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Research librarians work hard to do right by their users, setting up the right tools and systems to make it as quick and easy as possible for researchers to find and access the scholarly literature they need.  But the truth is, many researchers don’t take full advantage of the library’s systems—and instead create their own individualized workflows.

The question is, what can librarians do to help guide their users down the "right" literature acquisition path? 

At Research Solutions, we conducted an informal, small-sample survey to try to answer that question. Our objective was to identify areas where users tend to go "off course" in their workflows—and what factors drive them to do so.

Here are a few telling statements from study participants:

“I cannot find a website which consistently has the exact articles I want available for purchase.”

“Usually I try to find the article in a downloadable PDF form first, and then log in with my institution afterwards.”

“If I see a ‘download full text PDF’ button, I’m sold!”

Here are three key lessons we learned: 

  • Familiarity is important. Users confer “trust” on sites that have worked well for them in the past. This creates an advantage for aggregators and a challenge for publishers and libraries.
  • Users are often impatient. Even though they don’t want to pay for articles, most users typically won’t do an in-depth search to find a free version.
  • Logins are unpopular. The main complaint is that authentication takes up extra time, with too many clicks and confusing processes.

Perhaps the most valuable takeaway of our study is that it's critical to offer users flexibility in how they find and obtain literature within your library's system. Not only do researchers have differing workflow preferences, but each individual's needs can fluctuate depending on the project they are working on. In some scenarios, for example, cost might be the researcher’s highest priority—and getting their top choice paper becomes less critical. In other instances, speed might be most important, in which case the researcher might side-step the library's system because getting the full-text paper requires extra steps or complexities (e.g. authentication). 

Want more details about the study? Read this article from Against the Grain to find out how we ran the study, who participated, and more details on the lessons we learned.


Topics: library researchers workflow scholarly literature librarians literature acquisition