Researchers’ Use of Academic Libraries

library book shelvesA new report has been published by the Research Information Network (RIN) and the Consortium of Research Libraries (CURL): Researchers’ Use of Academic Libraries and their Services [pdf format]. This is based on information gathered from more than 2,000 UK researchers and 300 librarians. After being somewhat critical in an earlier post about the RIN’s Researchers and Discovery Services report, I feel honour-bound to record here that this report is much more comprehensive and well-written. Its authors are Sheridan Brown and Alma Swan of Key Perspectives Ltd. The report covers a number of areas, including the impact of digital services, problems of attracting enough funding, communication between library staff and researchers, and changing patterns of use.

Archive services within academic libraries get a number of mentions, with the interesting statistic that:

Archives are rated “very useful” by 50% of arts and humanities researchers and special collections by 46%. By comparison the figures for life science researchers are 10% and 8%.

Really? 10% of life scientists find archives “very useful”? Wow!

The report also noted that:

Most researchers use digital finding aids to locate both digital and print-based resources. Print finding aids are used by very few researchers, and these are mainly in the arts and humanities. This highlights the need for libraries to ensure that they provide online high-quality metadata for their holdings, and that they address cataloguing backlogs. Information resources that cannot be found electronically may well be overlooked, since few researchers will invest the time required to track down items that cannot be quickly be identified using digital finding aids.

And in the same vein:

Libraries have made significant efforts to optimise the visibility and usage of their archival or special collection material through digitisation programmes. Feedback from researchers is very positive, but many information resources that could be useful to researchers remain under-used currently, mainly because they exist only in hardcopy or are inadequately catalogued.


…material that is digitised and for which there is easily-available and accurate metadata will be visible and usable by scholars. What remains in print may well be sought out, but probably only if it is digitally catalogued. Indeed, some researchers as well as librarians pointed out that more use would be made of library holdings overall

Undergraduate experience of university libraries

Library shelves, University of ManchesterA post by Brian Mathews (a librarian at the Georgia Institute of Technology) on his Ubiquitous Librarian blog compares undergraduate levels of library usage and satisfaction in UK and US universities. He looked at information from SCONUL and compared it with statistics from the US Association of Research Libraries (ARL). He notes that usage of libraries by undergraduates is much higher in the UK:

…86% indicate daily or weekly use, while the US is around 50%. When asked about using library web resources they were at 77% daily/weekly, while US was between 40-50%.

but that levels of satisfaction with space and resources are much lower and that our printed materials and journals are ‘barely adequate’. He expresses surprise at this, but it sounds like an issue of under-resourcing to me and probably won’t surprise staff working in UK universities. The difference in usage levels are interesting though – why are they so much higher here?

Irish blues

The library of Trinity College Dublin was featured in Material World this week on BBC Radio 4. The programme discussed the use of Laser Raman spectroscopy, which is a non-destructive way of analysing the contents of the pigments in the illustrations of the 9th-century Book of Kells. It had originally been thought that the blues in the paintings were made from lapis lazuli, causing elaborate theories of very early trade links between Ireland and Afghanistan to be developed. The new technique showed that the blue was in fact created from woad, which is slightly less exotic and exciting, but much more easily explained. Keeper of manuscripts Bernard Meehan and keeper of conservation Susie Bioletti both featured in the programme, which is available online until next Thursday.

And we thought indexing for the Hub was hard…

An accidental posting by Ellen Chapman (of the Archives & Manuscripts Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa) to the US Archives and Archivists mailing list brightened my morning today. It was a link to an article by Philip O’Leary in the most recent edition of the Annals of Improbable Research about the complexities of indexing Celtic languages. The article is available in PDF format, and is definitely worth reading if you’ve been struggling with creating index terms in English.

Philip Pullman on libraries

There was a good promotional article on libraries and librarians in The Times on Saturday. Though I don’t think Philip realises quite how much librarians are involved in bringing information online and improving the quality of online information (not to mention providing online access within libraries).