Conference attendee Access Lab 2022

OpenAthens publishes findings from global research into resource discovery

13 February 2023 • Michael Smith, marketing officer

We’ve just published the findings from a critical study into the challenges students and researchers face when they search for resources online. We hope the report and its recommendations will give librarians, publishers, network providers, utility companies and national governments impetus to work together to support the resource discovery journey better.

Report background

We commissioned consultancy firm Digirati to carry out a qualitative study for us, talking to academic library users around the world for insights to help us develop our 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 we followed up with quantitative research among respondents in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Oceania using Jisc’s online surveys platform. 

Emerging themes

Our 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 organizing their work and citing their sources. Our report reveals great examples of effective library support but also that, among our 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, we also found significant, common obstacles with resource discovery that will require collaborative action and investment at national and international levels. They include frequent power and internet outages and inequalities of opportunity, with some students and researchers struggling to work with unsuitable or unreliable devices. 

Final comments

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.

Jon Bentley, commercial director, OpenAthens

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.

Dan Mayers, head of product development, OpenAthens
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