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White paper: facilitating access to free online resources

Content & Communications Team Taylor & Francis

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, published in May 2013, explores librarians’ opinions on the availability and usefulness of free online resources including open access journals, repositories, blogs, and wikis.

Read the white paper in full: Facilitating access to free online resources: challenges and opportunites for the library community.

Key findings

Growth and value of content

  • 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

  • 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

Information literacy

  • 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

  • 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

Follow-up survey

In November 2013, Taylor & Francis conducted a follow-up survey to further explore the responses of librarians about free online content.

Read the survey in full: Discovery of free online content: the librarian perspective.

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