Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
William A. Clintworth
Associate Director for Information Services
Norris Medical Library
University of Southern California
A study was undertaken in an academic biomedical library setting to compare the usage of a matched set of biomedical literature available to users both in print and on the web. The study results showed that for journal volumes in the study subset (the 1998 volumes of 194 titles), users accessed the electronic versions more than ten times as often as the print versions during the six-month study period. The results further revealed a remarkably similar usage curve in the print and electronic data, with just 20% of titles accounting for nearly 60% of usage in both study sets. Conversely, the bottom 40% of ranked titles in both the print and electronic study sets accounted for just 9% of total usage. Studies like this one demonstrate the overwhelming preference of users for electronic access when it is available to them, especially when they can link directly from databases to the full text of the articles indexed. They indicate as well that the large spread in usage levels between titles, which librarians have long observed in the print domain, is being duplicated in the electronic one.
In the study reported here, the investigators examined the use of a subset of the journal literature (the 1998 issues of 194 biomedical journals) that was available to library users both in print and on the web. The study sought to determine the overall ratio of print to electronic usage of this subset as an indicator of the degree to which the predominance of usage was switching from print to electronic form. In addition, the study attempted to investigate whether there would be the same concentration of use on the most popular titles in both the print and electronic domains. The working hypothesis was that usage of electronic versions of titles would be more evenly spread among the 194 titles than it would be among the same titles in print, because the ease of access to the electronic versions might make users less selective about the articles they viewed, i.e., that they would show a less pronounced preference for the high-prestige titles. If this proved to be true, it would suggest the need for rethinking collection development guidelines that were designed for the print world.
Usage of the print volumes was tracked by scanning of barcodes on journal volumes during the reshelving process. Data from the handheld barcode scanners were uploaded into an Access database, where they were merged with volume-specific data downloaded from the library's Horizon integrated library system. As with the electronic usage data, the print data were filtered to include only usage of 1998 volumes, and then subtotaled by title. Because the journal volumes are available in open stacks, it is possible that some usage data were missed when users did their own reshelving. However, informal observation of user behavior indicates that very few users in this library go to the effort of reshelving journals after use.
Finally, lists of titles in rank order by number of uses were prepared for both print and electronic use.
Results of the analysis of patterns of use among the 194 titles in print and electronic form were almost as surprising. As Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate, contrary to expectation, the concentration of usage on the most popular titles was almost identical for the print and electronic lists. In both cases just 20% of the titles accounted for nearly 60% of total usage, and, conversely, the bottom 40% of both ranked lists accounted for only 9% of total usage. The working hypothesis, that ease of access in the electronic sphere might lead to a flatter distribution of title use, turned out not to be the case.
As might be expected, there was a significant overlap among the most popular titles in print and electronic form, with 25 titles (almost two-thirds) common to the top quintiles on both lists (Table 3 and 4). Wide discrepancies of the rankings for individual titles were not unusual, however, and generally confirmed anecdotal evidence about the degree to which different user groups have embraced electronic journals. For example, nursing and occupational and physical therapy journals generally ranked higher in electronic usage than they did in print usage. This supported an observation from faculty members that students in these disciplines were beginning to depend entirely on articles available in electronic form. The relatively weak showing of some basic science journals in the ranked list of electronic use confirmed the fact that many basic science faculty members continue to use PubMed rather than Ovid for MEDLINE access, because of Ovid's clinical emphasis.
Although the library still lacks reliable usage data on its electronic journals that are not linked to the Ovid system, there is no question that a substantial percentage of the electronic journal usage reported here is attributable to the convenient full-text links provided in the heavily-used Ovid databases. User preference for electronic versions of articles that are not similarly linked to popular databases would be much less pronounced than that observed in this study. Clearly libraries need to consider the availability of such linkages when making e-journal purchasing decisions
Due to the relatively small data set of print usage reported here, it is difficult to draw specific conclusions about the degree to which usage patterns for individual titles differ in the print and online spheres. However, for this collection of titles as a whole, the striking similarity of usage distribution, i.e., a heavy weighting toward a handful of the most popular titles and extremely low use of the least popular titles, suggests that library users are exhibiting the same sorts of journal preferences in the electronic domain as they have in print. This conclusion reinforces the need for more and better usage data for electronic journals so that budget dollars, both for print and electronic resources, can be allocated in a manner that will achieve the highest ratio of usage to expenditures.
|# of print uses||% of print uses|
|First quintile (top 39 titles)||1,048||58%|
|Second quintile (next 39 titles)||370||20%|
|Third quintile (next 39 titles)||228||13%|
|Fourth quintile (next 39 titles)||130||7%|
|Fifth quintile (lowest 38 titles)||38||2%|
|# or electronic uses||% of overall electronic uses|
|First quintile (top 39 titles)||15,836||57%|
|Second quintile (next 39 titles)||5,801||21%|
|Third quintile (next 39 titles)||3,511||13%|
|Fourth quintile (next 39 titles)||1,968||7%|
|Fifth quintile (lowest 38 titles)||661||2%|
|N Engl J Med*||57|
|Ann Internal Med*||31|
|Arch Internal Med*||31|
|Am J Health Sys Pharm*||30|
|Am J Nursing*||26|
|Am J Public Health*||26|
|Am J Cardiol*||25|
|Am J Medicine*||23|
|Am J Obstet Gynecol*||20|
|J Am Acad Child Psych*||18|
|J Clin Investigation||18|
|J Bone Mineral Res||17|
|Am J Psychiatry*||16|
|Med Sci Sports Exercise*||15|
|Br J Surg||14|
|J Am Geriatric Soc*||13|
|Am J Surg Pathol||12|
|Dis Colon Rectum||12|
|J Clin Nurs||12|
|N Engl J Med*||1177|
|Am J Health Sys Pharm*||532|
|Ann Internal Med*||504|
|Arch Internal Med*||496|
|Am J Nursing*||392|
|Am J Public Health*||365|
|Am J Psychiatry*||363|
|Mayo Clin Proc||355|
|J Adv Nursing||320|
|J Am Geriatr Soc*||316|
|Med Sci Sports Exerc*||308|
|Br J Haematology||298|
|J Orth Sports Phys Ther||289|
|J Neur Neurosurg Psych||246|
|Ann Emerg Med||233|
|Am J Medicine*||228|
|Am J Cardiology*||221|
|J Am Acad Child Psych*||218|
|ACP J Club||214|
|Br J Clin Pharmacology||207|
|Pediatr Infectious Dis J||202|
|Am J Obstet Gynecol*||199|
Mercer, Linda S. 2000. Measuring the use and value of electronic journals and books. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. No.25, Winter 2000. [Online.] Available: http://www.istl.org/00-winter/article1.html [September 27, 2000].
Pedersen, Sarah W. and Stockdale, Rosemary. 1999. What do the readers think? A look at how scientific journal users see the electronic environment. Journal of Scholarly Publishing. 31(1) October 1999, 42-52.
Rusch-Feja, Diann and Siebeky, Uta. 1999. Evaluation of usage and acceptance of electronic journals. D-Lib Magazine 5(10) 1999. [Online.] Available: http://www.dlib.org/dlib/october99/rusch-feja/10rusch-feja-full-report.html [September 27, 2000]