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

Balancing access and profit in the cultural sector

Externaliew of the National Gallery, London
A one-day conference (Connecting Culture and Commerce: Getting the Balance Right) at the National Gallery in London on Friday examined the ways in which cultural institutions can exploit their collections for commercial gain, while making them as widely accessible as possible. Much of the emphasis was on the world of museums and galleries, but the issues discussed were very relevant to libraries and archives too.

The day began with a conversation between the BBC’s Creative Director, Alan Yentob, and the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne. They discussed the impact of technology on the way that the BBC negotiates rights with programme-makers as well as the ways in which the BBC’s audience now expect to be able to view programmes on demand, often through mobile devices. The recent licence-fee discussions were also touched upon, in terms of the new willingness by the corporation to make the programmes in its archive available.

It was interesting to hear about the hierarchy of television programmes: some being extremely popular in the short term, but with little long-term value (e.g. Strictly Come Dancing), with others, particularly documentaries and programmes about the arts, seen as having more long-term ‘view again’ appeal. The negotiations on broadcasting rights for these different categories of programme will therefore be different. The ‘Long Tail’ effect was not mentioned in the discussion, but it seems likely that there will be a demand for niche programmes in the same way as there is a long-term demand for the obsure books and movies that can now be obtained through on-line stores.

In response to a question from the floor about what cultural institutions can do to make things easier for broadcasters, Yentob suggested that linking the stand-alone websites of all the museums and galleries would be a good move. He also felt that museums should make their hidden treasures more obvious, to increase people’s interest in them. Sandy Nairne added that having the materials properly indexed and with appropriate contextual information was vitally important, sentiments which are certainly held dear by the Archives Hub team.

Over the day the importance of a clear framework and agreed common vocabulary for the description of rights, licences and intended uses was articulated on several occasions. The impossibility of small institutions being able to cope with such complex issues on their own was also mentioned more than once.

Gretchen Wagner gave a presentation about the approach of ARTstor and suggested that neither litigation nor legislation were likely to help resolve conflicts around matters of copyright (legislation being much more likely to be influenced by the wealthy publishing lobby than by the impoverished cultural sector). Her solution was for community-derived solutions such as Creative Commons and ARTstor itself to be the way forward. The Victoria and Albert Museum’s recent decision to make some images available free for academic use was mentioned several times during the day, and not always with approval.

The results of a London School of Economics research project into the economic, social and creative impacts of museums and galleries were presented by Tony Travers. The report was very positive about the contribution made by the institutions covered, but Travers expressed concern about the level of current investment into the sector and predicted that this will eventually have an impact, drawing analogies with the lack of investment in UK railways over the last 40 years.

One point I found particularly interesting during the day was in relation to the ‘Open Access’ argument for journal articles. One speaker complained that the big publishers of journals insisted that authors of articles had to sign away their copyright before publication. Charles Oppenheim of Loughborough University pointed out that if an author refuses to assign their copyright (and threatens to publish elsewhere instead), the publisher will produce a licence form instead, allowing the author to retain their rights. As authors of articles are not originally offered a choice in the matter, I’m sure many are unaware of this option (I certainly was).

Update: you can now sign a petition in support of the European Commission’s proposed Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate, which supports the principle of providing free access to publicly-funded research.

Archivaria back issues now online

I was really pleased to read on David Mattison’s The Ten Thousand Year Blog that articles published in the Association of Canadian Archivists’ journal Archivaria are now available online. The journal started in 1975 and all the articles published between then and the Spring 2002 issue are now freely available in PDF form. More recent issues are reserved for members of the association. That’s fair enough, though five years seems to me rather a long time to keep that content privileged.

Wouldn’t it be good if back issues of the Journal of the Society of Archivists could be made freely available in the same way? Journal articles are available through Taylor and Francis online, but only if you (or your institution) pay a subscription (over and above the subscription that members pay for the hard copy). These articles only go back to 1999, while the journal has been published since 1955.