Access to scholarly content: gaps and barriers

Higher education Open access Australia
Attachment Size
apo-nid28402.pdf 2.35 MB

The key findings of this study are:

• Journal articles and conference papers are critical for advanced research and scholarship, and are rated as`important’ by 90.4 per cent of survey respondents (for journal articles) and 58.2 per cent (for conference papers).

• Compared with other types of information resources, journal articles are relatively easy to access. This is especially true for survey respondents in universities and colleges, 93.1% of whom said that research papers were easy or fairly easy to access: the equivalent figure in industry and commerce was 79.1%. In a later question, put only to those researchers for whom journal articles are important, respondents in all sectors rated their access as somewhere between ‘variable’ and ‘good’. Conference papers, on the other hand, were rated
somewhere between ‘variable’ and ‘poor’.

• Most researchers (71.5 per cent in the case of universities and colleges, 57.6 per cent in the case of industry and commerce) believe that access to journal articles has improved over the past five years. This increase in perceived access is probably due to innovations such as journal bundling or the `Big Deal’, consortial purchasing by librarians, and the greater availability of information in digital form, including via open access.

• Despite these findings, there are specific areas where provision of access to journal articles is seen as less effective. The rest of this report focuses upon such areas, seeking to understand them as a precursor to providing some solutions to improve access where necessary.

• The UK industrial sectors reporting the poorest levels of journal access are the motor industry, utilities companies, metals and fabrication, construction, and rubber and plastics.

• The most common barrier to accessing journal articles in both academia and industry occurs when researchers must pay to access content. The majority of researchers for whom journal articles are important, in all sectors apart from industry and commerce , felt that they did not have access to enough titles through existing arrangements. It is possible that new discovery tools, especially gateway services like Google Scholar, PubMed, Scirus and the Web of Science, have exacerbated this problem by making it much easier to identify relevant literature, but not to subsequently access this literature. Unlike previous finding aids such as library catalogues, these tools increase the amount of visible literature without promising access to that literature: consequently, researchers may see that the percentage of useful articles that they can access appears to have decreased.

• The findings suggest that information barriers can lead to significant non-productive activity and lost opportunities on the part of researchers and knowledge workers. Faced with a particularly hard-to-access journal article or conference paper, many researchers in both academia and industry simply give up and either look for another
article with similar information, or do something else entirely.

• Researchers adopt a range of coping strategies to deal with articles they cannot easily access. For those in industry, the most common solutions (after giving up) are to look for an early version on the web, approach the author or order directly from the publisher. Researchers in academia are more likely to approach the author than to give up completely, and then use institutional solutions such as inter library loans and library-held hard copies, as well as online searches for early versions, to try and meet their needs.

• Most researchers feel that the current prices charged for individual journal articles are too high. Furthermore, a minority of researchers (26.3 per cent) have strong objections in principle to this mode of access.

• Nevertheless there are some indications of a potentially viable market for pay-per-view: 12.6 per cent of respondents say they might consider buying individual journal articles in the future, and this proportion rises to 43.8 per cent in the case of conference papers.

• Conference papers are less important than journal articles for many researchers, although this varies considerably between disciplines. In some, such as computer science, they are very important. Overall, 23.6 per cent of researchers rate conference papers as `extremely important’ for their work. They are much more difficult to access than journal articles: 34.4 per cent of researchers and knowledge workers describe their current level of
access to conference papers (in print or online) as `poor’ or `very poor’.

• The main barrier for access to conference papers lies in the fact that many are never published online, and
therefore cannot be found by researchers who use online search engines as their primary discovery tools.

• There is much confusion about licensing and particularly walk-in rights, especially for e-resources, that needs to be resolved.

• Based on an analysis of the Labour Force Survey, CIBER estimates that there are around 1.8 million professional knowledge workers in the UK, many working in R&D intensive occupations (such as software development, civil engineering and consultancy) and in small firms, who may not currently have access to journal content via subscriptions. Although not all of these 1.8 million necessarily need access to journal articles, their needs should be better understood so that solutions can be provided for those who do.

Publication Details