Eliminating barriers to accessibility

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Jake Smallridge

More focus needs to be placed on user experience in the field of research, writes Jake Smallridge

Academia and research are critical foundations of our societies, economies and political structures.

Research is vital to so many areas of our lives. It can include many fields and areas of focus from medical researchers uncovering innovative cancer treatments and working towards creating Covid-19 vaccinations to university educators empowering the next generation of experts in their field. The continual progression of humanity is heavily reliant on the work of academics and researchers around the world.

Thankfully, it is a buoyant field. According to a 2021 report from Unesco, global expenditure on research and development activities increased 19 per cent between 2014 and 2018. The number of scientists in work grew by 13.7 per cent to 8.8 million.

Unfortunately, however, in many industries and global markets, researchers face several key challenges. The focus is rightly on producing an impeccable piece of research, but if it is difficult for students, scientists and researchers to see it, then the potential impact and impression of the work is instantly limited.

Stronger focus on UX

For this reason, more focus needs to be placed on user experience (UX) in the field of research – to overcome these barriers and enhance access to key content for researchers.

Unfortunately, finding reliable research materials and information online is currently a time-consuming and frustrating process. Our recent qualitative and quantitative research about learners and researchers accessing electronic resources around the world showed that the discoverability of reliable and relevant resources is a key challenge. 

Researchers will have a clear idea of the information they are seeking. However, reaching such resources can be hit and miss. Between searching for specific terms that fail to uncover any helpful results and broad themes in a hopeful attempt to navigate to a useful source, it’s a process that often yields unsatisfactory results or restrictions in the form of paywalls and logins – barriers to access.

Instead of being able to focus on their work freely and easily, researchers are often forced into a seemingly endless game of cat and mouse to access critical materials. This leads many to abandon all attempts at the first sign of difficulty.

Improving the research process

Indeed, research from Elsevier and Customer Insights reveals that researchers will spend more than four hours searching for research articles a week and more than five hours reading them. However, of the five or six articles they read per week, only half are considered useful.

In other words, of the nine hours spent finding and reading through materials, researchers are only finding value in 2.5 of those hours. The global impact of researchers wasting almost three-quarters of their research time therefore adds up to millions of wasted hours each year.  

So, what is the solution? Here, library portals paired with single sign-on (SSO), such as MyAthens Plus, can enhance efficiency in research efforts dramatically. Such platforms can provide seamless access to a broad variety of content, without the need to navigate a multitude of different restrictions and paywalls.

They serve as a single starting point for research and offer access to all available resources in one central hub, dramatically enhancing the user experience.

Ease of access

One of the most substantial barriers users face is the struggle to remember multiple logins and passwords. We are constantly advised that no two sets of login credentials should be the same for security purposes – yet remembering these for a variety of different content platforms can add unwanted complexity.

With certain SSO platforms, these difficulties are eliminated. Instead, users only need their university/library credentials to log in to see all the resources that their library subscribes to.

In the modern-day, a one-size-fits-all platform does not provide an adequate user experience. Indeed, no two researchers are the same – they are studying different subjects, in diverse ways, with a variety of preferences. Users must be able to receive a personalised experience. 

Some SSO platforms such as MyAthens Plus can offer a library information portal tailored to specific needs. Bespoke buttons, messages and widgets can facilitate an intuitive user experience for a wide spectrum of audiences.

After partnering with CORE, MyAthens Plus improved discovery of open access resources to learners and researchers, providing them with an easier way to find free and reliable resources without the constraints of subscriptions.

The impact of Covid-19

While the days of researchers being forced to sift through a series of physical library books and journals are long gone, challenges still remain in the way of researcher success.

The pandemic showed the importance of being able to access resources anytime, anywhere. Platforms that can meet the needs of an increasingly mobile student and researcher population need to leverage the latest in cloud technology to ensure top performance. 

Not only does this ensure that libraries can be accessed at workstations but they can also be looked at on laptops in remote working locations or on the go via mobile devices.

The future for research

With the right single sign-on platform – one that supports researcher mobility, offers customisation capabilities and is simple and easy to use – access barriers can be broken down, eliminating the critical pain points that are preventing our scientists and academics from conducting truly vital research. 

Do you want to know more about OpenAthens’ library user experience research?  Register at https://www.openathens.net/report-launch/ to get notified when the report is published.   

Jake Smallridge is senior product manager at OpenAthens