Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner recently released their report:  “How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Journals”, the output of an extensive survey of 19,000 journal readers. This report updates their research from 2005 and 2008 and digs into user behaviour trends across the full 2005-2012 period, covering a broader range of subject areas and regions than previously.

The research focuses on three main forms of reader behaviour with respect to journals; citation searching, core journal browsing, and subject searching; and the questions cover the myriad of ways a reader may go about any of these activities.

Unsurprisingly, the report points to the fact that readers have, over time, become savvier in their information consumption habits. However, the range and size of digital scholarship continues to grow, as do the options and tools for content discovery (such as web based library discovery services such as Summon and Primo, as well as tools such as Mendeley and ResearchGate) and the research provides valuable insight into the relative importance and use of the various navigational options by geography, subject and job role, underlining the need for publishers to keep a range of navigational options open for their readers. Visibility via library technology is key to maximising usage as well as the more obvious routes such as search engines and A&I databases. The research also raises interesting questions about product development choices for multidisciplinary versus more specialist publishers based on differing behaviour patterns across disciplines.

So in this context, how well do any of us know our readers? Usage and analytics provide us with a wealth of valuable information that can be used to inform product development choices but when variations in behaviour across geographic region, discipline and job role emerge and evolve standard usage and business analytics often aren’t granular enough to understand and reveal subtle changes and trends in reader behaviour.

Here’s a flavour of some of the specific trends covered in the report:

  • The most highly sought after feature of journal websites in this context are still ToC alerts and search BUT not uniformly from region to region, subject to subject or from job-role to job-role.

  • Publishers’ websites have become more important for looking at the latest articles in core journals over time.

  • The journal homepage has also grown in popularity for discovering the latest articles, searching and looking up citations.

  • A&I Databases continue to be the most important starting point for many subject areas and increasingly used for following up a known citation.

  • Library web pages have grown significantly in popularity, underlining the importance of visibility of content via library web discovery services.

  • General search engines have seen a slight downward trend but this is attributed to the introduction of academic search engines (such as Google Scholar) as a category within the survey.

  • Searching within journal aggregations, publisher sites and journal homepages is significant – the latter of which has seen a significant change since 2005, possibly indicating that readers are becoming more familiar with publisher and journal brands.

  • Geographic differences emerged between North American, Europe and Asia when asked how they discovered the last article they read. Asian readers are much more likely to be searching for articles than anything else and much more likely to be doing so than their North American and European counterparts.

  • Many of the advanced features that users require seem to be migrating to their chosen discovery platform.

  • Social networking links, journal bookmarks and saved search alerts are not used frequently.

You can read the free summary version of the report, including details on the methodology, participants and high level findingshere.  The full report is also available to download and provides the results for all respondents to the 2012 survey showing demographic breakdowns by region, income bracket, subject area, job role and sector. (Raw survey data is also available.)

Ingenta was delighted to take part in the research, promoting the survey to the ingentaconnect user base.  We are already analysing the data to determine what impact these findings should have on product development choices for our own online platforms.