I used to read Jisc reports with great interest. Mainly because part of my job depended on what JISC (as it then was, in capital letters) thought and did. Jisc provided many hundreds of thousands, probably over the years millions, of £s in funding for various projects that I managed or was involved with. They have at various times produced numerous reports.
I always felt that Jisc reports usually confirmed much of what I, and the other people I worked with, already knew, but that they often didn’t quite ask the right questions at the right time, or make forceful enough recommendations in the light of the evidence presented in the reports, many of which were based on analyses of surveys, and sometimes they didn’t seem to differentiate enough between different disciplines which IMHO worked in quite different ways. At the time, we were all very hesitant to criticise Jisc in any way, because our funding mostly depended on them. Jisc had a life of its own, and trying to figure out its future direction was always difficult.
I started at the end of the ‘Spotlight’ report, in the Reference section, because before reading the rest of it, I want to know who it cites, and I see some familiar names, for example Aaron Tay
, who knows a thing or two about resource discovery, and Roger C. Schonfeld, who wrote an excellent paper on access to scholarly resources
. So that’s another good sign.
I also note somewhere in the text of the report that “…indicates that there is significant variation in user needs and behaviours between disciplines…” Great!
The report “…provides an update on the literature relating to the academic library role in discovery for both students and scholars since the earlier literature review published by the Spotlight project in late 2013.” OK, so it is not a report based upon the findings of some survey or other, but rather a survey of various articles.
The report’s Executive summary highlights are as much as some people will read, so they are important, and they seem to confirm much of what we all probably already think, but also make good reading.
To summarise: online activity is pervasive across all categories of users [yes]; users expect to access resources anywhere from any device [of course]; library tools sit in an eco-system alongside other tools from which users make strategic selections according to purpose [yes]; library staff tend to over-estimate the extent that users use library services [erm..hold on a minute].
Is that correct? Do they over-estimate how much users use library services? I’ll come back to the report’s other highlights shortly.
On page 9 evidence is given, from two surveys, which shows that “…in most cases staff over-estimate the extent to which users use different library services, in some cases very greatly.” Well, I can’t argue with the evidence it gives, but I wonder who the library staff in the cited survey were who reckoned that, in order to find a known item, 49% of users would use Copac, SALSER and Suncat. Even the figure of 7% from the users’ survey, seems high to me. The figures for finding a known item through using an abstract database (47% library staff and 29% users) also seem very high, to me.
Obviously, most library staff hope that users will often consult the various discovery services made available through libraries at great cost, but hoping that they use, and thinking that they actually use, such tools are two different things.
Other highlights from the Executive summary include: some people are challenging the idea that libraries should aim to play a primary role in discovery at all [yes – too little has been done by libraries, too late, IMHO]; libraries should develop services to support specific aspects of discovery in which it can help [yes, this is correct and is very interesting to me]; cede discovery to Google and focus on other activities [almost certainly]; more could be done to ensure seamless access across services, multiple locations and different devices [of course]; more just-in-time information and support could be given [OK]; there is evidence that libraries over-estimate the extent to which users understand library concepts, tools and even basic bibliographic formats and relationships [is that still going on?]; new library discovery tools can be convenient and flexible, but other services such as Google Scholar still out-perform libraries on factors such as speed of updates, covering non-standard sources, relevancy of results and complementary services such as citations and related articles [yes].
Elsewhere, the report notes: Discussions of what the library should be doing, what are the barriers to its success, and how library services stack up against discovery services provided through other routes, can all be found and shed light on the current discovery behaviour scene. And: Overall, we hope that this review provides a basis for taking on the debate over the library role in discovery and how library services and resources can be best positioned to be found and exploited by users.
It also notes a paper about how some researchers are using Twitter to become aware of new literature in their fields, that papers mentioned on Twitter are more downloaded and cited than others, and that chemists are reported as being generally satisfied with the discovery tools they need, though needing more help with keeping up to date and with serendipitous discovery.
There are many other interesting findings (e.g. Authentication needs to be as invisible off-campus as it is on-campus [yes please!]), but I want to concentrate on what the report says about current awareness, keeping up-to-date and serendipity, and also in the light of, as it says, that an increasing proportion of scholarly research is carried out on mobile devices. Plus, and added to those things, the growing importance of Open Access.
It notes: The discovery layer is no help with discovery through monitoring for current awareness and the library could possibly do more in this respect, given the fragmentation and incompleteness of current awareness services.
Well, this is an example of a Jisc report not being forceful enough in its recommendations. Given that their role in general resource discovery is gradually being ceded by libraries to external services, plus other developments as noted above, libraries should definitely be doing a lot more in an area that they can relatively easily play a role – that of current awareness. And it would not be too difficult for them to do this.
I am involved in a current awareness service, called JournalTOCs. It is a free service used by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. There is also a Premium version of JournalTOCs, aimed at libraries who want a managed current awareness service. Premium is currently being used by a variety of institutions in higher education, plus organisations involved in health, law, pharmaceuticals, etc, and also, thanks to the JEMO Project and INASP, a number of libraries in developing countries such as Ghana, Malawi, Ethiopia, Cuba and Tanzania.
For those in Jisc-sponsored UK higher and further education institutions in the UK, there is also Zetoc, a monitoring and search service for global research publications.
There is also a commercial journal current awareness service from Third Iron called BrowZine.
And there are numerous other alerting services produced by commercial publishers, providing current awareness for their own content – e.g. Taylor & Francis alerts, and SAGE Journals Email Alerts.
Each of the above has some unique features, but none is perfect. The services from T&F, Sage and similar only provide alerting for their own titles. BrowZine is mobile based, but includes only a very limited amount of titles unless your institution pays a subscription, and even then you are restricted to titles subscribed to by your institution plus a very limited number of Open Access journals (so there is much that is not included). Access to Zetoc is restricted to Jisc-sponsored UK higher and further education institutions, is web-based and is not, IMHO very user friendly. JournalTOCs, as I have noted, is free (though the Premium version for institutions has a (low) cost), I think it is quite user friendly, but it is web-based.
I think it is time that Zetoc and JournalTOCs worked together. In the past, this has not really been possible due to differing funding sources. But how about if Zetoc and JournalTOCs worked together to develop a mobile app – that app would have the same functionality for Zetoc and JournalTOCs users/customers, but would deliver results to each based on the two different data sets behind the services. Or perhaps the JournalTOCs data could be added to Zetoc for Zetoc’s users, but be kept separate for JournalTOCs’ users (Zetoc data cannot be made freely available to all).
There’s a fair bit more to this idea than I can explain here, but I reckon with a little effort and not exactly a great deal of funding, researchers everywhere, and potentially libraries everywhere, could use the app and the service to provide an excellent current awareness service of exactly the type recommended by the Chowcat Jisc report.
I am hoping to follow up the collaboration idea.