Economics and Usage of Digital Libraries: Byting the BulletSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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2.6 Usage of print journals
We are fortunate to have an excellent recent survey of usage of print journals in the book of Carol Tenopir and Don King (2000). It shows that a typical technical paper is read, which is defined as not necessarily reading it carefully, but going beyond just glancing at the title and abstract, between 500 and 1500 times. These readings average about one hour in length, and in about half the cases represent the reader's first encounter with an article.
The estimate of 500 to 1500 readings per article is much higher than some earlier studies had come up with. The studies on which Tenopir and King base their estimates do have biases that may raise the reading estimates above the true value. For example, they are based on self-reporting by technical professionals, who may overestimate their readings. Further, those figures include articles in technical journals with large circulations (such as Science, Nature, and IEEE Spectrum) that are not typical of library holdings. If one considers library usage studies, such as those that have been carried out at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, one comes up with somewhat lower estimates for the number of readings per paper. Still, the basic conclusion that a typical technical paper is read several hundred times appears valid.
The studies reported in Tenopir and King (2000) also show that, in the print world, articles are usually read mostly in the first half-year after publication. Afterwards, usage drops off sharply.