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8.2 Are Scientific Scholarly Journals Worth Saving?
Over the years there have been a number of skeptics regarding the use, usefulness, and value of scientific scholarly journals. However, since the 1950s, there have been over twenty studies that show that scientists in general rely more on journals than any other source for their information, although this is not true for engineers or "technologists" (King and Tenopir, 2000; Tenopir and King, 2004). Consider evidence from surveys of scientists conducted by King Research from 1977 to 1998, the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences 2000 and 2001, Drexel University 2002, and University of Pittsburgh 2003. A 1977 national survey of scientists showed that they averaged 105 readings of scholarly journals per scientist per year, and a follow-up survey in 1984 revealed about 115 readings per scientist; several surveys in organizations from 1993 to 1998 yielded combined estimates of 120 readings; and surveys in 2000-2003 resulted in a weighted average of 134 readings, thus suggesting that amount of reading might have increased over the years. Extrapolated to the entire population of scientists and articles published, these data indicate that the average readings per article was about 640 readings per article in 1977 and about 900 readings in the late 1990s. Three studies in the 1960s and 1970s estimated the amount of reading per article by asking sampled scientists to indicate which articles listed on recently published tables of contents they had read. Average readings per article, extrapolated to the population of scientists sampled, showed that psychology articles averaged 520 readings per article (Garvey and Griffith, 1963), economic articles averaged 1,240 readings (Machlup and Leeson, 1978), and Journal of the National Cancer Institute articles averaged 1,800 readings per article (King, McDonald, and Olsen, 1978), or 756,000 readings for the entire volume of 12 issues. Thus, there is ample evidence that scientists read many scholarly articles and that journals are well read.
Scholarly articles are read for many purposes ranging from supporting specific research projects and teaching to administrative purposes. They are also read by people wanting to keep current in their disciplines. A number of studies have shown the importance of scholarly articles for these and other purposes. Our recent surveys of university scientists show that readings for teaching purposes are rated high in importance (5.10 on a scale of 1-not at all important to 7-absolutely essential) while readings for research are rated even higher (5.32). One-third of the readings are said to be "absolutely essential" to the teaching or research. Similar results are observed in surveys of non-academic scientists, who individually read fewer articles than university scientists, but totally account for about three-fourths of all reading due to the overwhelming number of these scientists.
Machlup (1979) defines two types of value of the information provided by scholarly journals: purchase value and use value. Purchase value is what scientists are willing to pay for the information in monies exchanged and time expended in obtaining and reading the information. The purchase value expended on scholarly journal information exceeds $5,400 per year per scientist, most of which involves their time spent obtaining and reading the information. In fact, the price paid in scientists' time tends to be five to ten times the price paid in purchasing journals, separate copies of articles, and other journal-related services. Of twenty studies by various researchers that provide estimates of time spent reading, the median time spent is 9.0 hours per month or about 108 hours per year per scientist. Our recent surveys show that scientists annually spend about 130 hours reading scholarly articles, up from 80 hours in 1977. Also, scientists are spending more time obtaining articles because they more often use library-provided articles than their own personal subscriptions (more is said about this later).
Use value involves the outcomes or consequences of using scholarly journal information. Examples of use value from our surveys include evidence of producing work with greater quality, faster, or at a lower cost in time or money. Several studies, dating back to the 1950s, have shown that amount of reading is correlated with productivity. Our surveys established that amount of reading is positively correlated with five indicators of productivity (i.e., outputs and input time measured in five ways) (Griffiths and King, 1993). Another indicator of use value is that scientists whose work has been formally recognized through awards, special assignments, or designated by personnel department (for our survey purposes) tend to read more than others. This was observed in the 1960s (Lufkin and Miller, 1966) and was invariably observed in 21 of our surveys. Thus, there is also abundant evidence of the purchase and use values of scholarly journals, and one must conclude that any changes in the future should ensure that the use, usefulness, and value of scholarly journals be retained.