Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Researchers' use of academic libraries and their services

Researchers' use of academic libraries and their services: UK experience

This study was designed to provide an up-to-date and forward-looking view of how researchers interact with academic libraries in the UK. Harnessing empirical data and qualitative insights from over 2250 researchers (Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, Physical sciences and Life Sciences) and 300 librarians, the RIN (Research Information network) and CURL (Consortium of Research Libraries) hope that the results will be useful in informing the debate about the future development of academic libraries and the services they provide to researchers.
Some of the results are:
The rise of e-research, interdisciplinary work, cross-institution collaborations, and the expectation of massive increases in the quantity of research output in digital form all pose new challenges. These challenges are about how libraries should serve the needs of researchers as users of information sources of many different kinds, but also about how to deal with the information outputs that researchers are creating.
* Pressure Points
- The majority of researchers in all disciplines have adapted readily to the widespread availability of digital content, accessible directly from their desktops.
- But while nearly all researchers think funding the library should be a high or top priority for their institution, librarians indicate that it is not always easy to secure top-level support.
- Limited funding emphasises the tension between competing demands for library resources: many researchers perceive that libraries give greater priority to support for teaching and learning rather than to research, something that many librarians acknowledge.
* A sense of Place
- There has been a sharp fall over the past five years in the number of researchers who visit their institution’s library regularly. This is most pronounced in the sciences, but in all disciplines there is clear evidence of declining attendance.
- Researchers are choosing to access digital information from their desktops, primarily from their office but also from their homes.
- Only in the arts and humanities do a significant majority of researchers put a high value on the services provided in library buildings.
- More must be done to facilitate the use of other libraries’ offerings and to promote the use of reciprocal access schemes for both printed and digital content.
* Researcher Behaviour
- Most researchers use digital finding aids to locate both digital and print-based resources.
- Print finding aids are used by very few researchers, and these are mainly in the arts and humanities.
- This highlights the need for libraries to ensure that they provide online high-quality meta data for their holdings, and that they address cataloguing backlogs.
* New ways of working
- As users of digital information, researchers place a very high value on electronic journals, but a much lower value as yet on libraries’ provision of other kinds of digital resources.
- There is an urgent need for librarians and the research community to work together to clarify the roles and responsibilities of key players – at national as well as institutional level - in managing these outputs.
* New ways of providing
- A significant part of the study focuses on the roles librarians play in support of the research process, and the related expectations of researchers. Both groups expect that libraries will have a key role as custodians and managers of digital resources.
- Multi-institutional developments such as Virtual Research Environments will continue to grow.
* Visibility, sharing, openness
- Feedback from researchers is very positive, but many information resources that could be useful to researchers remain under-used currently, mainly because they exist only in hard copy or are inadequately catalogued.
- Researchers’ awareness of new developments in scholarly communications, particularly issues to do with open access to research outputs, is low.
* Library-research community relations and the future promotion of library services
- For librarians, liaison with the research community presents a number of problems, arising from the transience of many of the individual relationships that can be formed, the increasing tendency for researchers to use library services remotely, and researcher independence.
- There are significant differences between researchers and librarians in attitudes, perceptions and awareness of key issues. Many believe that communication channels need to be improved but achieving this is not easy.
- There is a danger that the role of libraries may be diluted as researchers, particularly younger ones, turn to the social networking space to share research-based information.
- The successful research library of the future needs to forge a stronger brand identity within the institution.

For more information on RIN visit:

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