Discovering content in scholarly journals

A new report seeks to understand how the ways in which journal readers find content are changing.

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Understanding user behaviour

How do journal readers discover content in scholarly journals?  In their latest report on user search behaviour, Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner (of Renew Training) explore user search patterns and draw conclusions (based on previous research undertaken in 2005 and 2008) about how search is changing.  The findings are of interest not just to the designers and publishers of journals but also to anyone interested in the role of libraries in improving discoverability.

The report surveyed over 19,000 journal readers from around the world.  Academic institutions were the largest sector surveyed followed by medical, government and corporates.  When it comes to job roles, the largest group of responders were academic researchers followed by information managers and lecturers.  The largest subject areas represented were the humanities, social and political science and medicine.

The report explores three types of reader behaviour.

Citation searching

Which starting points are the most important to researchers?  Increasing in their importance to readers are specialist bibliographic databases (e.g. PubMed) and web pages managed by specific subject area research groups.  New starting points have appeared since the last survey (2008) and these include academic search engines such as Google Scholar. After bibliographic databases, these are the second most popular source for looking up citations.

Core journal browsing

How do readers begin their browsing of their core journal content?  The research shows that abstracting and indexing databases are increasing in importance as are publishers' websites, journal home pages and web pages managed by key research groups.  Journal alerts are decreasing in importance but are still the second most popular resource for discovering the latest articles.

Subject searching

How do readers discover content on a specific subject? Readers continue to favour specialist bibliographic databases.  Library websites have increased in importance, due, the authors suggest, to the introduction of web scale discovery services.  General search engines have declined in importance.

What readers want from publishers websites

The most important features to readers are: TOC alerts; search; related articles features and reference linking.

The role of libraries

Libraries have been investing time and resources into providing and improving their websites, catalogues and webscale discovery products.  Readers are increasingly turning to libraries to help them in their subject searching although the report also points to national differences in awareness of how library technology is impacting discovery. 

The full report is available to purchase, but the executive summary may be downloaded for free.  See the Renew Training website for more information.