OpenAthens publishes global library user experience research

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OpenAthens just published the findings from an important study into the challenges students and researchers face when they search for resources online. The hope is that this report and its recommendations will give librarians, publishers, network providers, utility companies and national governments impetus to work together to support the research journey better.

OpenAthens commissioned consultancy firm Digirati to carry out a qualitative study, talking to academic library users around the world for insights to help develop services. They explained their difficulties and described how they get around them. And crucially, they said what it means for their work when they can’t do this satisfactorily.

Several themes emerged. To find out more OpenAthens followed up with quantitative research among respondents in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania using Jisc’s online surveys platform.

The completed study shows that, for students and researchers, digital is their preferred choice for resource discovery. Many rarely or never visit their library in person. But they clearly need library support because they often have problems finding resources, accessing them and assessing their reliability.

Frequently, they also need help with organising their work and citing their sources. This report reveals great examples of effective library support but also that, among the respondents:

  • 39% are unsure how to do effective research
  • 33% are sometimes uncertain of the quality or impact factor of the content they’ve found
  • 31% don’t have access to all the content they need
  • 30% aren’t aware of new relevant papers or research

Concerningly, significant, common obstacles that will require collaborative action and investment at national and international levels were also found. They include frequent power and internet outages as well as inequalities of opportunity, with some students and researchers struggling to work with unsuitable or unreliable devices.

Jon Bentley, commercial director at OpenAthens commented: “We’re grateful to all the students and researchers who shared their aspirations and frustrations with us for the library user experience study. The stories of the student sitting talking to us during a power cut, and the researcher who belatedly found their research project had already been done by someone else, will stay with me for a long time. From problems with clunky library portals and unaffordable journal subscriptions to inadequate utilities there is much more work to do to enable students and researchers to do their best work.”

Dan Mayers, head of product development at OpenAthens added: “This report highlights the complex, fragmented global landscape for access to research. It means access to knowledge for learners and researchers across the world is often unevenly distributed. We hope the insights presented here will seed new initiatives and collaborations across the international research community. Removing barriers to knowledge will allow learners and researchers to deliver world-class work, wherever they’re from.”

Download the Library user experience report to discover more about these research findings and key recommendations.