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Use and Users of Electronic Library Resources: An Overview and Analysis of Recent Research Studies

by Carol Tenopir
With the assistance of Brenda Hitchcock and Ashley Pillow

August 2003

Copyright 2003 by the Council on Library and Information Resources. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transcribed in any form without permission of the publisher. Requests for reproduction should be submitted to the Director of Communications at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

About the Authors

Executive Summary

1. Overview

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Report Outline

2. Tier 1 Studies

2.1 Overview

2.1.1 SuperJournal
2.1.2 Digital Library Federation/Council on Library and Information Resources/Outsell
2.1.3 HighWire/eJUSt
2.1.4 Pew Internet and American Life (OCLC/Harris, and Urban Libraries Council)
2.1.5 OhioLINK
2.1.6 Tenopir and King Studies
2.1.7 LibQUAL+TM
2.1.8 JSTOR
2.2 Participants
2.3 Methods
2.4 Tier 1 Analysis

2.4.1 SuperJournal
2.4.2 DLF/CLIR/Outsell
2.4.3 HighWire eJUSt
2.4.4 Pew Studies/OCLC-Harris/Urban Libraries Council
2.4.5 OhioLINK
2.4.6 Tenopir and King
2.4.7 LibQUAL+TM
2.4.8 JSTOR

3. Tier 2 Analysis

3.1 Differences in Behavior or Preferences that can be Explained by Differences Among Users
3.2 Information Seeking Behavior and Preferences
3.3 Perceived Advantages of Electronic Resources and Preferences
3.4 Problems or Concerns with Electronic Resources
3.5 Library Policies and Financial Concerns
3.6 Summary of Tier 2

4. Reviews of the Literature and Methods

5. Conclusions

6. Bibliography

6.1 TIER 1

6.1.1 SuperJournal
6.1.2 DLF/CLIR/Outsell
6.1.3 eJUST/HighWire
6.1.4 Pew/OCLC-Harris Survey/Urban Library Council
6.1.5 OhioLINK
6.1.6 Tenopir and King
6.1.7 LibQUAL+
6.1.8 JSTOR
6.2 TIER 2
6.3 Methodology and Literature Reviews


About the Authors

Carol Tenopir is a professor at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is the author of four books, including, most recently, Towards Electronic Journals: Realities for Scientists, Librarians and Publishers, coauthored with Donald W. King (Washington D.C.: Special Libraries Association, 2000). She has published more than 200 journal articles, is a frequent speaker at professional conferences, and since 1983 has written the “Online Databases” column for Library Journal. She is the recipient of the 2002 American Society for Information Science & Technology, Research Award (for lifetime achievement in research). Ms. Tenopir holds a doctoral degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois.

Brenda Hitchcock has a B.S. from the University of Connecticut and an M.S. from Michigan State University. Currently, she is working on a master’s degree in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee and she plans to become a school media specialist.

Ashley Pillow is a graduate student in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee. Her interests include information policy, electronic journals, and information access and retrieval.

Executive Summary

In the last several years, many research studies have focused on how people use electronic resources or on their feelings about electronic and print resources in the library. These usage studies draw many conclusions about the behavior and preferences of library users, although sometimes the conclusions are contradictory or unclear. This report for the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) summarizes and analyzes more than 200 recent research publications that focus on the use of electronic library resources and were published between 1995 and 2003. Eight major ongoing studies (each with multiple publications) are identified as Tier 1 studies and are analyzed in detail, while about 100 smaller-scale studies are classified as Tier 2 studies and are examined together.

The studies use a variety of research methods, including observation, surveys, interviews, experiments, and transaction log analysis. Some surveys or interviews ask questions about preference, including how users feel about the library or about specific media; others ask questions that provide information on user behavior. Observations, experiments, and logs also show what users do, but do not always reveal preferences or motivations. Each of these methods allows different types of conclusions and it is only when they are taken together that we can get a full picture of what users actually do, why they do it, what they would prefer, and what they are likely to do in the future.

The Tier 1 and Tier 2 studies make several valid conclusions that shed light on user behavior with electronic resources. They include the following:

  • Both faculty and students use and like electronic resources and most readily adopt them if the sources are perceived as convenient, relevant, and time saving to their natural workflow.
  • Experts in different subject disciplines (work fields) have different usage patterns and preferences for print or electronic. There is no one right solution for services or system design for every subject discipline.
  • Print is still used for some reading and is part of research in almost every discipline. It is considered important in certain disciplines, especially in the humanities.
  • Print remains the most popular medium for books; e-book use is still in the very early stages.
  • Most e-journal users still print out articles that are judged useful-so a printing format such as PDF is popular.
  • Subject experts use hyperlinks to view related articles; students’ use of hyperlinks is less clear.
  • Browsing a small number of core journals is important (in print or electronic forms), especially for subject experts and for current awareness searching.
  • Searching by topic in an article database is important for all other purposes.
  • Users will read articles from a wide variety of journal titles and sources if available to them, although most of the readings come from relatively few journals.
  • Personal subscriptions to journals continue to decrease, so users rely more on electronic subscriptions subsidized by the library and on the Internet.
  • Most journal article readings are of articles within their first year of publication, but a sizeable minority of readings come from materials that are older than one year.
  • College and high school students use the Internet more than the library for research, and many believe they are more expert at searching than their teachers.
  • Students exercise some quality judgments about materials they retrieve from the Internet, but those quality judgments may not exactly match faculty members’ criteria for quality.

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