the content.
To identify which search tools scientists used, respondents were asked to list their five most important individual search tools ranked in the order of importance. Responses to this question included general categories (e.g., Web search engine) as well as specific tools (e.g., Google, Yahoo). Specific answers were coded into general categories, and the summary results for the general categories are reported in Figure 8. The primary search tool reported was a citation/bibliographic database, followed by a general Web search engine. Scientists from OU indicated a stronger preference (11.89%) than other institutions for full-text digital library searching. New forms of scholarly communication are appearing, as approximately 2%–4% of scientists across five universities mentioned listservs, blogs, and wikis as their tools for searching for information. It seems that in an academic field, traditional ways (e.g., citation/bibliographic database) still dominate while novel forms are at the early adoption phase.
Using Information and Using the Library
There is unanimous agreement among all institutions in the preference of searching electronically over print media (average overall is 96.3% vs. 3.7%). This is because of the convenience, speed, and interactivity of searching on the Internet. Beginning in 2002, electronic resources were playing an increasing role, but their usage by established scholars was still dominated by traditional media (Odlyzko, 2002). However, in just a few years, electronic materials have been the predominant resources for academic researchers, especially in information searching (Liu, 2006; Hemminger et al., 2007).
Regarding reading the articles, the majority of researchers preferred to utilize both electronic and print formats, with fewer individuals preferring just one or the other (Figure 10). This finding is significant in that no single method of delivery for reading is indicated—both print and electronic versions have their purposes and depend on the person and the situation. This is likely the reason for the popularity of PDFs, which allow for high-quality print and electronic renditions, giving the user the freedom to choose the appropriate medium. Importantly, for all five universities, reading in an electronic-only format was the least preferred option. This suggests that scientists still like the traditional way of reading information in print, and that researchers are not ready for electronic formats to completely replace print, at least not for some reading purposes. These results agree with most other studies (for instance Liu, 2006; Tenopir & King, 2002), which generally find the printed format preferable for reading. When studying this question, it is important to distinguish between how researchers prefer to search and how they prefer to read (which is sometimes confounded in studies, for instance, Liu, 2006).
Table 4 summarizes the answers to a question asking researchers how many times they visited the library in person during last 12 months. As shown in Table 4, the average number is similar among the five institutions, with the highest number at OU, 39.23, and the lowest at FL, 15.54. As might be expected, the universities' number of library visits is correlated with distance to the library (Figure 2). OU has the highest percentage (43.88%) of researchers having a library in their building and most frequent library visits, and FL has the highest percentage (35.48%) of academics needing to walk one-half mile or more to their libraries and, thus, lowest library visits. Griffiths and King (1993) show that as the physical distance to a library increases, the usage decreases dramatically. The correlation between the two suggests proximity is an important way for libraries to attract patrons. To further check the distribution of frequency for library visits, results were combined into several groups, as shown in Figure 11. Perhaps most striking is that except for the researchers at OU, 37%–48% of academic scientists visit their library less than five times a year. Based on the comments given in the survey, it is clear that many researchers now directly access their library's online journal collection, which previously would have required a physical trip to the library. The small numbers of visits found in this study support the already documented trend of declining library visits per year (Odlyzko, 2002).
Table 4. Average number of times researchers visited the library in last 12 months.
Scientists were asked to list, from a preselected list of nine reasons, why they visited the library. The relative percentages are summarized in Figure 12. Generally speaking, “pick up/drop off materials” and “photocopy materials” were most frequently chosen. There are clear institutional differences, which might reflect differences in each of the university library's focus or quality of services. At FL for instance, all the physical uses of the library are less frequently utilized than other institutions except for photocopying materials. This is consistent with FL's lowest average number of visits to the library (15.54; Table 4). At CSU, fewer researchers go to the library for photocopying materials. This is believed to be because older bound journals may be checked out at CSU, and it is a common practice to copy articles for a reduced cost at nearby commercial copy centers. Checking out items to photocopy may explain why the CSU respondents used the library more often for picking up/dropping off materials. In addition to traditional library functions, other factors are important to researchers such as “quiet reading space” (especially for graduate students), access to computers, and classrooms/meeting places. Though the types of uses of the physical space in libraries are changing, it is still clearly important. These findings may serve as a guide for libraries to help them evolve as a service-oriented facility, rather than simply a traditional brick-and-mortar repository for physical materials. Although the number of visits to the physical library is decreasing, the amount of utilization of library resources has generally been increasing, especially for electronically delivered content. Additionally, many libraries are more strongly emphasizing programs that provide service directly to the researcher. For example, at the UF Health Science Center Libraries, which had the lowest number of average visits, they have a strong liaison librarian program, where each department or college has its own “personal” librarian (Cataldo et al., 2006). As such, many reference and consultation interactions occur over the phone, via e-mail, or chat, thus negating the need for researchers to visit the physical library.
The last three questions in the questionnaire were open-ended and asked scientists' opinions about their libraries. Only the answers from the UNC results have been coded and analyzed at this time (Hemminger, Lu, Vaughan, & Adams, 2007). In those results, scientists were generally happy with the library services, particularly with the personal support provided by librarians. Most negative comments involved users not being aware of resources or services. A complete description is given in Vaughan, Hemminger, and Pulley (2008), and the results are freely available for others to analyze on the Web via a specially built interactive tool (http://bioivlab.ils.unc.edu/icis/)