CLIRinghouse Number 13

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Number 13, November/December 2002

The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:

What’s Happening As Campuses Go Digital?

Summary: New insight into how faculty and students may be altering the ways they seek and use scholarly information in the digital era is available from a recently published report on extensive interviews at 392 American colleges and universities. The data indicate that comfort with digital resources is almost as great as with print, but that library use is changing more than diminishing. Questions now arise about how much responsibility any one institution has for producing, preserving, and managing digital resources that can reach every computerized community.

Magnitude of the Study

For two-and-a-half months ending in February 2002, representatives of Outsell, Inc., a research firm commissioned by the Digital Library Federation and CLIR, conducted an extensive national survey of campus users of scholarly information involving 3,234 faculty members, graduates students, and undergraduates in 392 doctoral research universities, public and private, and private liberal arts colleges. The survey generated 659 tables of data and an 893-page report.

Levels of Comfort

The survey indicates that high proportions of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates in all fields and all three types of institutions surveyed feel comfortable with electronic resources, use them substantially, and are relatively well equipped to do so. Here are some of the relevant statistics:

  • 93.3% agreed strongly or moderately with the statement, “I am comfortable retrieving and using information electronically,” only 1.5% fewer than the proportion agreeing strongly or moderately with the statement, “I am comfortable locating and using print information.”
  • 94.7% of all respondents also expressed comfort in using their institutions’ Web sites for accessing information needed in their work.
  • Nearly a quarter (23.9%) of student respondents said they were participating to some degree in their institutions’ distance-learning opportunities, and nearly one-fifth (19.8%) even professed to be reading e-books.

Outlook for Print

Digital acceptance notwithstanding, print use in all groups remains substantial, and that appears unlikely to change soon. Moreover, even though respondents make extensive use of electronic resources, and tend to go online to search for information, they also tend to print out what they find or go to the library to get it. For example:

  • 90.5% of respondents overall agreed strongly or moderately that “printed books and journals will continue to be important sources for me for the next five years.”
  • 77.2% agreed moderately or strongly with the statement, “When I find information online, I print it out to read it.”

Use of the Library

Campus library use remains substantial but is changing as libraries themselves develop digital content, online services, and in-house computer facilities. Relevant statistics include these:

  • 34.5% agreed strongly or moderately with the statement, “I use the library significantly less than I did two years ago,” which may mean the physical library; nearly two-thirds of respondents said that from half to all of the information they use for research and course work comes from their institutions’ physical or virtual libraries.
  • 15.7% believed strongly or moderately that “the Internet has changed the way I use the library.”

Larger Questions

Administrators need to look at more than the snippets above to assess how their own institutions should read the data, which are as valuable for raising questions as for answering them. Higher education institutions collectively might ask who is responsible for producing, managing, and preserving the scholarly digital resources that technologically all can use and that the survey shows scholars and students are welcoming.

Additional Information

The survey report, Dimensions and Use of the Scholarly Information Environment, containing 158 summary data tables with an introduction by Amy Friedlander, is available in print and online through CLIR’s Web site, www.clir.org/pubs/abstract/pub110abst.html; all 659 tables also are available there.