A significant challenge for today’s librarian is the increasing quantity of free online content. Although it has the potential to be of great value for education purposes, how do librarians determine the quality of all these online resources and communicate their availability to end-users?
This white paper explores issues related to free content discovery from a librarian’s perspective. Taylor & Francis set out to understand the role that free content has within institutions; its relative importance compared to paid-for resources; and the challenges associated with making better use of this material. By exposing these challenges, we hope to make it easier for institutions to access high-quality free content.
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Growth and value of free content
- The scholarly communication industry is experiencing rapid growth in open access articles, with huge amounts of other content available through search engines such as podcasts, presentations, videos and other multimedia. We explore the value of this content from the perspective of librarians.
- Librarians and faculty agree that free online resources add value to the research process
- Most librarians believe that free online content will become as important as paid-for content in the future
- Librarians value a range of free online resources, including open access journals, and user-generated content such as blogs, podcasts, videos, and wikis
Resource challenges for libraries
- Librarians have limited resources available to select and catalogue free online resources
- Most librarians believe it would benefit their institutions to invest more in free content
Identification and selection of content
- Key challenges to making free resources more discoverable within institutions are: growing volume of material, unknown permanence, and difficulties relating to quality-assessment
- Lack of metadata to identify how “open” a piece of content is a key issue for librarians
- Factors that matter most to librarians when deciding what free content to make discoverable are: relevance to curriculum/research programme, reputation of publisher, and reputation of list/index (e.g. DOAJ)
Library role relating to free content
- Librarians feel well placed to provide expertise in selecting appropriate resources and making them discoverable, although there are resource challenges associated with doing this. We investigate the role of the librarian, how they currently make free online content visible to users, as well as its challenges.
- Librarians are seen as ‘purchasers of content’. Their role relating to enhancing discoverability of free content and integrating it with paid-for content needs to be better promoted and developed
- A particular challenge is the return on investment of librarians’ effort
- We explore how librarians help researchers recognize the quality and relevance of free online resources within the library, and whether or not the library’s training program cover any related topics.
- Librarians are undertaking significant efforts to collaborate with faculty and have more of a central role within their institutions, particularly with a view to increasing information literacy skills
- Users could become partners with librarians in selecting appropriate free content, but clear criteria will be needed to ensure consistency of approach
User needs and expectations
- “Most student and academic users just ignore the playground we have been building for them” – Our survey librarians were asked about their plans relating to developing their discoverability services for users, and facilitating access to free online content.
- Library discoverability systems need to become faster and easier to use with more comprehensive coverage of resources beyond the library’s own paid-for collection
The role of publishers
- Librarians’ views are split on the role publishers take in solving some of these problems – some see publishers as being primarily responsible, while others see them as having limited responsibility
- Commercial full-text aggregator databases’ coverage of open access resources is variable and limited, so publishers need to work with providers to ensure high-quality free publications are included in key indexing resources
- Publishers provide a quality filter in their selection process, which is helpful to librarians and users in identifying quality content
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