Academics in the UK Use Social Media to Enhance Traditional Scholarly Reading

Annie M. Hughes


Objective – To investigate academic staff’s use and creation of social media for work-related purposes as well as analyze how this influences consumption of traditional scholarly resources.

Design – A 60 question survey instrument in questionnaire format (instrument appended to the article).

Setting – Six universities in the United Kingdom.

Subjects – Respondents include 2,117 academic staff or faculty.

Methods – In 2011, the authors sent a 60 question survey to 6 universities in the United Kingdom. Library directors were asked to send out the survey to their university’s academic staff, and 12,600 invitations were sent out. An application to the Institutional Review Board was also implemented and approved as long as the respondents could exit the survey at any time. There were 2,117 respondents with a maximum of 1,078 respondents to the questions regarding social media.

Questions included in the survey asked the frequency of use of traditional scholarly resources with a focus on reading articles and books. Respondents were also asked to answer questions regarding how they accessed resources and how they used what they were reading. They were asked to provide information regarding accessing other publications such as conference proceedings, government documents, and magazines or trade journals. The authors also recorded demographic information such as respondent’s field of study, position within the university, age, and gender. Following questions regarding use of traditional resources and demographics, respondents were asked to answer questions regarding social media use and creation for work-related purposes.

Main Results – The authors asked respondents how much traditional scholarly reading they did in the last month. With regard to traditional scholarly reading activity, the authors found that academic staff in the United Kingdom read about 22 articles, with medical and health sciences field consuming the most articles and social scientists consuming the least. Book and book chapter reading is more prevalent in the humanities discipline as they, on average, read about 20 books or book chapters. The average across disciplines is seven books or book chapters, with the medical and health sciences academic staff reading the least. “Other publications” were also accounted for such as government documents, trade journals, and conference proceedings, and on average, academics read about 11 in the last month. After data was collected, authors excluded outliers over three standard deviations from the mean to assure a more representative average.

Respondents were asked how often they use social media such as blogs, online videos, RSS feeds, Twitter, user comments in online articles, podcasts, and other. The authors found that academics in the United Kingdom use social media occasionally, but not on a regular basis. They also found that social media is less likely to be created than used. Occasional use is recorded by half of the respondents who use only two of the resources listed in the survey. Only 5% of the respondents said they use all of the social media tools listed. Over half of the respondents said they do not “create” social media tools for work. Participation and use of the tools is much more prevalent according to the results of this survey.

Regarding demographic responses recorded, those who are in the humanities and medical and health sciences use more blogs for their work, and those in the medical and health sciences also participate most in user comments in articles. Younger respondents (under 30-40 years of age) use more social media tools such as blogs, RSS feeds, and Twitter. Those who are actively teaching tend to use social media more frequently and while they do not create tools more frequently than others, they do create the most online videos out of any of the tools mentioned. There was no significant association between use of social media and the respondent’s position, gender, or the number of awards earned. Respondents who “tweet” or use Twitter consume the most amount of scholarly material. Overall, the authors found that those who participate in social media also consume a significant amount of traditional scholarly content.

Conclusion – The authors conclude that while most academics in the United Kingdom participate in use of social media for work-related purposes, the results show that usage is not as frequent as expected. Creation of these tools is even less frequent, although the survey did show that academics who consume traditional scholarly resources tend to also consume social media more frequently. The use of social media is also not replacing traditional scholarly resources, but instead they are used alongside as part of the vast amount of information sources available to scholars. Publishers and others who are tasked with creation of scholarly content should consider the addition of social media tools into products. The article also implies that when academics can easily access both traditional and social media tools and use them in conjunction, the use of social media tools in academia will grow.


social media; scholarly reading; information retrieval

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