Monday, November 02, 2009

Have Life Science Researchers Removed Themselves from the Mainstream Library User Population?

A report Entitled Patterns of Information Use and Exchange: Case Studies of Researchers in the Life Sciences has been released by the British Library and the Research Information Network.

The report was developed by capturing the day-to-day patterns of information use in seven research teams from a wide range of disciplines. The study, undertaken over 11 months and involving 56 participants, concluded that ‘one-size-fits-all’ information and data sharing policies are not achieving "scientifically productive and cost-efficient information use in life sciences"

Skip past all of that and jump to page 47 of the report. There, they state (I'll let the report speak for itself) :
"Conventional university library facilities rank low as a vehicle for accessing published information. The traditional role of professional information intermediaries has been largely replaced by direct access to online resources, with heavy reliance upon Google to identify them. Given the limitations of generic search engines such as Google, measures to reconnect researchers with IIS professionals could bring improvements in information retrieval, and benefits to the research process.

"Researchers also tend to use services that have been ‘proven’ by colleagues, or to interrogate websites they regard as authoritative and comprehensive in their field. When they use such services, researchers tend to take the results on trust: the specificity and the breadth of the information retrieved do not appear to require further enquiry.

"The result of all these developments is that many life science researchers have removed themselves from the mainstream library user population. They do not even use the library catalogue. Library-based services can replace the services researchers do use only by demonstrating that they can improve retrieval capability, and deliver results within a timeframe that corresponds to researchers’ own patterns of work. This is a significant challenge when researchers are driven by a desire for immediate online access to specific resources of interest, at a time convenient to them, and from a known and trusted source."
Overall they found that the groups that they studied use a narrow range of search engines and bibliographic resources, for three reasons:
• lack of awareness and time to achieve or build a broader suite
• the ‘comfort’ that comes from relying on a small set of familiar resources, usually endorsed by peers and colleagues, and
• the cost in time and effort needed to identify other resources, and to learn to use them effectively.

They detail what would appear to be emerging roles of the library in a researcher's information seeking patterns:
"The challenge for institutional information services is thus to develop and provide online services geared to the needs of their research groups and thereby to add value to the research process, facilitating the use of new tools, providing individuated professional support, as well as advice, training and documentation on a subject or discipline basis. Any such strategy would have to be proactive: as noted by our regenerative medicine group, researchers are reluctant to adopt new tools and services unless they know a colleague who can recommend or share knowledge about them."

"Library and information service providers in the higher education sector need to come to a clearer view of their structures and roles.. some of our groups expressed a desire for better portals and tools to identify the information resources relevant to researchers working in their domain. Some of the specialised repositories that are emerging (e.g. in neurophysiology) may help to develop such services."

"Re-establishing a lively and sustained dialogue with their research communities is a key challenge for the library and information services in many universities. Such dialogue is essential if libraries are to provide the publications, other information resources and services that their researchers need."

"Better engagement between information professionals and researchers could add to the efficiency and effectiveness of research, with specialist support facilitating the use of new tools, and providing individuated professional advice, training and documentation on a subject or discipline basis."

"Such a strategy would have to be proactive, for researchers are reluctant to adopt new tools and services unless they know a colleague who can recommend or share knowledge about them. And it would have to meet the challenge of delivering results that correspond to researchers’ patterns and timetables of work."

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