Survey: faculty members concerned about research material availability

by Amy Horst

Higher education faculty members are concerned about the availability and preservation of research materials, particularly journals available online, according to a nationwide survey released last week.

The study, which the nonprofit group Ithaka sponsored, indicates that more faculty members than in the past said they cannot get journal articles they need from their universities. Some hold contradictory opinions about archiving journal materials.

The survey’s results are not statistically significant by academic standards, according to Ithaka’s report. But because of the responses’ consistency, the group believes the survey still has value as a planning tool for librarians and information technologists.

“Basically, we were interested in learning as much as we could about faculty members and electronic resources,” Roger Schonfeld, coordinator of research at Ithaka said. “We view this more as developing theories rather than confirming them.”

John Mowitt, chairman of the cultural studies and comparative literature department, has had some frustrating experiences doing research but said he understands the position of journals.

“I think that the chief issue has to do with access to materials online, (such as) whether one actually subscribes to a site and can see the materials in their entirety, and often much more importantly, whether you can actually download material, for example, for distribution in a class,” Mowitt said.

But Mowitt is also a senior editor of Cultural Critique, an academic journal of contemporary cultural analysis and commentary. Because of his position, he said he understands journals’ need to make money from print subscriptions, which he said they can do by limiting online access.

Amy Kaminsky, women’s studies department chairwoman, said one of her chief concerns is the availability of research materials from outside the United States. For many such publications, she said, it can be too expensive to put materials online.

Faculty researchers are not the only ones affected by the availability of journals online, Kaminsky said.

“I think for students who are using electronic journals to the exclusion of other library resources, the problem of not having everything you need online is really serious,” Kaminsky said.

“Students are so busy with classes and jobs and lives that they don’t have the time, very often, to do the extensive research that used to be required and is still required by some of us,” she said.

Kaminsky and Mowitt said the ability to offer research materials has recently been hampered by funding shortages facing many university libraries.

Faculty members who responded to Ithaka’s survey overwhelmingly wrote that they were concerned about making sure journal archives were available, but a slight majority said they would not mind if their library decided not to keep print journals, but instead to only have electronic versions available.

Such answers are surprising, Schonfeld said, because it would not be possible to do away with print journals and still have reliable archives available.

“Both of those (responses) suggest to us that current practices aren’t really well understood, and the problem of electronic archiving is not really well-defined in their minds,” Schonfeld said. “There might be some opportunity for an educational campaign.”