The Impact of Research Accessibility on Future Research, Part 1: Researchers’ Information Seeking Behavior

I was recently visiting a friend who has recently started a Master’s and PhD program at a large U.S. university; while I was visiting him, he had to work on his research, as many graduate students have to do in their “spare” time. After doing some searching he determined that the nearest book available on the topic he wanted was in Ireland, and since he needed the information in the next couple of days, he decided not to request the book through interlibrary loan (ILL). This got me thinking, so much of what people do happens so quickly, that there isn’t much time to wait to get access to research. This made me wonder, how much of future research is impacted by whether someone can quickly and cheaply gain access to other research?

Taking the book from Ireland, for example, how much does the fact that the nearest copy of a publication is in another continent affect the future of someone’s research? If I’m working in a field that’s emerging, it stands to reason that there’s not an abundance of publications available on these topics. And if I can’t access a certain piece of information I want quickly or cheaply enough, I’m likely to forgo reading it, and rely on other sources that comply with my time and money constraints. If research builds upon other research, does the inaccessible research get lost?

It’s nearly impossible to design and carry out a study that could measure this definitively, because there are so many variables like the subscription resources offered from institution to institution, the availability of research from different disciplines, and the variability of how quickly a researcher needs the research they seek.

As I started looking into this question, I realized there are many components to this, so I focused on two areas, and I’m publishing this post in two parts. The first part, is about researchers’ information seeking behavior, and how their behavior towards research that is not quickly accessible may affect future research.

The next post will be about how open access and subscription articles affect the future of research.

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