Does usage of electronic resources by researchers plateau?

Several years ago I was discussing usage statistics with Ann Snoyenbos from ProjectMUSE during a break in a conference. We concluded that there would very likely come a point when usage (as measured by full text downloads) would plateau and we would no longer see increases in the number of documents being opened from any specific electronic resource.  Would that reflect a situation where all researchers in the institution are fully aware of the resource and are using it in the most effective way to support their research?

A recent discussion on LibLicense-L Discussion Forum has brought this up again.  Bryan Skib has commented “For reading, there would have to be leveling off unless campus enrolments and staffing increase. How much can one person consume in this manner? Expansion of access to alumni or the general public would of course change the demographics.”

In her presentation at UKSG this year, Carol Tenopir gave some figures from recent research.  Her conclusion was that academics read a lot — on average 22 articles, 7 books and 10 other documents per month.  Not surprisingly with this figure, they spend a lot of time on academic and research reading — averaging 49 minutes per article, 47 minutes per other document and 1 hour and 46 minutes per book.  So, over the course of a year they would have spent 448 hours (or about 56 working days) reading.  The library is the source of the majority of these reading materials and successful academics (those receiving awards and publishing papers) read more than their less successful colleagues.

Which brings me back to the discussion on LibLicense, where Laval Hunsucker says “It’s the old story that we still have, after all this time, precious little practical knowledge of what those parties actually do with what we provide them — print or electronic — and, more in particular, of how they do it.”  As such, while I think we should not panic if our usage plateaus, we need to be careful not to be complacent if it does — there is still plenty to be done to support researchers.

Anne Powell
Anne Powell is Programme Specialist, Convening at INASP.

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