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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2005

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[Board accepted]

Comparing Journal Use Between Biology Faculty and Undergraduate Students

Joseph R. Kraus
Science Librarian
Penrose Library
University of Denver
Denver, CO


From 1997 through 2002, the faculty in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Denver wrote 90 articles that were indexed by Thomson/ISI's Science Citation Index. Using data from this database, a list of the sources cited by the faculty was prepared. There were a total of 3,942 citations, and most of those citations were to journal articles. The top cited journal list was compared to a list of journals our biology students used. Many of the journals in the top 20 were co-listed, but for less cited journals, the faculty used many other journals for their research.


In 1998, the author became a general science librarian. Because he had a background in the physical sciences and engineering, he wished to learn more about the information seeking patterns and research needs of the life scientists on campus. While it is well known that journals are very important to biology students and faculty, several librarians at the University of Denver wanted to know what journals and resources were used locally. In 2000, the author presented a poster paper with a colleague (Kraus & Fisher) at the ALA Conference in Chicago. The poster documented how the undergraduate biology honors students were not citing very many web-based resources. It also showed the percentages of journals, books and miscellaneous items cited. A couple of years later, he published an article (Kraus 2002) that showed the average ages, types of resources and specific journal titles used by a later group of honors students in biology. All of these students had faculty advisors helping them prepare their research.

Using anecdotal evidence, the author knew that faculty had an important role advising those students, but he wanted to know the extent the advising may have affected their citations. The author wished to compare a list of journals cited by the faculty with those journals cited by the students. The following questions needed to be answered: What journals do the biology faculty cite? Is there much duplication between the journals titles used by the faculty and the journals used by the students? Once this was determined, this would give the library an indication about the level of faculty involvement in the students' research. From such a list, one could also evaluate which journals could be cancelled, and which should be kept.


The library literature contains quite a number of articles documenting how biology and life scientists use their literature, specifically their journals. Some of them cover the journal use of structural biologists (Lascar & Mendelsohn 2001), molecular biologists (Brown 2005; Hurd, Blecic & Vishwanatham 1999), forestry faculty (Haas & Lee 1991), researchers in systematic botany (Delendick 1990), biomedical and health science researchers (De Groote & Dorsch 2003; Hiller 2002; Hurd 2001; Morse & Clintworth 2000; Tenopir, King & Bush 2004), biology faculty (Crotteau 1997; Hughes 1995; McCain & Bobick 1981), and science faculty in general (Hill, Madarash-Hill & Hayes 1999). Other articles demonstrated how graduate students in biology used journals (McCain & Bobick 1981; Walcott 1994). Still others showed how undergraduates in the biological sciences used the library (Magrill & St. Clair 1990; St. Clair & Magrill 1992; Whitmire 2002). It should be noted that the authors of those articles collected their data in a variety of ways. Some were gathered through citation statistics, some through surveys, and some through electronic journal and database usage statistics.

The study by McCain and Bobick was particularly interesting because it directly compared journal citations between the biology faculty and the graduate students. However, there was no recent research that directly compared undergraduate journal citations with faculty journal citations in the biological sciences. This article intends to fill that gap.

Methodology and Procedure

Using the Science Citation Index developed by Thomson/ISI, 90 papers were found to have been written by faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Denver from 1997 to 2002. There were a total of 3,942 citations. The source field of the citations was sorted, and the number of times each journal was cited was found.

Once the faculty list was developed, this was compared to the list that was developed by Kraus in 2002.


The table below shows the overlap of journal title citations. Italicized items indicate journal titles that are co-listed in the top 20, underlining indicates that it is co-listed with the other set, but is ranked 21-46. The columns on the left show the top journals cited by University of Denver faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences. The columns on the right show the top cited journals used by undergraduate students writing papers for biology honors courses.

Faculty Citations Compared with Student Citations

  Faculty Citations 1997-2002, top 46 with ties       Student Citations 2000-2002, top 46  
Rank Journal Title Number of citations   Rank Journal Title Number of citations
1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 149   1 Journal of Cell Biology 35
2 Nature 105   2 Nature 31
3 General and Comparative Endocrinology 103   3 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) 30
3 Journal of Biological Chemistry 103   4 Journal of Biological Chemistry 22
5 Journal of Comparative Neurology 75   5 General and Comparative Endocrinology 19
6 Ecology 68   6 Science 16
7 Journal of Cell Biology 56   7 Cell 13
8 Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 49   8 Cell Motility and the Cytoskeleton 12
9 Science 43   8 Endocrinology 12
10 Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics 39   10 Chromosoma 11
11 Development 37   11 Journal of Neuroscience 10
12 Journal of Molecular Evolution 35   12 Development 9
12 Soil Science Society of America Journal 32   13 Developmental Biology 8
14 Oecologia 31   13 Journal of Comparative Neurology 8
15 Biochemistry-US 30   13 Nucleic Acids Research 8
15 Peptides 30   16 Peptides 7
15 Plant And Soil 30   17 Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 6
18 Developmental Biology 28   17 Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications 6
18 Nucleic Acids Research 28   17 Neuron 6
20 Canadian Journal of Forest Research 26   20 Archives of Histology and Cytology 5
21 Journal of Physiology-London 25   20 Current Opinion in Cell Biology 5
22 Cell 23   20 New England Journal of Medicine 5
22 Journal of Neuroscience 23   23 Brain Research 4
24 Journal of Chemical Ecology 22   23 Endocrine Reviews 4
25 Cell and Tissue Research 21   23 Environmental Science and Technology 4
25 Neuron 21   23 Experimental Neurology 4
25 Pharmacogenetics 21   23 FEBS Letters 4
28 FEBS Letters 20   23 Journal of Cell Science 4
29 Biotropica 19   23 Journal of Molecular Biology 4
29 Chemical Senses 19   23 Molecular Endocrinology 4
29 Journal of the American Chemical Society 19   23 Molecular and Cellular Biology 4
29 Journal of Experimental Zoology 19   23 Molecular Biology of the Cell 4
29 Journal of Molecular Biology 19   23 Neuroendocrinology 4
29 Molecular Biology and Evolution 19   23 Physiological Reviews 4
35 Auk 18   23 Trends in Cell Biology 4
35 Insect Biochemistry And Molecular Biology 18   36 Biochimica et Biophysica Acta 3
35 Journal of Ecology 18   36 Bioscience 3
38 Soil Biology And Biochemistry 17   36 Cancer Research 3
38 Tree Physiology 17   36 Diabetes 3
38 Vegetatio 17   36 EMBO Journal 3
41 Arctic and Alpine Research 16   36 Federation Proceedings (FASEB) 3
41 Evolution 16   36 Genes and Development 3
41 Molecular Pharmacology 16   36 Journal of Experimental Zoology 3
44 Journal of Tropical Ecology 15   36 Journal of Molecular Evolution 3
44 Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology 15   36 Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological sciences 3
46 Annual Review of Biochemistry 14   36 Radiocarbon 3
46 Biotechniques 14  
46 DNA and cell biology 14  
46 Forest Ecology and Management 14  
46 Journal of Wildlife Management 14  


Even though 12 of the top 20 journals were co-listed, there was not as much overlap as expected. Some of the reasons could be:

Since about half of the biology faculty advise honors students, the faculty who work in the areas of ecology, forestry and soil science may not advise as many students. This would account for the greater number of faculty citations to journals such as the Soil Science Society of America Journal, Ecology, and the Canadian Journal of Forest Research.

For cancellation decisions, this data should be used with great care. For example, the average age of 19 journal articles cited by the faculty to the Journal of Experimental Zoology was over 43 years old. The faculty may find older articles from the Journal of Experimental Zoology useful, but current articles may not be as important. Even though this is a relatively high use journal, the library could consider it for cancellation. Also, evaluation of the 14 faculty citations to the journal Biotechniques, 11 of the 14 citations are to the same article (Volume 7, page 514). This showed how important that specific article was, but a current subscription to the journal may not be as important.

Faculty and student citations do not provide the whole picture on journal use. For every faculty citation, there could be 10 or 20 uses or downloads on campus. Many life science journals could be used heavily, but it may not be cited that often by the faculty. But, if the faculty do not cite a journal very often, this may provide an indication of low use. William Loughner (1996) covers these and other limitations concerning the use of citation data for collection development decisions.

Overall, the data showed that the biology faculty are using a wide variety of high quality scientific journals in various subject areas. It also indicated that faculty stressed the same type of high quality journals for their students.

Literature Cited

Brown, C. 2005. Where do molecular biology graduate students find information? Science & Technology Libraries 25(3):89-104.

Crotteau, M. 1997. Support for biological research by an academic library: a journal citation study. Science & Technology Libraries 17(1):67-86.

De Groote, S. L. and Dorsch, J. L. 2003. Measuring use patterns of online journals and databases. Journal of the Medical Library Association 91(2):231-240. [Online]. Available: [July 13, 2005].

Delendick, Thomas J. 1990. Citation analysis of the literature of systematic botany: a preliminary survey. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 41(7):535-543.

Haas, S. C. and Lee, K. 1991. Research journal usage by the forestry faculty at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Collection Building 11(2):23-25.

Hill, J. B., Madarash-Hill C. and Hayes, N. 1999. Monitoring serials use in a science and technology library: results of a ten year study at the University of Akron. Science & Technology Libraries 18(1):89-103.

Hiller, S. 2002. How different are they? a comparison by academic area of library use, priorities, and information needs at the University of Washington. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship 33. [Online]. Available: [July 13, 2005].

Hughes, J. A. 1995. Use of faculty publication lists and ISI citation data to identify a core list of journals with local importance. Library Acquisitions 19(4):403-13.

Hurd, J. M. 2001. Digital collections: acceptance and use in a research community. Crossing the Divide : Proceedings of the Tenth National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries, March 15-18, 2001, Denver, Colorado. H. A. Thompson, ed. Denver, CO, ACRL. [Online]. Available: {} [July 13, 2005].

Hurd, J. M., Blecic, D.D., and Vishwanatham, R. 1999. Information use by molecular biologists: implications for library collections and services. College & Research Libraries 60(1):31-43.

Kraus, J. R. 2002. Citation patterns of advanced undergraduate students in biology, 2000-2002. Science & Technology Libraries 22(3/4):161-179.

Kraus, J. R. and Fisher, P. 2000. Citation Analysis of Undergraduate Biology Department Honors Papers at the University of Denver. ALA Conference Poster Paper. Chicago. ALA. [Online]. Available: {} [July 13, 2005].

Lascar, C. and Mendelsohn, D. 2001. An analysis of journal use by structural biologists with applications for journal collection development decisions. College & Research Libraries 62(5):422-433.

Loughner, W. 1996. Scientific journal usage in a large university library: a local citation analysis. Serials Librarian 29(3/4):79-88.

Magrill, R. M. and St. Clair, G. 1990. Undergraduate term paper citation patterns by disciplines and level of course. Collection Management 12(3-4):25-56.

McCain, K. W. and Bobick, J. E. 1981. Patterns of journal use in a departmental library: a citation analysis. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 32(4):257-67.

Morse, D. H. and Clintworth, W. A. 2000. Comparing patterns of print and electronic journal use in an academic health science library. Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship 28. [Online]. Available: [July 13, 2005].

St. Clair, G. and Magrill, R. M. 1992. Undergraduate use of four library collections: format and age of materials. Collection Building 11(4):2-15.

Tenopir, C., King, D. W. and Bush, A. 2004. Medical faculty's use of print and electronic journals: changes over time and in comparison with scientists. Journal of the Medical Library Association 92(2):233-241. [Online]. Available: [July 13, 2005].

Walcott, R. 1994. Local citation studies -- a shortcut to local knowledge. Science & Technology Libraries 14(3): 1-14.

Whitmire, E. 2002. Disciplinary differences and undergraduates' information-seeking behavior. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 53(8):631-38.

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