An international survey of librarians' preferences
Chris Beckett and Simon Inger, Scholarly Information Strategies Ltd, November 2006
This major study of librarian purchasing preferences demonstrates that librarians will show a strong inclination towards the acquisition of Open Access (OA) materials as they discover that more and more learned material has become available in institutional repositories.
The study took the form of conjoint and attitudinal surveys, and shows that librarians are very sensitive to quality, content cost, the version of the content and how immediately the content is made available.
Overall the survey shows that a significant number of librarians are likely to substitute OA materials for subscribed resources, given certain levels of reliability, peer review and currency of the information available. This last factor is critical – OA resources become much less favoured if they are embargoed for a significant length of time.
One of the key benefits of the conjoint analysis approach used in this survey was the removal of bias by not referring, when testing different product configurations, to any named incarnations of content types, including subscription journals, licensed full-text (or aggregated) databases1, or articles on OA repositories. The survey tested librarians’ preferences for a series of hypothetical and unnamed products frequently showing unfamiliar combinations of attributes – such as a fully priced journal embargoed for 24 months, or content at 25% of the price but through an unreliable service. By taking this approach, the survey measured librarians’ preferences for an abstract set of potential products thus avoiding any pre-conceived preferences for named products, such as journals, licensed fulltext (aggregated) databases or content on OA repositories.
The data were abstracted into a ‘Share of Preference’ model (or simulator) which has then been used to model real-life products and thus create predictions for librarians’ real-life preferences for these products. It is therefore possible to go beyond the comparisons, in this work, of journals versus OA and to model other preferences, such as between OA and licensed full-text databases.
The key attributes identified in this study, apart for the universal requirement for content quality, were what version of the content (author’s preprint etc) is made available and how up-to-date content is (the embargo period) . Specifically:
- There is a strong preference for content that has undergone peer review. Preference is greatly affected by whether or not an article has undergone the refereeing process; authors’ unrefereed original manuscripts were seen as a poor substitute for any postrefereed version of an article. Librarians showed an insignificant shift in preference between any version of an article once it had been refereed, irrespective of the inclusion of editorial changes such as copy editing.
- How soon content is made available is a key determinant of content model preference in librarian’s acquisition behaviour; delay in availability reduces the attractiveness of a product offering. The survey tested the effect of embargoes on OA and licensed database content set at 6, 12 and 24 months; a significant impact on librarians’ preference for OA, and licensed database, content was seen when embargoes were set to 12 and 24 month. A 6-month embargo has little impact.
- Lastly and perhaps unsurprisingly librarians show a strong preference for content that is made freely available, all other factors being equal. Even as librarians were asked to trade off price considerations against other factors such as the version of the content and the immediacy of its availability, there remained a significant pull towards free content or content whose cost had been greatly reduced.