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First UK Survey of Academics 2012 Issued by Ithaka S+R
Posted On May 30, 2013

The first UK Survey of Academics 2012—issued by Ithaka S+R, funded and guided by Jisc, “UK’s expert on digital technology for education and research,” and Research Libraries UK (RLUK)—examines the attitudes and behaviors of researchers at academic institutions across the U.K. with regard to digital technologies, the internet, and open access. Published just weeks after the fifth U.S. Faculty Survey (covered in the NewsBreak of April 29, 2013), the survey attempts to discern how academics stay abreast of developments within their disciplines, choose research topics and publication channels, and teach their undergraduate students. Researchers’ views on learned societies and university libraries and their collections are also explored. The bottom line is: Scholars are increasingly reliant on the internet for both research and publishing, and openness is prominent in both aspects of their work.

When starting a research project, 40% of the total of 3,498 respondents to the survey begin by searching the internet (versus 2% who visit the physical library). The majority keeps up with developments in their field by tracking the work of colleagues and leading researchers. Ejournals are more widely used than print, though for in-depth reading print remains the preference for those in the arts and humanities and social sciences. “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 … 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.”

Researchers overwhelmingly (more than 90%) rely on peer-reviewed journals and journal articles, but nearly 60% indicate that they regularly use preprint versions of articles that will be published in peer-reviewed journals and research monographs or edited volumes published by an academic publisher. Disciplinary differences are evident in this secondary option, with researchers in arts and humanities and social sciences relying more heavily on research monographs or edited volumes published by an academic publisher, and medical/veterinary and sciences researchers relying more on preprint versions of articles that will be published in peer-reviewed journals. Those in the arts and humanities rely more on conference proceedings than they do on preprints. Instructors most often assign undergraduate students textbooks and textbook chapters or academic/research articles over any other type of publication. A majority of respondents within arts and humanities (more than 80%) also assign academic monographs or monograph chapters and primary sources over those in other disciplines.

The starting point for research across disciplines is an internet search engine, with the exception of medical/veterinary researchers, who begin by consulting a specific electronic research resource or computer database. To keep up with current research in their field, academics most frequently attend conferences/workshops or read material suggested by other academics. Social scientists also regularly skim new issues of key journals more often than researchers in other fields. Those in the medical/veterinary and sciences fields feel more comfortable relying exclusively on online electronic versions of articles and journals than other disciplines do. More than 40% of medical/veterinary respondents feel that electronic versions of research monographs play a very important role in their research and teaching and half of those feel that, “Within the next five years, the use of ebooks will be so prevalent among academic staff, researchers, and students that it will not be necessary to maintain library collections of hard-copy books.”

College/university library collections or subscriptions are deemed very important for research and teaching—more important than any other source. When what they want is not available through their library, academics most frequently search for a freely available online version. If that strategy proves unsuccessful, they “give up” and look for a different resource or consider interlibrary loan. Forty percent of respondents indicate that they might ask a friend at another institution or contact the author. The least likely tactic employed by academics is a personal purchase of a document (for themselves).

When thinking about new research projects, academics first think about their own interests. Considering gaps in existing research and the practicality/feasibility of the project also factor into the equation. Less than 40% of respondents seek advice from peers. All disciplines with the exception of the sciences assign essays to undergraduates more often than any other type of assignment; those in the sciences are more likely to opt for “problem sets.” When employing technology in the classroom, it’s most likely to be a video. Respondents indicate that they usually rely on themselves to figure out how to use technology, or ask “academics in my personal network” rather than turn to any official support entity (i.e., university IT office, AV/media support office at their institution, college library, teaching center at the university, disciplinary/departmental resource, blog, or learned society). Among disciplinary differences uncovered through this survey is the incorporation of experiential learning into teaching science to undergraduates. According to Roger C. Schonfeld, program director of libraries, users, and scholarly practices at Ithaka S+R, those in the arts and humanities are most likely to use presentations or multimedia projects.

Dissemination of research is most important to academics within a specific subfield or to those inside the discipline, but outside the specific subfield. Vehicles for dissemination are peer-reviewed journals first, conference presentations second, and monographs or edited volumes published by an academic publisher third. Journal choices are based on whether current issues of the journal are widely circulated and are well-read by academics in the field, whether the journal’s area of coverage is very close to the immediate area of research, and whether the journal has a high impact factor or an excellent academic reputation.

Respondents answered no when they were asked the question, “Does your college or university library, learned society, university press, or another service provider assist you with any of the following aspects of the publication process?”

  • Help to understand and negotiate favorable publication contracts
  • Help to determine where to publish a given work to maximize its impact
  • Help to assess the impact of an academic's work following its publication
  • Manage a public webpage that lists links to an academic’s recent scholarly outputs, provides information on areas of research and teaching and provides contact information
  • Make a version of research outputs freely available online in addition to the formally published version

Assistance in managing a public website and making a version of research outputs freely available online are the two services that would be valued most by respondents (if they are offered through the library, learned society, or university press).

Data collected by academics in the course of their research is most likely to be preserved by the researchers themselves using commercially or freely available software or services or in a repository made available by their institution or another type of online repository, and least likely to be saved by the publisher on the researcher’s behalf or by the campus library.

Respondents deem the library’s function of paying for resources (i.e., academic journals, books, databases) to be most important, and they feel that any active support libraries offer (that helps to increase the productivity of research) is the least important of six services mentioned. Other services offered by libraries that academics recognize in this survey include the following:

  • Repository of resources (it archives, preserves, and keeps track of resources)
  • Helps undergraduates develop research, critical analysis, and information literacy skills
  • Supports and facilitates teaching activities
  • Serves as a starting point or gateway for locating information for research

Respondents at RLUK institutions believe that the primary responsibility of the college or university library should be facilitating access to any research materials in print and digital form they may need for research and teaching, while non-RLUK institutions feel that the primary responsibility should be supporting undergraduate student learning by helping students develop research skills and find, access, and make use of needed materials.

Respondents rely on learned societies to 1) organize conferences and other in-person meetings, 2) publish peer-reviewed journals, and 3) define and advocate for the field’s values and policy priorities. Least important is tracking the status of the profession (through statistics). Academics attend conferences to hear about new research being performed by their peers.

Ithaka S+R is a research and consulting service that helps academic, cultural, and publishing communities make the transition to the digital environment. As Deanna Marcum, managing director of Ithaka S+R, noted about this survey: “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.”

An analysis of differences between the two national populations (the U.K. and U.S.) will be released in summer 2013. The survey dataset will be deposited with ICPSR for preservation and access.

Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser
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