Efficiency and quality of research is being damaged by lack of access, says new report
The issue of researchers’ access to research information content must be addressed if the UK research community is to operate effectively and produce high-quality research, says new RIN report.
Research Information Network - Press release, 4 December 2009
Overcoming barriers: Access to research information content ﬁnds that researchers are encountering difﬁculties in getting access to the content they need and that this is having a signiﬁcant impact on the quality and efﬁciency of their research. Based on ﬁve separate studies, our report looks at the nature and scale of key restrictions on access to information resources of importance to researchers, the impact of these restrictions and the ways in which they might be alleviated or overcome.
The report’s ﬁndings show that the impact of this lack of access on the efﬁciency, as well as the quality, of research across the higher education sector and beyond is very real. New technological developments, including moves towards open access publishing models and the availability of e-books may help to solve some of theses problems, but there is little evidence from the report to show that they have had a positive impact to date.
The report examines the frequency with which researchers encounter problems in accessing content; researchers’ perceptions of the ease with which they can gain access and the issue of researcher access to information resources in the public and private sector which are not formally published and which are often subject to copyright restrictions. It also reviews the arrangements academic and research libraries have in place to provide access to researchers who are not members of their institutions
The report’s key ﬁnding is that access is still a major concern for researchers. Although researchers report having no problems ﬁnding content in this age of electronic information, gaining access is another matter due to the complexity of licensing arrangements, restrictions placed on researchers accessing content outside of their own institution and the laws protecting public and private sector information. This means that research into important information resources can be missing. Researchers report that they are frustrated by this lack of immediate access and this slows their progress, hinders collaborative work and may well affect the quality and integrity of the work produced.
Many librarians, and researchers, fear that unless licensing and technical issues are resolved, moves towards a digital environment may impose new barriers, as researchers face restrictions on access to resources which would have formerly been accessible to them in print. With impending funding cuts in higher education institutions’ budgets next year, libraries are already facing increasingly difﬁcult decisions about which subscriptions to keep as cancellations will only add to these problems for researchers. Our report shows that libraries need to ensure they can continue to provide access to content through a range of sources, including interlibrary loans and document supply services, and that they implement efﬁcient, effective and user-friendly systems to ensure researchers can gain easy access.
An idea solution for researchers would be the implementation of a national library membership card to enable access and borrowing rights at all higher education institutions in the UK. However, our study ﬁnds that the infrastructure to provide this in higher education institutions is lacking.
Libraries are also struggling to allow external researchers’ access to the resources they have available online and few institutions have been able to implement the recommendations of the HAERVI (Higher Education Access to e-Resources in Visited Institutions) project, which called on the support and cooperation of institutional managers and IT services to enable libraries to offer better access.
Other barriers include intellectual property and copyright restrictions (on public and private sector information and orphan works), and researchers are concerned by current moves to strengthen these restrictions. The RIN, SCONUL and UUK will maintain a close watch on developments in the intellectual property regime and ensure that researchers’ interests are taken into account.
This report calls on higher education institutions, librarians, publishers, funders and governments to work together to reduce the barriers to accessing research information content and highlights a number of recommendations for measures that need to be taken to overcome the barriers to access currently being experienced by the research community.
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Notes to Editors:
The Research Information Network (RIN) was set up in 2005 by the four UK higher education funding bodies, the seven research councils and the three national libraries. The RIN’s role is to enhance and broaden understanding of the information resources and services available to researchers, and how they use them; and to promote the innovation and development of effective policies and strategies for the beneﬁt of the UK research community. www.rin.ac.uk
HAERVI project: The HAERVI (Higher Education Access to e-Resources in Visited Institutions) project was promoted by SCONUL and UCISA to improve the service offered by higher education institutions (HEI) to visiting students and researchers from other HEIs who wish to access licensed e-resouces. The project, funded by the JISC, has now reached its conclusion with the publication of the Best Practice Guide to HE Access to e-resouces in Visited Institutions. Printed copies were sent to all SCONUL contacts and to UCISA full members. It can still be purchased from UCISA’s website. www.ucisa.ac.uk/members/activities/haervi.aspx