A major survey of UK academics released today examines the attitudes of researchers and practitioners working within higher education. It sheds light on their behaviours, including their reliance on digital technologies, the Internet and open access.
The survey of academics, funded and guided by Jisc and RLUK and conducted on their behalf by the not-for-profit research organisation Ithaka S+R, received 3,498 responses, (a response rate of 7.9%). The survey covers a range of areas from how academics discover and stay abreast of research, to their teaching of undergraduates. How they choose research topics and publication channels, to their views on learned societies and university libraries, and their collections.
Overarching themes are an increasing reliance on the Internet for their research and publishing activities and the strong role that openness is playing in their work. Key findings include:
- Access limitations – While 86% of respondents report relying on their college or university library collections and subscriptions, 49% indicated that they would often like to use journal articles that are not in those collections. (Figure 19, page 37)
- Use of open resources - If researchers can’t find the resources or information they need through their university library, 90% of respondents often or occasionally look online for a freely available version. (Figure 21, page 40)
- The Internet as starting point – 40% of researchers surveyed said that when beginning a project they start by searching the Internet for relevant materials, with only 2% visiting the physical library as a first port of call. (Figure 6, page 22)
- Following one’s peers – The findings suggest that the majority of researchers track the work of colleagues and leading researchers as a way of keeping up to date with developments in their field. (Figure 9, page 26)
- Emergence of e-publications – The findings show that e-journals have largely replaced physical usage for research, but that contrasting views exist on replacement of print by e-publications, where print still holds importance within the Humanities and Social Sciences and for in-depth reading in general. (Figure 16, page 34 and Figures 10-13, pages 28-31)
Rachel Bruce, innovation director for digital infrastructure, Jisc, explains:
“Across the findings, this survey confirms that the open web is the first port of call for academics starting research. If an article is not available through the library the majority of academics will go straight to the web to look for a free copy, suggesting that open access is becoming a critical component of the research process. It also confirms our expectation that libraries have an important role to play in both surfacing open content on the web and ensuring open content is accessible through library systems.”
Chair of RLUK, Stella Butler, commented:
“University libraries have long ceased to be passive repositories of information. Our role as gateways to research findings and as curators of knowledge, including data, is clearly expanding. The results of this survey will help all libraries explore the changing needs of one of our key customer groups and help RLUK re-define the research library model.”
Deanna Marcum, managing director, Ithaka S+R, added:
“Across the UK, organisations are deeply focused on the development of new policies and their implementation to transform research and higher education in the wake of emerging technologies and the charge to deliver the impact that the public expects. We hope this survey provides meaningful insight and will help in strategic decision-making as the future unfolds.”
Higher education leaders will gather at a workshop in London on the 20 May to discuss the survey results and consider the ways in which their organisations can align their efforts more closely with what academics say they need.