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E-journals: their use, value and impact

By 20 December 2010

A report by the Research Information Network (RIN) has explored how researchers in the UK use electronic journals, the value they bring to universities and research institutions, and the contribution they make to research productivity.

The report produced the following key findings:

1. E-journals are a big deal

• UK research institutions rely on e-journals. Over four months, users at ten UK research institutions visited nearly 1,400 ScienceDirect journals half a million times. In one year, users at the same ten institutions visited 61 Oxford Journals online publications a quarter of a million times.

2. Information seeking is fast and direct

• Many users look for publications using search engines such as Google and Google Scholar, or gateway sites such as PubMed. They then stay on the journal site for just long enough to pick up the full article that they have already identified.

• Most users visit ScienceDirect for only a few minutes and view no more than a couple of pages.

• Once users enter a journal site they tend to browse rather than use the site’s own search facility. Advanced search functions are rarely used at all.

• 24-hour access to e-journals is important to researchers. Almost a quarter of ScienceDirect use occurs outside the traditional 9-5 working day, while weekends account for around 15 per cent of use.

3. Researchers use e-journals in different ways

• Users in research-intensive universities show the highest use of e-journals and spend the least amount of time on each visit – they’re most likely to have already identified the information they need on a gateway site.

• How researchers use e-journal sites also varies according to subject area. Historians search for and use e-journals in very different ways from scientists. Compared, for example, with life scientists, historians are more likely to access e-journals via Google and to use menus and search facilities once they’re on the journal website.

4. Higher spending on e-journals is linked to more use and better research outcomes

• Universities and colleges spent £79.8 million on licenses for e-journals in 2006/07. Researchers and students in higher education downloaded 102 million full-text articles in that year, at an average cost of £0.80 per download.

• There is a strong positive correlation between universities’ expenditure on e-journals and number of articles downloaded.

• There is a clear correlation between levels of use of e-journals and research outcomes, with more usage linked to the number of papers published, number of PhD awards and income from research grants and contracts. This link is independent of institution size.

Source: E-journals: their use, value and impact, Research Information Network Briefing, April 2009

E-journals: their use, value and impact, Research Information  Network, April 2009

E-journals: their use, value and impact, Research Information Network Briefing

More information on this research can be found through the following link: E-journals: their use, value and impact