American professors using information: the latest Ithaka S+R survey results

research, by Quinn DombrowskuiHow do professors use information in their research?  Ithaka S+R has been researching this question since 2000, and just released their most recent work.  It’s a survey of American faculty work habits conducted in 2015, and it is very illuminating for anyone reflecting on higher ed and information, from librarians to technologists to academic deans, and, of course, for faculty members.  I especially admire how the results are broken down by academic fields.

The results are very detailed, nuanced, and not easily summarized, so I’ll note some highlights here.  You should just read the whole thing, or start with the Ithaka S+R blog post introduction.

Research strategies are all over the map Scholars start researching from a variety of locations, and carry on in many different ways.  There isn’t a single popular workflow or information path.

For example,

Research starting points

E-journals are fine, but print monographs for life While the majority of professors are happy to use journal articles in digital forms, they tend to prefer monographs in print.  e-books aren’t getting much traction.  Similarly, not even 20% saw e-books replacing print in their libraries.

Nearly three-quarters of faculty members overall strongly agreed that if their library cancelled the current issues of a print version of a journal but continued to make them available electronically, it would be fine with them.

In contrast,

Faculty preferences for digital and print monographs

Journals also rule the roost for publication, across the disciplines.  Asked where they’ve published “often or occasionally” over the past five years, professors responded:

faculty preferences for publication venue

On first glance this seems like a preference for print over digital.  But we should expect the majority of article reading to be done electronically, along with some of the conference proceedings and selections from edited volumes, so the digital migration seems to be continuing.

Faculty acting on their own The survey found that faculty overwhelmingly prefer to manage their research data themselves, using their own devices, both figuratively and literally.  Very very few rely on campus support for this:

Faculty research material management approaches

A hankering for help teaching information literacy Most faculty report concerns that their students aren’t sufficiently skilled at finding and vetting information.  They seem to want the library to help.

There have been substantial increases across the disciplines, especially for humanists and scientists, for the latter statement [that librarians help improve students’ research skills] since the 2012 Faculty Survey.

Faculty perceptions of student information literacy

Overall view of the library Faculty members continue to value their libraries most highly as… buyers and licensers.  The next best thing libraries do is help students, it seems:

faculty perceptions of libraries

Summing up: American faculty are in the midst of the digital revolution.  They are migrating to different aspects of the new world at different rates.  Research is now a complex, messy business.  The library plays an important role in buying access to material and helping students conduct their own research.

What have you found from this solid study?

(photo by Quinn Dombrowski)

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One Response to American professors using information: the latest Ithaka S+R survey results

  1. Pingback: The future of libraries and faculty attitudes towards information: Deanna Marcum returns to the Future Trends Forum | Bryan Alexander

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