Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thoughts on the Survey of Academics 2012

I've just finished reading the Ithaka S+R/ JISC/ RLUK UK Survey of Academics 2012 (released in May 2013). I admit I'm a little behind in reading this, but it's still an enlightening report and worth at least a skim read (at 92 pages, it's long, but there are a lot of graphs and charts).

As I reached the last 20 pages or so, a few things started to, if not concern me, at least get me thinking:

Firstly, one question asked "How important to you is that your college or university library be the provider of each of the functions listed below...?" One of those functions is to "provide active support that helps to increase the productivity of my research." Only between 25 and 40% of academics (depending upon the discipline) thought that this was important, and of the functions listed it was considered to be least important. This concerns me a little as this is (partially) what the Research and Knowledge Exchange team (which I'm a part of) sets out to do.

Having said that, the question is worded in such a way that it doesn't consider what other active support librarians could provide researchers with. Perhaps they feel that help with other areas of their research, such as information on alternative publishing models, or ways in which to search more effectively, are much more important functions of an academic library. In fact, a number of the other functions are closely related to research ('the library pays for resources  need'; 'the library serves as a starting point or gateway for locating information for my research') are considered of much higher importance. So perhaps I'm worrying unnecessarily here. Or perhaps this is simply a case of educating researchers about the broad variety of services that a library can (and does) offer, showing that they are constantly changing to keep abreast of the changes in communication and publishing.

My second big concern is that when choosing where to publish, academics don't see making articles freely available, or accessible to readers in developed nations, as a high priorty. Instead, their primary concern is whether or not the 'current issues of the journal are circulated widely, and are well read by academics in your field'. 'The journal has a high impact factor or an excellent academic reputation' doesn't follow far behind. To some extent this makes perfect sense, and I can't blame an academic for wanting their paper to reach the maximum amount of people it can within their discipline - and believing that a journal which is widely circulated and has a good reputation is the way to do this.

However, the survey also determines that approximately 40% of researchers do want help 'making a version of their research output freely available online in addition to the formally published version'. So it seems that academics do really want their research to be made freely available, and as accessible as possible. However, they don't view this as more important than which journal they choose to publish with. The survey also states that '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'. This seems to be a case of educating researchers about how they can make their research freely available online, even if it has been published in a high-end journal, to ensure that it reaches the widest audience possible. So perhaps there is a job for all us Repository Managers/ Open Access advocates/ Research Librarians after all!

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