EPIC Initiative at Columbia (EPIC) Online Use and Costs Evaluation Program: Final Report
September, 2004


This report presents qualitative findings from interviews conducted as part of the EPIC Online Use and Costs Evaluation Project, a three-year EPIC project funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Introduction and Background

In the process of developing online scholarly resources, we know intuitively that we are creating new ways for our users to do their work, and that there are certain patterns emerging concerning the use of traditional library resources and online information. We have more access to the user in this new environment, and we know that with the proper tools, we have the potential to learn a great deal about users' needs and preferences, as well as the costs, and possible savings involved in meeting these needs. While the online publishing projects developed at Columbia and elsewhere have yielded interesting information concerning the process of creating these resources, few have examined the impact of electronic resources on the scholarly communication process itself. The goal of our evaluation program was to answer important questions concerning the use and value of scholarly digital resources and to gain an understanding of how electronic resources are affecting the various stakeholders in the scholarly communication process. In particular, we were interested in gathering and analyzing information from academic libraries, publishers of scholarly electronic resources, information technology departments, faculty, and students. Further, we were interested in examining the impact of electronic resources both in a general sense (i.e. how electronic resources in general are affecting scholarly communication), but we were also interested in viewing these questions through the lens of specific EPIC projects, namely CIAO and Earthscape. Because we were looking at these issues through the lens of specific projects, we were largely approaching this project from a disciplinary standpoint (i.e. International Affairs and Earth/Environmental Sciences.) Faculty who participated in this project were scholars in the fields of International Affairs or Earth/Environmental Sciences, and students were in the fields of Political Science, International Affairs, or Earth/Environmental Sciences.

Below are the questions we explored with the various stakeholders in scholarly communication:

Academic Libraries. We were interested in understanding how the shift to electronic resources is affecting the use of print materials and the use of the physical library. For example, does the electronic publication replace or supplement print materials purchased? Is there a pattern of greater access to digital resources resulting in fewer physical visits to the library? Do electronic resources provide materials to users that the library would not otherwise supply, or are they substituting for some other information or means of access? Further, we were interested in learning how the shift to electronic resources is affecting the role of the librarian, and what the benefits and disadvantages to the library are as a result of the availability of electronic resources--do electronic resources result in savings of time, money, space, or staff? Regarding EPIC products, we would like to learn how libraries view CIAO and Earthscape as affecting their collections, and in what ways they contribute or add value to the collection.

Publisher/Content Provider Costs. We were interested in learning how the shift from print resources to electronic resources affects the costs throughout the life cycle of the publication process. We were also interested in the financial and organizational implications involved in developing digital publishing programs within publishing, library, and university infrastructure.

Information Technology Departments. We were interested in learning what the various demands are that are being put on Information Technology departments to support electronic resources, and institutions' positions toward providing the infrastructure necessary to support electronic resources.

Faculty and Students. We were interested in learning how the use of electronic resources affects faculty and students' work habits (e.g., are they making more/fewer trips to the library, purchasing more/fewer books, attending more/fewer conferences, or working more/less productively because of their access to electronic resources?), and the perceived benefits and disadvantages of using electronic resources. Concerning the use of EPIC products, we are interested in learning how faculty and students are utilizing CIAO and Earthscape, who an average user is, for what purpose users access the product, and whether the product supplements or replaces other research and teaching materials.

To examine the above issues, the project utilized both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. Qualitative methods such as interviews and focus groups allowed us to gain an in-depth perspective of the important issues for the various stakeholders, their opinions about these issues, and how these issues are affecting them. Findings from the interviews and focus groups were then used to inform the design process for larger scale surveys. Using the information gathered in qualitative sessions, we designed questionnaires that asked research respondents questions that were the most pertinent to them, and that provided answer choices that were the most appropriate. Quantitative research was necessary in addition to qualitative research because it allowed us to take the information learned in interviews and focus groups and examine the magnitude of the issues discussed, and allowed us to generalize to the larger population of interest. The following report is based on findings from the focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and surveys of the various stakeholders in the scholarly communication process. For the purposes of this project, electronic resources were defined as anything online, such as email, listserves, library resources, websites, etc. It is not referring to CD-ROMs, audio tapes, or video tapes.

Providers of Content—Publishers 1

Over the past several years, scholarly publishers have turned to electronic media as an outlet for publishing in an environment where print publishing costs have skyrocketed, and revenues from sales have declined. With this shift from print-only publishing to print and electronic publishing, or electronic-only publishing, it is important to understand how publishing houses are being affected in terms of organizational structure, incurred costs, changes in business models, revenues, user expectations, and the new models for product development that are possible in the electronic environment. The following quote describes some of the issues that publishers now encounter with the publishing of electronic resources.

"We put that on-line, and then you started learning about all the different benefits and trapping of on-line products in that if you're selling it as a subscription you've got to keep adding content. And if you're going to do that, how do you do it? How do you maintain it? How do you host it? What are the access control issues?...If you are having someone subscribe to your product, then you have to continue to offer something. If you're getting paid an annuity, you have to offer an annuity in services. And that is updating, updating, updating...." Scholarly publisher

Organizational structure

As publishers incorporate electronic publishing into their organizations, shifts in organizational structure have taken place, along with some changes in staff and skills needed. Most publishers interviewed have integrated the publishing process of print and electronic resources. This means that in most cases, the editorial and production staff that work on the print resources also work on the electronic resources. In fact, many publishers have switched or are planning to switch over to using Extensible Mark-up Language (XML). Once text has been converted to XML, it stays in XML all the way through the production process. At the end of the production process, the XML can be output to a print engine that creates PDF files for print resources and/or the XML can be converted into HTML for an electronic resource. This means the process is more streamlined and there is less duplicated work in preparing a resource for both print and electronic publication. Many companies have also switched over to an approach where job responsibilities are more integrated rather than distinct.

Changes in Skills and Staff Needed

Overall, new skills needed for electronic publishing include expertise in editing and production software (such as FrameMaker, HTML, SGML, XML), knowledge of networks and servers, databases, and search engine software, and an understanding of license agreements and selling to library consortia. Most publishers interviewed train existing editorial and production staff either formally or informally in the new skills needed with electronic publishing, rather than hiring new staff. Often it is a matter of one person who has a particular interest in learning a new area who trains him or herself and then comes back and trains the others. The area where new staff was most likely to be hired is sales staff. IT and customer support staff were also hired if this function was not being outsourced.

Editing staff. The editorial function is largely the same for electronic as for print in terms of commissioning and selecting content. There has been a shift to copyediting online, and editors now need to know how to use programs such as FrameMaker that can easily be coded for electronic publication.

Production staff. Production staff need to know the mark-up language that is being used, such as HTML, SGML, or XML, and web-graphics software.

Web Designers. Designers need to think differently for online publications than for print because the space in which the content is displayed is different, and user expectations for electronic resources are different. As one publisher described:

Marketing and sales staff. Most publishers interviewed hired marketing and sales staff to sell their electronic subscriptions, rather than relying on subscription agents as is often done with print resources. This is due to the need for a sales force that understands both the content and functionality of electronic resources and the issues surrounding their use. Marketing and selling electronic products is different than with print products because you are now dealing with licenses rather than selling a physical object. Further, there is a need for strong negotiation skills when dealing with consortia and establishing license terms and billing agreements.

"It's a different level of sales person as well....they have to be astute and articulate business people who can work through very complicated issues. We're talking about contracts that run anywhere often from a million to 5,6,7 million dollars on big consortiums, and people want to have assurances with respect to archiving and who has access and in which area and what happens if something ceases ...you can easily be negotiating on 10 or 12 different parameters at one time. And some of them have pretty complicated legal sides to them as well." Commercial publisher

Outsourcing. As with print publishing, many parts of the electronic publishing process are often outsourced. Many publishers outsource copyediting, web design, composition, and user support. Some publishers have internal IT groups that put the content on the company's own platform, while others outsource this by using outside technology vendors.

Business models

Business models are typically different for electronic publications than they are for print. This is due to the nature of electronic publications, where a publisher is selling the right to access content, rather than selling a tangible product that becomes the buyer's property to keep forever. The most typical model for selling an electronic product is a license agreement where a publisher grants access to a product in exchange for an annual subscription fee. Within this framework, terms of the agreement vary. For example, some publishers may offer deep discounts if a subscribing institution purchases all of their offerings rather than just a few. Publishers also often have several options of 'bundled' products where an institution can purchase the combination of products that best meet their needs. Other agreements allow for institutions to download a certain number of articles for a set price.

According to one scholarly publisher:

"Electronic products work best in an annuity stream. You're not going to charge somebody once and then they have that product forever. You're saying, 'Oh, I'm going to rent you this, so it's cheaper for you. Plus I'm going to keep adding stuff. But for ten years you're paying me." So if the print version is eight thousand, the electronic version might be charged at $2,000 per year, but you would be getting that money over several years... When you're looking at a book model, your break even should be in year one and your payback should be within year two. In an on-line model with a subscription model, you're looking at break even in year three, payback in year four." Scholarly publisher

One downside of this business model is that it can prove difficult to increase revenues, and it is difficult to make a profit off of any new journals.

"It's hard to increase revenues under that model. Let's say that a library has subscribed to 800 of our journals, but they would really like to get all 1800 of them. Well, we have models available where you can get access to the additional 1,000 of them at a very, very, very heavily discounted price. I mean, it's under 15% of the list price. And that can work out, we think, to everyone's advantage. But then from our standpoint let's say you sign a contract like that for five years and so there's a large university that has been guaranteed access to our content for a very low price. If you add new journals, it's very difficult to actually make any money on them because you've already pre-sold them at a discount that is only 15% of the list price. So it makes it hard to find ways to grow revenue short of introducing totally new and very different kinds of products. To do more of the same is hard...On the other side, you know how much money is coming in year to year. From a financial standpoint, we have few cancellations. Before electronic resources, the question every year was how many people were going to cancel. It wasn't a growing market; it was a declining market. And now it's growing where before we had fewer people subscribing to most of the journals year to year." Commercial publisher


As mentioned earlier, electronic publications incur costs that are not present with print publications, including hosting costs (for the servers, storage space, etc), access control costs, customer support costs, subscription management systems, providing usage statistics to subscribers, and increasing the sales force to sell the subscriptions. Because an electronic resource is ongoing, the costs associated with it are ongoing costs. However, there are some areas in which publishers are seeing savings also, such as with warehouse and distribution costs, which are not present with electronic resources. Further, the costs associated with an electronic resource are fixed costs, so that it doesn't cost any more to sell access to 1000 institutions than it does to sell access to 100 institutions.

Electronic Publishing Compared to Print

Electronic resources differ from print resources in that functionality can be added, content can be packaged differently, and the longevity of a product is increased. Further, user expectations are different and publishers' relationships with their customers as well as with other publishers have changed.

Increased functionality. Electronic resources lend themselves to added functionality by increasing the ability to search an electronic resource, the ability to link to other resources, and the ability to add graphics or sound bytes. This makes a product more user-friendly, and can also allow authors to demonstrate concepts in a way they couldn't with print. Some projects are particularly enhanced by the ability to include other media such as digital images or sound bytes.

New ways to package content. Electronic resources increase the flexibility of how publishers can package content. Resources can be aggregated together, or 'sliced and diced' to come up with new combinations of the content that better serve some user groups (as in the virtual journals mentioned below). Further, new content can be developed that is electronic only, such as packaging video tapes of a conference, or aggregating content within a particular field of interest and creating a digital resource with that content. Electronic resources also allow a publisher to package their product to be sold in different ways:

"It gives us much greater flexibility for how we package content. You don't have to sell very high-priced subscriptions to a journal. You can sell medium priced bundles of articles. A small institution like a four-year liberal arts college probably couldn't afford a journal with the subscription price of $5500, but they might be able to buy a bundle of say 100 articles for $500. Our virtual journals are another way of packaging content [journals for very specific fields where the articles are drawn from over 100 more general journals]. The virtual journal has a virtual table of contents for each weekly issue, but if you look at that, what is different about it is you can browse each article at a time, looking at abstracts, but if you want to look at the source full text article, you're going to the underlying real journal." Society publisher

Longevity of product. Because electronic products are sold in an annuity stream, publishers need to continue to update and add content to them. Because of this, electronic publications have a much longer life than do print publications, and a publisher can continue to sell the product year after year.

User expectations. User expectations are different for electronic resources than they are for print. Institutional subscribers (e.g. academic libraries) hold the expectation that products should be cheaper, that they will be updated regularly, that customer support needs will be answered immediately, that publishers will take over the responsibility of maintaining archives, and that the subscribing institution should be able to manage their subscriptions and their account online. End users such as faculty and students expect increased functionality, and that the site will never go down.

Subscribing institutions expect that publishers will provide an archive of their electronic resources, and that they will allow institutions access to that archive should the institution cancel their subscription or should the publisher cease to produce the electronic resource. Most publishers address this issue by offering an annual CD-Rom. One publisher mentioned that while they maintain their own archives, they also have a separate agreement with an independent organization to keep their official, permanent archive. Publishers have varying models for allowing access to subscribers that have cancelled their subscription. One publisher allows access to institutions who had unsubscribed, but the institution has to pay a certain price for each download. Another publisher charges a small fee in exchange for supplying an institution with an electronic copy, but then the institution is on it's own to maintain it.

Interactions with users and other publishers. Publishers now have more interaction with their customers, in the selling phase of a product, as well as an ongoing relationship as they provide usage statistics and customer support to customers. Electronic publishing has also created opportunities for publishers to interact with one another as they learn about and share best practices for electronic publishing.

Moving Forward

As publishers move forward with electronic publishing, new challenges continue to arise. Some of the issues that publishers are currently negotiating are the idea of open access, the possibility of authors providing a more production-ready product, the loss of revenue from print advertising, the problem of moving URLs, and the future of print monographs.

Open access. As the costs of electronic publications increase and library budgets shrink, subscribing institutions are calling for a shift to an open access model, where authors are responsible for paying for the publication of their work and the public has free access to this work. Publishers point out many problems with the notion of open access. First, they assert, it will put publishers in competition with one another to cut costs to offer the lowest price to authors to publish. This means that functionality and innovation will suffer because the funds will no longer be available.

Other issues involve authors' ability to pay for publication. If a researcher's department is responsible for providing this money then the determination of which faculty are funded to publish could be based on merits other than the quality of any given work. Other funding paradigms have money coming from government grants that support the research the faculty member is doing. However, not all research is grant funded, so faculty who are doing research that is not funded through a granting agency would not have the money available to publish. This would be particularly problematic in the humanities where very little research is funded. Further, not all funding of research comes from government sources—research in the hard sciences is often funded by corporations and these entities might not be as capable of reallocating money to go for author's publication costs.

Role of Authors. Authors are likely to play a larger role in the publication process as software improves and becomes easier to use, allowing authors to provide files that are closer to publication quality. Authors have already started to include citation links in files and eventually that may become routine.

Advertising revenue. Mechanisms for online advertising need to be better developed as to avoid the loss of advertising revenue that has traditionally come from advertising revenue from print resources. As subscribers move away from print journals, it will be more difficult to sell print advertisements. This source of revenue needs to be addressed in the online environment.

Permanency of web addresses. To avoid the problem of items moving from one URL to another, some publishers are switching to using Digital Object Identifiers (DOI), which provide a permanent address for an article or book. With a DOI, if a URL changes, the user will be redirected to the appropriate place.

Print Monographs. A couple of the publishers interviewed speculated that as digital printing becomes cheaper than offset printing, the printing of monographs may be done on an as-needed basis.

Providers of Content—Academic Libraries 2

The Changing Role of the Library and Librarian

Librarians believe they have been forced to become even greater experts in information management as a result of the Internet's information explosion. Since librarians have always been the information experts, the librarian role of organizing and evaluation and helping others to evaluate information is proliferating because there is now so much information available. As electronic resources take a more salient role in the collection of the library, many changes have ensued. With the use of electronic resources comes additional roles that must be filled, such as staff who can create the infrastructure to support electronic resources, manage the individual computers, create the library portal, create MARC records, and manage the library's information system. In order to meet these new roles many libraries have added staff. The most common changes to the library's staffing needs are the addition of IT staff and/or addition of a webmaster. Although many libraries have added staff to cover these new roles, some libraries depend on existing staff to meet these new needs. A few of the respondents surveyed indicated that their library is in need of additional staffing, but that funding is not available. This situation results in extra responsibilities being placed on the existing library staff, which results in librarians feeling overloaded.

There are a wide range of new skills needed by librarians as a result of the presence of electronic resources. Computer related skills (such as a fundamental knowledge of how computers work, and being familiar with various software programs) were cited most often by the librarians surveyed. Although most librarians report that they have needed to learn new skills in order to work with electronic resources, only slightly more than half report that their institution has provided additional technical training to help librarians acquire these new skills. This increased focus on computer skills is creating a discrepancy between the older and younger librarians, where the younger librarians feel more comfortable in the computer environment and the older librarians feel at a disadvantage. As one respondent said: "Increasingly, the comfort level with computers is becoming a greater concern. While this is in a sense a 'new' skill set, few of the newly minted librarians have difficulty adjusting to the more computer oriented environment. It is often a different matter with older librarians of the 45+ set"

Benefits and Disadvantages of Electronic Resources for the Library

The emergence of electronic resources benefits the library in many ways. The main benefits of electronic resources relate to increasing user access (i.e. materials are available 24/7, and more than one user can access material at any given time) and providing the library with material it may not otherwise have in its collections.

Along with the benefits of electronic resources that libraries enjoy, these librarians also report some disadvantages.

Concerns Over the Adoption of Electronic Resources

Librarians had some major concerns over the adoption of electronic resources, such as the concerns that (a) aggregated sources often contain titles that the library might not otherwise subscribe to, (b) desired titles may be discontinued by the publisher, (c) an electronic resource publisher may go out of business, (d) changes in the aggregated resource can lead to a hole in the library's archives, and (e) electronic resources often result in the duplication of materials.

The aggregation of journals by electronic publishers often results in libraries subscribing to journals that they wouldn't have supported or subscribed to in the past. This makes librarians feel a loss of control over their collection. Furthermore, the act of subscribing to a journal implicitly places the library's stamp of approval on that particular journal. The library's implicit stamp of approval appears on these less desirable titles just like it does on the most desirable ones. This is particularly a problem for the undergraduate students who don't know how to discriminate between high and low quality journals on their own. However, some librarians saw these extra titles as a welcome "bonus" to the library's collection.

Librarians also feel a loss of control over the discontinuation of desired titles. A publisher might drop certain titles from their collections, which can cause a serious problem for a library if they have cancelled their print subscription to that title. There is also the concern that an electronic publisher may go out of business. This is a valid concern due to the volatility of the electronic resource environment. These concerns influence a library's decision to purchase the electronic resource in the first place, and their decision whether to cancel any print resources that duplicate electronic resources. Both a publisher dropping a title from their electronic resource or a publisher of an electronic resource going out of business leaves libraries that have cancelled their print subscriptions with a hole in their archives. Because of these concerns, many libraries continue to hold on to their print subscriptions even though it means extra costs for duplicated materials. (Some aggregators even insist that you maintain print subscriptions in order to get the electronic subscription.) Librarians would be more comfortable if they had insurance that if they purchase the electronic version, they will be provided with archived copies.

Impact of Electronic Resources on Use of Print Resources

Librarians overwhelmingly agree that users are increasingly demanding electronic resources. The benefits of electronic resources, such as ease of use and easy access, drive this demand. Librarians also agree that users are coming to the physical library less often than they did five years ago, and that users are primarily accessing the library from remote locations. This is due to the ability to use electronic resources from one's office or residence. Interestingly, the flip side is that in some cases electronic resources are also directing users to the print resources. By using electronic resources, users are able to find information on print resources that they were not aware of before. Furthermore, electronic resources have not replaced people's preference for print when it comes to books.

Even though users are increasingly demanding electronic resources, more than half of the librarians surveyed disagree that electronic resources make print unnecessary or that electronic resources replace print. Further, almost half disagree that the library's materials will be primarily electronic in 5 years. Most do agree, however, that electronic resources diminish the use of print resources. The top reason librarians say print is still necessary is that in many cases print is preferred by users. Users often prefer print because it is easier to handle, easier to read, and it has better graphics. Surprisingly, given their previous answers, less than a third of librarians listed "ensured archiving" as a reason that print is still necessary.

Acquisition and Retention of Electronic Resources

The decision to subscribe to an electronic resource basically follows the pattern used for print decisions. The main factors taken into consideration are the resource's subject/content relevance to the library's collection, price, actual content, and currency of information. Factors that were of less importance were ease of set-up and maintenance, and ease of training users.

The main source of funding for electronic resources is money diverted from other items in the library budget, primarily from the budgets for serial publications and for books. Since many serial publications may be included in aggregated online resources, this may not necessarily lead to a decrease in the available journals for the library users. However, the diversion of funds from the books budget may be indicating a trend of libraries investing less in scholarly monographs in favor of electronic subscriptions. The top consideration when evaluating an electronic resource for purchase is the relevance of an electronic resource's content to the library's collection. Issues that have to do with the ease of use for the library or ease of use for the user are of least importance when deciding to purchase an electronic resource. Librarians at research universities are more likely than those at 4-year colleges to report that license agreement terms are an important factor in the decision to purchase an electronic resource. This may be because many universities have more than one campus, so they may be concerned about the ability to use resources at more than one location.

Providers of Infrastructure—Information Technology Departments 3

Many academic IT departments are now taking on responsibilities related to electronic resources such as Learning Management Environments, Department Websites, Digital Library Projects, and Electronic Publishing. Depending on the type of electronic resource, IT departments have added staff, reorganized, purchased equipment, or learned new skills in order to accommodate the new demands.

Learning Management Environments. Departments that are responsible for supporting learning management environments are typically responsible for access management, preservation of backups, and user support. To meet these new demands, departments report that they often need to purchase new equipment, add staff, or reorganize in order to deal with the additional responsibilities. New skills that are needed to meet these responsibilities include programming skills, web development skills, instructional design skills, and the ability to work with faculty. Issues that IT departments report having with supporting Learning Management Environments include training faculty in the use of these programs, managing expectations of faculty, integrating the Learning Management Environments with existing systems, and having enough resources to support Learning Management Environment demands.

Department websites. IT departments that support department websites are often responsible for user support, preservation of backups and access management. Some are also responsible for web design, search functions, hosting, and the content management system. Some of the respondents surveyed indicated that their IT departments reorganized as a result of the additional responsibilities, while some added staff or purchased new equipment. New skills needed to meet the demands of supporting department websites include web development skills, web design/interface skills, web database application development, and web systems management. Some of the issues/problems that resulted from taking on responsibilities related to department websites have to do with the content management of websites. Other comments had to do with managing expectations of departments, and being able to keep up with demand.

Digital library projects. IT departments that support digital library projects are typically responsible for preservation of backups, access management, and/or user support. Nearly half of the respondents who said their department is responsible for supporting digital library projects said no changes in organizational structure, staffing, or equipment needs were necessary to meet these new responsibilities.

Electronic publishing. Departments responsible for supporting electronic publishing are often responsible for preservation of backups, web design, search function, and access management, and user support. Changes made include purchasing new equipment, reorganizing, and adding staff.

Users of Electronic Resources—Faculty and Students 4

Use of Electronic Resources

Faculty and student use of electronic resources has risen dramatically in the last 5-10 years. They use electronic resources on a regular basis for research, teaching, coursework, communicating with colleagues, or just looking up general information related to their academic work. Nearly all faculty and students report using electronic resources a few times a week or more. Typical resources used include online library catalogues, library sponsored reference databases, online data repositories, online journals, online newspapers, government or organizational websites, listserves, online classroom programs, and the Internet. The amount of time spent online for academic work in a given day varied according to their needs for that particular day, but estimates ranged from 1-3 hours.

Tasks for which electronic resources are used run the gamut from searching for specific articles, books, or other scholarly materials to browsing for information on an unfamiliar topic they may be trying to learn more about. When teaching a class faculty often 'surf' to see what information is available both in online databases and in other Internet sources to help demonstrate ideas, give a current context to the lecture material, or find a scientific database that can be used in class. Often, faculty use electronic resources to find bits of information that would otherwise prove more difficult to track down. This might be information on a discipline-specific term, place, or person that they would like a little more information about.

Along with this increased reliance on electronic resources is an increased resistance to using other modes of information gathering. The majority of the faculty and students say they use the physical library less than they would if they did not have access to electronic resources, and almost half somewhat or strongly agree that they would rather settle for what they can find online rather than making a trip to the library.

Although there is a heavy reliance on electronic resources, most faculty and students report that their preference for electronic as compared to print really depends on the situation at hand and the specific use of the material. Print resources are preferred when the material is a book or long article, is something they need to read seriously, or the material contains images or data that does not show up well electronically. Electronic resources are preferred for shorter materials, when searching or browsing for information, and for current information. Some also prefer electronic resources when they want to download and manipulate graphics or data.

Advantages of Using Electronic Resources

In general, electronic resources are seen as providing increased convenience and increased access to information. Electronic resources increase convenience by saving one time and effort, and allowing one to work from home or other remote location. In terms of increased availability of information, electronic resources are perceived as providing greater access to current information, graphics and images, and materials such as government documents and scientific databases. However, they are not seen as providing increased access to older information.

Saves time. One main time saving element of electronic resources mentioned was the trip saved to the library. Going online and looking through the abstracts of several articles can take only minutes. Further, many online reference databases have direct links to the full text of the article, and in many cases the bibliography of an article has links to the full text of cited sources. This instant access to multiple journal articles all with the click of a mouse makes retrieving information much more efficient than following the paper trail in the library. Another reason electronic resources save time is the ability to access information quickly that one might not otherwise have easy access to:

It certainly speeds up the pace at which I can make progress on a topic. For example, in early November somebody from the New York Times called me up and said "Well, we have this warm weather all of November in New York, do you have any idea why that is?" It took me literally 2 hours to get all the information that I needed to make an assessment of what was going on and call the guy back. Five years ago, this would have been a 3 weeks job, and when I started in this field it would have been a Ph.D. thesis. (Associate Professor, Earth/Environmental Science)

Easier access to information. Electronic resources provide access to information in a much more convenient manner than print resources. Faculty and students can now retrieve necessary information from their home as easily as from an on-campus location. This increased flexibility is important to scholars, who often work long hours under tight deadlines. It also means they have more flexibility in their living arrangements. Since being in the office everyday is not a necessity, many faculty are able to live a couple hours from work and only go into the office a couple times per week. Access to information at any time from any place not only means that they can work from home, but they can work whenever they want, without the restrictions of the library's hours. However, a downside that several faculty noted is that since they are now capable of accessing information around the clock, they often find that they are working more hours than they would if they did not have access to information once they were home.

Disadvantages of Using Electronic Resources

Quality control issues with online information. Part of what makes the issue of information overload so problematic is that not all of the information on the Internet is of high quality, and there is no quality control mechanism to help parcel out the reliable from unreliable information. Many papers that have not been peer reviewed or gone through some other vetting process are now out in the public domain. This results in the need for scholars to sort through and figure out what is quality information on their own. Further, about half of the faculty report they have difficulties making these assessments. Scholars indicated that this is particularly a problem when they are researching a new or unfamiliar topic in which they don't have the expertise necessary to make judgments about the reliability of the information or the resource. This is also problematic for students who do not have the experience or skills necessary to make these judgments.

Overload of information. Because of the large amount of material on the Internet, many scholars feel that they are overloaded with information, and many faculty and students surveyed report that this can be overwhelming for them. Further, faculty report that because of the large amount of information available, they are never fully satisfied that they have covered all the possibilities—they are consumed by the fear that they didn't get all the information that is available. They also believe that they spend so much time looking for information and exhausting all the possibilities, that there is less time left to spend thinking.

Changes in work habits. Changes in work habits include reading from a computer screen, and the physical discomfort of eyestrain and hunched posture that accompanies this. Further, many faculty and students expressed a preference for something they can hold in their hands (e.g. a book or journal). A combination of these factors leads faculty and students to print out most online materials. They will read an abstract of an article or glance through an online document to judge if it is something they want to read further, but will print it out in order to read it fully.

The Role of Electronic Resources in the Research Process

The research needs of faculty primarily involve (a) keeping up to date with the literature and new developments in their field, (b) performing literature searches when researching new interests, and (c) collecting and analyzing data. Electronic resources have helped researchers in all of these areas.

Keeping up to date with literature. Keeping up to date with literature in one's field is typically done by subscribing to key journals in one's specific field of interest. In addition to this, faculty will browse the contents of journals they know to be on the periphery of their interests. When reading these materials, many faculty use the online journal rather than the print version. With an online journal they can easily browse through the table of contents and then click on any articles of interest to read the abstract. Once the abstract has been read, if they wish to pursue the article further they can glance through the contents of the entire article online. If they decide it is an article they would like to read fully, or to have for their own personal archives, then the article is printed out. Many faculty perceive this process as being easier than carrying around the paper version of a journal, and easier than going to the physical library and photocopying articles of interest. A downside to the use of electronic resources to keep up to date with information is the lack of full text resources available online. Oftentimes a faculty will read an abstract of something they are interested in just to find out they still need to make the trip to the library if they want the full article.

Attending conferences is another way of keeping abreast of new developments in one's field. Many conference proceedings are now available online, so when a faculty member cannot attend a conference, they often still have access to the information from the meeting.

Performing literature searches. Literature searches involve the use of electronic resources for most faculty. Depending on the needs, some will start with library electronic databases to search for journal articles and books, while others turn to organizational or government websites to find policy information or current events information. However, there are some faculty who prefer to browse the library shelves and flip through the table of contents of print journals rather than to browse online for relevant literature. Overall, these tended to be senior faculty, although some of the junior faculty mentioned they do this as well. The primary reason given for this preference is the tendency to serendipitously find information when browsing through books or journals on a library shelf. Use of print versus electronic resources for literature searches also depends largely on the topic at hand. Empirical work is more likely to rely on the most recent information available—which is often most easily accessible through electronic resources. In contrast, conceptual or theoretical papers will rely more heavily on older or historical information largely available only in book form. The quote below exemplifies this pattern:

If I'm doing empirical research such as Russia's policy around the issue of Caspian Sea oil, which is focused on very concrete, contemporary, practical foreign policy problems....then I want to know the detail of what the Russians are doing, and for that online sources are invaluable. I can find everything from the local press to analyses of these issues, secondary analysis done by everyone from experts in the oil industry to academic analysts.... But if I'm working on a broader problem, such as how has 3 centuries of Russian history influenced Russian foreign policy, I probably wouldn't use electronic sources nearly as much. I would use it more for bibliographic purposes. It would be much more confined. There would not be the books I would need yet online, I'd have to spend more time in the library. (Full Professor, International Affairs)

Collecting and analyzing data. Electronic resources have resulted in many scientific databases being made available online. Large repositories have been set up online containing datasets that are available for the public or for individuals with access permission. Additionally, networks of data collection are available online where scholars can download real-time data. Scholars are able to access and download this data for their own research needs.

Benefits of Electronic Resources for Research

The popularity of electronic resources among scholars results from the many benefits associated with their use. In addition to the benefits of electronic resources mentioned earlier, additional benefits to the research process include increased availability of information, greater access to colleagues, increased access to data, and the ability to reach a broader audience.

Greater access to colleagues. Collaborations are made easier by the ability to send drafts of documents back and forth electronically, or to post a document on one's website for others to download. Electronic resources have created an environment where it is almost as easy to collaborate with someone across the globe or with someone you've never met as it is to collaborate with someone in the next office. While long-distance collaborations were possible in the past, they were not easily accomplished. Previous ways of communicating with distant colleagues proved too time-consuming and cumbersome. Fax transmissions often had the problem of a connection breaking down, phone calls were too expensive, and mail was unreliable and took too much time. The new ability to easily communicate with colleagues who are geographically distant is creating a shift from building collaborations with others at your own institution to building collaborations with scholars that could be located anywhere in the world.

This isn't without costs however. Different time zones and different country academic and holiday calendars present challenges to those who are collaborating with people in other parts of the world. Further, since these interactions are not face to face communications, scholars feel it is more isolating and that they loose out on the spontaneous exchanges that occur in person.

Increased availability of information. The Internet has made it possible for an exponential increase in the amount of materials available. Many of the databases or websites on the Internet now have papers available from various government resources, non-government organizations, and think tanks. In addition, many newspapers from around the world are now available online. This gives scholars access to information in a more timely manner, and even gives them access to information they otherwise wouldn't be able to obtain. Further, electronic resources have provided an outlet for many organizations to get their information out to the public. This is information that might otherwise not be easily available to scholars.

The real change in my life has been the advent of a large number of online sources about real-time events in Africa, as well as the ability of many non-governmental organizations to distribute information that was previously fugitive. I mean the International Crisis Group, which is an organization that studies countries on the verge of breakdown used to publish these hard-copy reports on countries. But they were paper products and they were hard to get and they mailed them out and you'd get them too late. Now they distribute everything online. (Assistant Professor, International Affairs)

Increased access to data. As mentioned earlier, data is often stored in online repositories to which scholars have access. This means that scholars have increased access to data that is both specific to their field of expertise, as well as data that is from other disciplines. This increased availability of data has resulted in scholars being able to do projects they wouldn't have been able to do before, to work on interdisciplinary projects, and to complete projects more quickly.

Provides opportunities to work on projects scholars otherwise wouldn't have worked on. Ninety-two percent of the faculty survey respondents credit electronic resources with influencing the types of projects they have worked on by increasing their access to colleagues, data, and information. The increased access to literature, data, and colleagues has far reaching implications, allowing some scholars to work on projects they otherwise would not have worked on. A significant number of respondents also mentioned that increased access to literature, colleagues, and data in fields outside of their own has promoted their participation in interdisciplinary work. As more and more information flows between fields, cross-disciplinary research appears to be increasing, subspecialties developing, and new fields emerging.

Research reaches a broader audience. Another effect of electronic resources is that one's research reaches a broader audience—both academic and non-academic. Often this results from posting published papers or works in progress on one's own web site. Since these works will turn up in the results of Internet searches, a broader audience is likely to come across these papers.

Disadvantages of Electronic Resources for Research

There are also disadvantages to using electronic resources in research, although overall faculty seem to think these were outweighed by the advantages. Lack of serendipitously finding information. The use of electronic resources diminishes the serendipitous discovery of materials. Several faculty mentioned that when they look through a print journal for a particular article, they typically take the time to see what else might be of interest in that issue. Many times, what they accidentally find turns out to be more interesting than the article they were originally after. Likewise, many faculty state that when they take a library book off the shelf, they look at the other items on nearby shelves and often find something of great value to them. This happens with less frequency when using electronic resources because they typically go straight to the article they are looking for, and the 'browsing' phase is eliminated.

Use of Electronic Resources in Teaching

Most faculty surveyed that have teaching responsibilities believe electronic resources have a positive affect on the quality of their teaching. Electronic resources provide useful materials that teachers otherwise wouldn't be able to incorporate into class lectures and make it possible to assign projects they wouldn't have been able to assign in the past.

Faculty report that electronic resources are used in three main ways to help with teaching: (a) to provide information for lectures, (b) to aid in administrative issues, and (c) as a supplement to traditional classroom tools.

Supplement lectures. The main use for electronic resources in teaching is as a source of information to help with lectures. Electronic resources offer greater access to current information, images and graphics, and datasets. They allow faculty to demonstrate ideas or concepts in ways they couldn't before. Many faculty use electronic resources to draw in current examples, graphics, models, or scientific datasets to use during their course lectures. Often faculty will go online right before class to see if there are any good examples from current events from that day, or they will try to find a last minute example for something in their lecture.

Well, unfortunately in my field things are always changing so rapidly that I always have a sort of theoretical lecture and then the first thing I do is to go on the web and plug in countries or whatever to see for example, on arms control, who are the latest signatories on the arms control treaties? I immediately go to the web for that. Who has ballistic missiles? I go on the web to try and make everything current—I do that for almost every lecture. (Full Professor, International Affairs)

However, while most faculty think electronic resources give them access to materials that enhance teaching and learning, some also acknowledge that they need to resist the temptation to provide entertainment rather than education. There were also concerns that some faculty rely too heavily on online demonstrations and use some that are less useful than traditional methods. For example, one interviewee mentioned a colleague who used an electronic database of a world atlas that gave very limited country information compared to a paper edition atlas that would have shown all the towns, rivers, and population information of any given country.

Aid in administrative issues. Faculty use electronic resources to help facilitate communication with other instructors when team teaching a course. By placing all their materials online, it is easy to see what other instructors of the course have already covered or are planning to cover. In addition, class websites are used to post syllabi, labs, readings, lectures, and assignments. This helps the professor cut down on paperwork in terms of having to make copies of class materials (students can print out the information themselves), as well as making all class materials available in a central location that is easily accessible to the students at any time.

Supplemental teaching tool. Electronic resources are also used as a supplemental teaching tool. Some faculty use electronic resources as a supplement to a class text, or even in place of a textbook. One professor noted the benefits of this approach:

Actually, my portion of the course is not very well covered in our textbook. So my idea, instead of having the students buy an additional textbook for a third of the course, was to go out on the web and find where people have already discussed this topic online. And if I can find good descriptions with nice figures and things like that, I'll include that in my lecture. And we have the ability in the classroom to go to the website in the class and look at it. So you can go there and look at the figures. (Assistant Professor, Earth Sciences)

About one third of the faculty surveyed use the online environment as a supplement to the classroom environment by incorporating learning management environments into the course. For example, some teachers use the Blackboard course management program for its discussion board, where students can post comments on the reading material or class lectures.

The Role of Electronic Resources in Students' Coursework

Electronic resources are heavily used among students for their schoolwork. More than half of the respondents use electronic resources for coursework everyday. Students learn about school-related electronic resources primarily through their library website and through their professors. Students report that they are far more dependent on electronic resources than print resources for their coursework. They are most dependent on the World Wide Web, followed by e-mail and library sponsored electronic databases of their own school. Undergraduate students are more likely than graduate students to use non-library sponsored electronic resources, while graduate students are more likely to use library sponsored electronic and library sponsored print resources. When going online to do work for a course, students are more likely to use an Internet search engine than to go to a library sponsored electronic resource.

Books and journals are still cited by most students when writing a term paper, however the number of students citing websites does not lag far behind. Books and Journals were each cited by more than three-quarters of respondents as types of resources cited in the bibliography of their last research/term paper (84.8% and 77.8% respectively), while websites were cited by 68.8% of the students.

Benefits of Electronic Resources to Coursework

Students report that the main advantages of electronic resources are that they give them greater access to information, save time, and allow them to get more information with less effort.

Greater access to information. The online availability of datasets, government documents, policy briefs, foreign newspapers, and working papers gives students easy access to materials they might otherwise have to forgo. This in turn allows students to work on projects they might not otherwise be able to work on. For example, access to timely information allows students to write papers and prepare arguments about current events. In the past, this would have been more difficult, if not impossible, because current event information would not be readily available to them. For example, online resources give students access to primary documents they would otherwise need to access the libraries of foreign ministries or international organizations to obtain. As one faculty member explained, in the past students would have written a paper on the Arab-Israeli dispute as it was 3 years ago, but now they can write about the conflict as it is today. Likewise, scientific datasets available online allow students to learn how to manipulate real datasets, and to work on projects using the same data that scientists are using. Students can now go to an online data repository to download a dataset to use. In the past, this type of information would have taken longer than a single semester to obtain, so it would not have been feasible for a student to base a project on it.

Electronic resources support multiple users. Another big benefit with electronic resources is that more than one student can use a particular resource at any given time. This is in contrast to print materials where only one student can use a given resource at a time.

Saves time. As with the faculty, students believe electronic resources save them time because they don't need to make the trip to the library to get the information they need, and because some materials such as newspapers and policy briefs are available more easily online.

Disadvantages of Electronic Resources to Coursework

Quality control issues with online information. One of the main problems faculty identified for students was the presence of unreliable information on the Internet, coupled with the fact that many students don't have the skills or experience necessary to discern what information is reliable and what information is not. Students agree, with half of the survey respondents reporting difficulty making these judgments. Almost 3/4 of students surveyed said they do take steps to evaluate the trustworthiness of online information they are using for coursework. Of those who do take steps to evaluate electronic resources, slightly more than half rely on the reputation of the source. Some respondents cross-check the information found online with another source and others rely on the reputation of the author when determining the reliability of online information. Although many students are taking steps to evaluate online sources, almost half of the students report that they have not received any formal instruction on how to evaluate electronic resources. Of those who have received instruction, most of them received it from a professor or TA. Of those who had not received any instruction in the evaluation of electronic resources, the vast majority thought that this instruction would be beneficial to them. Of those who had received instruction in the evaluation of electronic resources, almost all thought it had been useful. Faculty who teach report that they do take action to help address the issues students have with evaluating the quality of online information. Some faculty limit students' use of electronic resources when writing papers by requiring that a certain number of resources be print resources. Further, some faculty specify which online sources are acceptable, and deduct points if an unacceptable source is used. And yet others use class time to teach students how to evaluate electronic information.

Go no further than the electronic resources. The Internet has also negatively affected students' use of the library and traditional print resources. Faculty report that students have a tendency to go no further than the web, and many faculty expressed the view that many students don't know how to use the physical library or print resources. A third of the students surveyed admit they tend to go no further than electronic resources when looking for information, and 1/5 of respondents agree that their widespread use of electronic resources is so pervasive that they have not learned how to use the physical library. Students report that the use of electronic resources often leads them to settle for information that is available online even though better materials might be available at the library. About 20% of the students say they often or always settle for information that is available remotely rather than going to the physical library to retrieve what they would really like.

Plagiarism. Another problem faculty identified was student plagiarism. Databases of completed term papers are readily available on the Internet for students to purchase. But even more problematic according to faculty is the tendency for students to cut and paste together sections from various web sites to create their own term paper. Not only is this plagiarism, but many students don't seem to realize it is plagiarism. This may be due to the fact that students are used to the free information environment of the Internet. Further, undergraduate students are in the phase of struggling with how to differentiate a 'new' idea from 'common knowledge', and may be more inclined to identify things on the Internet as 'common knowledge' that don't require a citation.

Student Use of the Physical Library

The majority of student respondents use the physical library more than once a month. Students are almost as dependent on the physical library to retrieve articles and books as they are on the library's website to do the same. However, dependence on the online card catalogue is much higher than dependence on the physical library for the card catalogue. Undergraduate and graduate students are differentially dependent on the library's services. Graduate students are more dependent on the library's portal to retrieve articles or books from electronic databases, the online card catalogue, and online interlibrary loan while they are dependent on the physical library to retrieve articles or books as well as for interlibrary loan. Undergraduate students are more dependent than graduate students on the physical library as a place to study, for Internet access, for the card catalogue and for access to word processing facilities.


Change in Role of Library

Library is less of a physical destination. Beyond being an additional resource for the library, electronic resources seem to actually be transforming the library from a physical destination to a virtual destination. Electronic resources allow users to utilize the library in ways that were not possible in the past. Users can now look online to learn about the library's holdings, to search through bibliographic references, and to retrieve many articles and books. The ability to work online means that the library is becoming less of a physical destination as users access the library's resources from their home or their office. As this happens, physical spaces such as the dorm room, campus office, and even home office are playing a larger role in research, teaching, and learning. When the physical library is used, it is often for the study space or the word processing services rather than to retrieve academic material.

Lack of instruction for remote users. Librarians feel they don't have the opportunities they once did to instruct users in the use of resources because so much of the use of library resources comes from users accessing resources from remote locations. Likewise, many students report that they are not receiving training in the evaluation of electronic resources, even though many students report having difficulty distinguishing reliable information from unreliable information. Further, most students believe they would benefit from formal instruction in the evaluation of electronic resources.

Lack of quality control. Libraries have lost control over the materials that now reach users. This is due both to bundling practices which can mean that a journal or other resources that doesn't have the library's stamp of approval is nonetheless included in the library's collection and to the fact that users are accessing all sorts of materials online which have not been through the library's vetting system. Further, since so much of the library's resource offerings have moved to the online environment, users have a harder time distinguishing what is a library sponsored resource and what is available for free on the Internet. Users often don't realize that they have access to a particular journal because their library has subscribed to it. This is true of both faculty and students.

Change in Information that Reaches Users

Availability of information. Users have access to information they might otherwise not have, including current information, datasets, government documents, nonprofit papers, and some journals that their library might not otherwise subscribe to.

Overload of information. Because of the large amount of material on the Internet, many scholars feel that they are overloaded with information. This results in the need for scholars to sort through and figure out what is useful to them and what is not. Further, faculty report that because of the large amount of information available, they are never fully satisfied that they have covered all the possibilities—they are consumed by the fear that they didn't get all the information that is available. They also believe that they spend so much time looking for information and exhausting all the possibilities, that there is less time left to spend thinking.

Quality control issues with online information. Part of what makes the issue of information overload so problematic is that not all of the information on the Internet is of high quality, and there is no quality control mechanism to help parcel out the reliable from unreliable information. Many papers that have not been peer reviewed or gone through some other vetting process are now out in the public domain. Scholars indicated that this is particularly a problem when they are researching a new or unfamiliar topic in which they don't have the expertise necessary to make judgments about the reliability of the information or the resource. Further, this is particularly problematic for students who don't have the experience or skills necessary to make these assessments.

Change In Faculty and Student Work Habits

Work any time of day or night. Electronic resources allow students and faculty 24/7 access to the library's holdings and other online information. While it is convenient to be able to access material whenever it is needed, faculty note that a main consequence of this is that students have an increased tendency to put things off until the last minute. In the past they couldn't get away with this so readily because they would have needed to go to the library to check out books before another students got to them, and to make sure that the bound journal volumes they needed were available on the shelf.

Often don't go beyond electronic resources. Both faculty and students report that the use of electronic resources results in them often not going beyond electronic resources. About 40% of faculty and 50% of students report that they will settle for what they can find online even if it is not quite what they wanted, rather than make a trip to the physical library in order to get the material they really want. For 20% of our sample, the use of electronic resources has become so pervasive that they admit to rarely even looking beyond electronic resources for information.

Change In Interactions

Use of Learning Management Environments. Learning Management Environments are being used by about a third of the teaching faculty as a supplemental tool for their course. Many faculty use the online bulletin boards as a way to extend the conversation beyond the classroom. For example, some faculty will have students post their thoughts on the class lecture. This allows a teacher to better understand how the class is relating to the course material, which topics they are misunderstanding, which topics they are particularly interested in, and which topics might warrant further classroom discussion. Further, the online forum allows students an opportunity to communicate their thoughts without the same fears many students have of speaking up in class.

Increased contact with colleagues. Many faculty thought that electronic resources, particularly email and listservs, increased their contact with colleagues outside of their own institution. Email in particular made it easier to collaborate with colleagues in different geographic regions because documents can be easily sent back and forth. In the past, working with colleges in another country could be problematic because sending documents via postal mail was often very slow.

Virtual conferences/virtual research teams. Electronic resources also allow for virtual conferences and virtual research teams. Many faculty noted that they now do research with others whom they've never met in person. One faculty member who was interviewed was working on a project to predict what was going to happen to NJ over the next 50 years given global climate change, changing patterns of land use, and population pressures. The project needed all kinds of different people with different expertise and these people were not located within the same department or university. However, they were able to build a virtual research team by creating a website for the group, and communicating electronically.

Directions for Future Research

As work on this project progressed and we analyzed the data from various stakeholder groups, it became clear that there are a number of areas in which new questions are emerging regarding the development and use of digital scholarly resources. These questions fall into three general areas: 1) the impact of changing user behavior on publishers' business models; 2) the changing role of libraries as physical spaces; 3) the need for new scholarly resources with different functionality and content. These questions arose during the course of completing this study, and future research will be required in order to provide in-depth answers. We do have some observations, however, based on the findings of this project.

Regarding question 1): Scholars and students now expect high quality, easy-to-use digital resources to be available through their libraries. But they also now use search engines like Google as their first stop for research. A major challenge for librarians and publishers will be to reconcile this reality with their business models. That is, they will need to figure out how to make certain that their resources remain valuable and accessible in this new research and learning environment.

Regarding question 2): Libraries are being used differently. Our findings indicate that they are used less as a place to locate research materials and more as a place to work while studying or doing research with the Internet as a resource. What does this change mean for the future of libraries and librarians? Will the physical space and the profession have more value, less value, or different value going forward? What new training and or staff will be required in order to meet the new expectations and needs of library users in higher education organizations?

Regarding question 3): As the research and student communities develop new patterns of work (both students and faculty say that they have developed new research and writing projects as a result of having access to much more material on a timely basis), will there be a need for new kinds of scholarly resources with new functionality to satisfy these new expectations? Will this result in new roles for publishers and IT departments? Who will take a leadership role in this area? Will libraries increasingly move into the role of publisher of scholarly resources because they are more knowledgeable about user needs? Will publishers begin to change their processes of product development in an effort to publish resources that are appropriate for these new needs for research and teaching? There's a need to investigate the thinking that is taking place in the publishing, library, and IT communities surrounding this topic.


Note 1: See Publisher Interviews at http://www.epic.columbia.edu/eval/eval04frame.html Back.

Note 2: See Librarian Focus Group and Librarian Online Survey at http://www.epic.columbia.edu/eval/eval04frame.html Back.

Note 3: See IT Survey at http://www.epic.columbia.edu/eval/eval04frame.html Back.

Note 4: See Faculty Interviews, Student Interviews, Faculty Survey, and Student Survey at http://www.epic.columbia.edu/eval/eval04frame.html Back.