The 34 minute article…paper or electronic?

At the recent Online Information Conference I attended a very interesting session looking at what usage data can tell us about users of libraries. This session emphasised the importance of maximising library investments through better data gathering. Of course, the same would apply to archives, but we have very little detailed usage data for archives as far as I am aware. However, I think that we can to some extent benefit from analysis of library users, so I thought I would give a summary of the session in this blog.

Dr Carol Tenopir, a Director of Research at the University of Tennessee, spoke about the results of a survey of library users from five American universities. Her team were looking particularly at journal use, both print and e-journals. The survey looked at such things as last article read, value of the reading, purpose of the reading and other details such as age of reading, source, time spent, etc.

The survey team asked how many articles were read in the last month. On average, academics read 23 scholarly articles a month and spend 34 minutes reading (based on the last article read). Students read 15 articles a month and spend 36 minutes. Often they were reading to just get the main points rather than reading in depth. At the same time the time spent finding articles has decreased.

The number of articles read has increased over the last 30 years, but the time taken to read each article has decreased – in 1977 each article took on average 48 minutes to read. This suggests that we are more inclined to skim read than we used to be, maybe partly due to the huge amount of literature available to us?

The results surrounding print versus electronic media were interesting. It made me think about the debates in the archive world surrounding the importance of access to the original archive and the value of digital surrogates. The survey found that around 65% read electronic articles and therefore a third of people still use print journals, so there is clearly still a substantial market for good old fashioned texts. Older articles are judged more valuable and are more likely to be sourced from libraries. The survey found that since 2005 older articles are read more, which may be to do with improved ability to search the systems available and access to back-files. Of the articles published within the last year, 43% are likely to come from the library, but for articles over 5 years old around 70% are from the library. For academics, older articles are more likely to be for research and are considered more valuable.

Respondents to the survey were not necessarily sure where they got articles from when they browsed the Web