Last week I was sitting on the train, on route to a rather dull meeting in London, and wading through a brief case full of glossy reports and papers that had been accumulating in the in tray for several weeks. Not the sort of reading that usually has the pulse racing or the pages turning. I could at this point make reference to the latest Charles Cumming spy thriller but I will refrain and finish this piece so I can catch a few pages later. Any way in the stack of reading was a report published earlier in the year by the Research Information Network on the use, value and impact of e-journals (www.rin.ac.uk). Apart from a very colourful cover the report did not look that great but in fact was really fantastic, and I mean really fantastic, making an excellent link between investment in e-journals, usage and research bidding success.
As I think I have reported before I have fond memories of the basement stacks of Queen Mary where as an undergraduate I used to spend my days lost in the shelves of geology journals. A few years later I can still remember how as a new academic one would wait for the post every day and the return from review of a cherished manuscripts and the all-important editor’s letter with the verdict; all now things of the past with electronic submission and on-line publishing. The journal names remain the same but I can’t remember the last time I actually set foot in the library in search of a paper yet my weekly reading list grows longer constantly as electronic alerts draw my attention to the productivity of my colleagues. However nostalgic I may feel about paper copy it is a thing of the past as almost all journals these days are provided as e-journals.
As a University we invest substantially each year in maintaining access rights to a huge portfolio of journals and our collective reading habits have changedas access has increased and the sheer volume of material to be read has grown. These changes are all elegantly document in the report by the Research Information Network, but the bit that piqued my interest most was a statistical model which explored the link between investment in e-journals, journal usage (reading) and research success as measured by the number of research bids won. The model clearly demonstrated a link between expenditure, e-journal use and research success and also a positive feedback loop between research success and e-journal usage. Basically the more a university invests in the provision of academic literature for its staff and students the more they read. The more they read the more successful they are which in turn leads to more reading. This is really elegant if rather self-evident but is something that we need to think hard about as a university especially as we bring forward our new research strategy this autumn. E-journals are alreadya priority area for expenditure,but is there value in further investment? The Research Information Network report suggests that there might be.
Now let’s get serious here, I am not as naive as to believe that we can enhance our research success by simply pouring more money into the library, but BU’s researchers – staff and students – have a right to state of the art tools to do their jobs and we are committed as part our new Vision and Values to providing world class facilities. So further investment in our e-journals portfolio may be very much in order! I would welcome your views? You can find a copy of the report on the Research Information Network here.