Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Article Note: On Electronic Journal Use and Acceptance

Citation for the article:

Serotkin, Patricia B., Patricia I. Fitzgerald, and Sandra Balough. "If We Build It, Will They Come? Electronic Journals Acceptance and Usage Patterns." portal: Libraries and the Academy 5.4 (2005): 497-512.

Part of the reason I read this article is that my library is moving with a philosophy of putting as many resources as possible online. Regardless of the pros and cons, we do face an extremely serious space issue, which I am not addressing here. It does help to propel the philosophy forward. In addition, more and more students are coming with requests for articles that can be found "online." This of course means items they can just print out on their computer and are not "stuff from Google." The expectation of finding more articles full-text is pretty much a given, at least in my experience. So, as I start to read this, I wonder if the article will validate some of my experiences or not. After reading the article, I find that it does validate some of my experiences. I was also pleased that it calls for an active role for user education.

The article begins with the literature review. The authors identify three major issues in the scholarly literature: "user acceptance or preference, confidence in the stability and accessibility of the e-journal format, and the role of user education in influencing selection of electronic resources" (498).

Under the discussion of user acceptance issues, the authors cite three obstacles the students face when they try to use e-books or e-journals. They have problems with authentication and passwords when trying to use them from off-campus. Second, they have problems navigating the library's website in order to use the items. Third, cost of printing materials is an issue. This third one refers to printing charges students may face on campuses. At the moment, we do not charge for printing in the library, but the students do have as quota of printing on campus computer labs. To be honest, I am not sure how long we will keep printing free given costs. At my library, the issue of distance access is present. We constantly get phone calls and e-mails from people having problems with accessing due to the need to authenticate. Sometimes this is due to a firewall, other times it may be some other technical reason. Whatever the reason, students simply don't care. They want their access to the articles in an easy way. If they need to sign in, that is fine for them, but that is about as far as the patience goes. If you add being on a database and having to use a resolver like TDNet, which can be confusing, the frustration can rise to ire. This I can see as a solid reason for e-journals and e-books not having as much popularity as they could be. From students who succeed in using the resources off-campus, the ones that give me feedback are usually very pleased. However, it is the displeased ones who tend to be more vocal. This is an area where vendors and technical people need to do further work. Other reported obstacles that the authors cited included lack of time and not enough training on how to find and use the information. Overall, the literature shows that undergraduates expect to use more electronic resources than graduate students and faculty, who still rely strongly on print.

The authors also cite a study by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb conducted at the University of Toronto in 2002. The study was looking at how undergraduates use print resources for assignments in spite of electronic resources being available. Regarding that study, the article authors observe that "interestingly, 74.5 percent of the subjects in this study said they would prefer an 'exact' print journal to a 'good enough' online journal" (499). In reading that line, I wonder how much of it has to do with professors who tell their students that they will not accept "anything from the web; that only print is acceptable." Academic librarians hear this on a regular basis from students doing their research. Often, it means the professor does not want the students going to Google or Yahoo! However, the students take it to mean anything coming from a computer. In a fair number of cases too, it reflects a lack of education and knowledge on the part of faculty who fail to distinguish or realize the value and significance of e-journals and other electronic resources. True, some electronic versions are not the same as the print. Results from Lexis-Nexis Academic are an excellent example where there are no charts or graphs. On the other hand, many databases provide full-text in PDF, which are as good as getting the item from the shelf. In some cases, only the electronic may be available. I will point out that as long as these details are an issue, I will never be out of a job. Someone has to teach about this.

Further in the literature review, the article also mentions some reasons why print may be preferred. One of these reasons is the computer itself. Reading on a screen for long periods of time can cause eye-strain. As a result, many users prefer to print out an article. I know I am one of these. If I want to have an article and read it later, I will print it out. Also, printing it out means I can make notes on the margins, highlight passages, and take it with me if I need to. Portability and comfort are factors.

The study the authors conducted took place at Saint Francis University, a coed Masters I comprehensive university. It is a Catholic institution. The study was designed to find out if students will use electronic journals that do not have a print version, what kind of access do they prefer, and what can encourage them to use them. (503). It included a sample of 71 students in health sciences. They also used statistics on usage from Ovid, and the students were placed in focus groups. It has to be noted that the access was provided through WebCT as part of a grant, so the journals provided were pretty much bought for the study itself. This was also so they could isolate the journal users as much as possible. However, this meant that students could not go through the library's Web page to get the journals. They had to use the WebCT tool, which became an issue for some of the students. These students stated "that unless someone 'reminded' them, they simply forgot that the journals were available. They would have preferred accessing the new journals through the library's Web portal as they did other electronic resources, finding it confusing to learn a different access method for these resources" (506-507). This seems like something to consider for distance education classes and other classes that use course management systems.

Some of the findings are:

  • "With regard to issues of user acceptance and preference, one of the themes that emerged from the focus group discussions was that the student participants in this study preferred electronic full-text journals to print because it is faster and easier for them to get the information. Students said they also preferred using e-journals because they are not charged for printing in pubolic computer labs, whereas they stated that paying to photocopy print journals is a deterrent to their use" (506).
  • "With regard to the issue of user education, this study found that students believed that in order to feel capable of using the new e-journals (as well as other resources) effectively on their own, they wanted an introduction to the new resources followed by additional training and printed instructions that could serve as 'research guides'" (507).
  • "Clearly, one implication of these findings is that academic libraries are challenged to achieve an appropriate balance of print and electronic collections that meets their constituents' needs" (508). I am sure a good share of librarians who read this will think that is fairly basic.
  • In their conclusion, the authors write that the study "supports the notion that programs that build upon basic skills and that utilize collaboration with faculty in the development of information literacy skills across academic disciplines are both needed and wanted by students" (510). In other words, this is a good piece of evidence for the role that libraries play on their campuses. The next time someone says that libraries should have a minimal or no role on their campuses when it comes to the education of the students, readers can point to this article.
The article is a good example of an academic article. It makes some good points, and I am sure it confirms the experiences of many academic librarians. It is worth looking over.

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