Early Career Researchers Demand Full-text and Rely on Google to Find Scholarly Sources
AbstractA Review of:
Nicholas, D., Boukacem-Zeghmouri, C., Rodríguez-Bravo, B., Xu, J., Watkinson, A., Abrizah, A., Herman, E., & Świgoń, M. (2017). Where and how early career researchers find scholarly information. Learned Publishing, 30(1), 19-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/leap.1087
Objective – To examine the attitudes and information behaviours of early career researchers (ECRs) when locating scholarly information.
Design – Qualitative longitudinal study.
Setting – Research participants from the United Kingdom, United States of America, China, France, Malaysia, Poland, and Spain.
Subjects – A total 116 participants from various disciplines, aged 35 and younger, who were holding or had previously held a research position, but not in a tenured position. All participants held a doctorate or were in the process of earning one.
Methods – Using structured interviews of 60-90 minutes, researchers asked 60 questions of each participant via face-to-face, Skype, or telephone interviews. The interview format and questions were formed via focus groups.
Main Results – As part of a longitudinal project, results reported are limited to the first year of the study, and focused on three primary questions identified by the authors: where do ECRs find scholarly information, whether they use their smartphones to locate and read scholarly information, and what social media do they use to find scholarly information. Researchers describe how ECRs themselves interpreted the phrase scholarly information to primarily mean journal articles, while the researchers themselves had a much expanded definition to include professional and “scholarly contacts, ideas, and data” (p. 22).
This research shows that Google and Google Scholar are widely used by ECRs for locating scholarly information regardless of discipline, language, or geography. Their analysis by country points to currency and the combined breadth-and-depth search experience that Google provides as prime reasons for the popularity of Google and Google Scholar. Of particular interest is the popularity and use of Google Scholar in China, where it is officially blocked but accessed by ECRs via proxy services. Other general indexes, such as Web of Science and Scopus, are also popular but not universally used by ECRs, and regional differences again point to pros and cons of these services. Some specialized services are emphasized, including regional tools such as the China National Knowledge Infrastructure, as well as certain broad disciplinary resources, such as PubMed for its coverage of sciences and biomedical information.
Researchers report that ECRs participating in this study were less concerned about how they gained access to full-text scholarly information, only that they could access full-text sources. In particular, ECRs do not take much notice of libraries and their platforms, seemingly unaware of the steps libraries take to acquire and ensure access to scholarly information, while viewing physical libraries themselves primarily as study spaces for undergraduate students and not places for the ECR to visit or work. While ECRs occasionally acknowledge library portals and login interfaces, researchers found that these participants mostly ignored these, and that they found discovery services to be confusing or difficult.
Concerning social media use, participants identified 11 different platforms used but only ResearchGate was mentioned and used by participants from all seven countries represented. Social media tends to be used directly for keeping track of research trends and opinions and also the work specific researchers are publishing, and indirectly when referred to sites such as ResearchGate to find full-text of a specific article. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are used occasionally or moderately, but not universally. Researchers highlight regional differences of social media use in China, where ECRs are more likely to connect with other researchers and receive notifications when those researchers publish.
The study reports limited information ECRs’ use of smartphones for information seeking. About half of ECR participants reported use of their smartphone for discovering scholarly sources. The advantage smartphones provide includes near-ubiquitous Internet access and therefore the ability to access scholarly materials on the go, though ECRs are less likely to download or read full-text articles via their smartphones. The rate of adoption of smartphone use for scholarly materials varies by country.
Conclusion – Early career researchers access scholarly information in a wide variety of ways, with Google and Google Scholar as the preferred starting location, and with social media also proving useful. Ease-of-use and full-text availability are paramount concerns; the spread of open access materials helps fuel the availability of materials, and Google makes these easy to find. Though physical libraries are perceived to be of limited use, the digital access they provide to full-text scholarly sources is still vital even if ECRs do not make the connection between having that important access and the fact that libraries act as buyers and providers of access
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