Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner publish results of largest ever study into How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Journals

The report, which is the culmination of a 6-month research project and has the backing of leading publishers within STM, Humanities and Social Science, compares the changing reader behaviour between 2005 and 2012 and as a result looks at the impact on publisher and library web site design and function.

Simon Inger, commenting on the reasoning behind the research said “There have been many studies using web logs that calculate where users of scholarly resources were referred from, but this approach doesn’t indicate where those users started their research, merely the details of the last “hop” before hitting a content website. Discovery of academic content is complex with a plethora of discovery resources to choose from and many different routes to take. In order to expose content to the maximum number of potential readers, publishers and libraries need to understand these different routes and that is where this report can help them”.

This report is the output of a large-scale survey focussing on journal content discovery conducted during May, June and July of 2012. Over 19,000 responses were received from all over the world from readers in many different sectors, job roles and subject areas.

The research repeats two earlier studies performed in 2005 by Scholarly Information Strategies (for whom the authors were consultants) and in 2008 by the authors. The shifts in reader preferences over time provide a valuable insight into reader navigation, the features that readers find useful in publisher web sites, and the role and effectiveness of library technologies. The 2012 survey was also updated to include questions about search engine preference and app use.

Given such a large number of responses were received, this report goes much further than the previous two and is able to provide an insight into how readers in different sectors, regions, subject areas, and job roles behave.

So, for example, answers to all the following questions can be found in the report: In which subject areas, regions, job roles and sectors do readers make the most use of aggregated databases when searching for online articles?  Is Baidu, Google or Google Scholar the most popular search engine amongst students in China? Which features do students, lecturers and academic researchers find most useful on Publisher web sites? Which sectors make the most use of journal homepages and ToC Alerts?

Tracy Gardner said “This report informs publishers, libraries, intermediaries and academics which resources the world’s consumers prefer to use to discover scholarly content. It’s an invaluable piece of research and we would like to wholeheartedly thank those organisations who supported us”.

The survey was supported by BMJ Group, CABI, Cambridge University Press, IOP Publishing, Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Publishing Technology, RSC Publishing and SAGE.

A summary report is available for free and the full report is available for GBP250 for organisations, GBP100 for academic libraries, and approximately GBP7 (or equivalent in other currencies) for individual use on Kindle (or Kindle viewers for PC, Mac, iPad).  The full data set and the analytical tool are also available for purchase.  See  for more details.

(ACCESS 83, December 2012)