Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey Response: Discovery & Access – Discovery of Scholarly Information

by | Dec 9, 2019 | 0 comments

By Evan Simpson, Associate Dean for Research and Learning Services, Northeastern University Library

Survey results show once again that faculty are most likely to search for scholarly information using a specific scholarly database. Libraries must continue investment in discipline-specific scholarly databases.

It’s clear faculty look for scholarly literature using specific scholarly databases. This choice continues to outrank others even though the percentage of respondents has declined in each of the last three surveys. We know based on consultations with faculty that this pattern holds true at Northeastern, where specific scholarly databases are used heavily by faculty.   

While interdisciplinary research is evolving within academic institutions that are largely organized by specific disciplines. Cluster hires are an emerging hiring model, but scholarly publishing is highly organized by discipline and given they develop expertise in specific subject areas it is no wonder and that faculty heavily utilize specialized databases in their research and have not significantly increased their use of the library’s online catalog/discovery layer. This trend is why academic libraries prominently feature/don’t bury database A-Z lists, often provide direct access to specific scholarly databases (often a Top 10) on homepages, work to make sure databases are discoverable in library discovery layer, and that they show up via site search.

Scholarly publications representing a cross-section of disciplines exist, and interdisciplinary information sources and library discovery layers that search across discipline-specific resources have been successfully developed. While academic libraries maintain and even increase investment in the library discovery layer, it’s clear that the commitment to discipline-specific resources remains critically important for faculty research. Interdisciplinary research and rich discovery platforms are here, but faculty start with discipline-specific resources.

The value of these data is also in seeing how the use of other sources of scholarly literature evolve over time. Google Scholar is getting better across the board, for the Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, and medical. Where their use of specific scholarly databases declined scholars in each group increased use of Google Scholar. This leads to interesting questions: has the indexing of scholarly monographs expanded, increasing relevance for the Humanities and Social Sciences? Have there been advances in Google Scholar’s indexing of medical journal content?

All of this makes search complicated and the presentation of options a challenge. You see evidence of libraries working to make all these paths for discovery well-lit and the Northeastern library homepage is one of many examples. The library discovery layer is featured prominently with a default “library catalog + articles” search or just “Library Catalog” if preferred. The existence of this option is acknowledgment of the different ways we know our community wants to find resources: some want to see only what is physically in the library; others want journal content, etc. Underneath is quick access to specific scholarly databases via the A-Z list and access to Google Scholar configured for Northeastern among other choices including WorldCat and the Digital Repository.

It is worth noting that platforms like Ex Libris’ Leganto course reading list tool help integrate library discovery layers into the course preparation/course design process. This includes integration with major learning management systems. At Northeastern, our Affordable Course Materials initiative is about helping faculty discover and integrate open content. In addition, we want to help faculty maximize use of subscription content in designing course reading list and assignments. All of these efforts ultimately help students save money. Through platforms like Leganto, Libraries now have an opportunity to help faculty catalyze increased faculty use of the library discovery layer with a tool that blends discovery of subscribed content with an easy-to-use, dynamic reading list creator and ways to integrate open content. Students are presented with an attractive user interface that leads to high levels of engagement with course readings. These efforts are helping maximize institutional investment in content and discovery.

Collaboration and networking platforms are also emerging alternative discovery platforms worth watching: Research Gate, FigShare, Mendeley, and others are all examples of platforms where faculty are communicating, sharing ideas, and potentially finding partners, working on grants, managing projects, and uploading and sharing documents.

Monograph Format Transition

A growing percentage of faculty say print versions of scholarly monographs are important for their research and teaching. The perception and use of print resources will greatly impact how libraries develop spaces in years to come. 

Northeastern is a global research university with regional campuses in the United States, Canada, and the UK. The student population continues to expand, and the number of faculty grows steadily. Northeastern provides a huge range of online programs and multiple hybrid certificate and degree programs. In the last decade the library has moved aggressively to expand access to online content. With a thriving residential student community on the Boston campus the University Library is working to increase seating capacity, develop spaces for new forms of collaborative work, research and learning support, creative and design services, and digital scholarship while maintaining spaces for focused study. Following this strategy, after rigorous analysis of the print collection and circulation/usage trends we moved a portion of the collection to an off-site storage facility called the Library Annex in the spring of 2018. Access to print monographs in the Annex are now available via daily delivery Monday through Friday.

Driven by usage data, these changes are helping meet many needs with a limited number of square feet available. The monographs chosen for the Library Annex have circulated infrequently, new space has opened for collaborative work and focused study, and the total number of seats has increased. As part of the library’s discovery strategy, library staff developed a virtual browse feature within the library discovery layer allowing information-seekers to visualize titles alongside others in the same subject area. This form of digital browsing provides an opportunity for serendipitous discovery, with potential to help maximize use of subscription e-book content and print collections.        

Like all institutions Northeastern has its own unique trajectory. The library is building capacity to serve a global community and utilizing usage data to introduce major changes in access to scholarly monographs in order to transform library spaces. Other institutions will face similar challenges and demands for space and will need to weigh the perception of how print is used with the usage data and communicate openly with faculty in order to make decisions.

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