CIBER Research (UK) and Tomsk State University, Russia
Received: 10 May 2014. Revised: 15 June 2015. Accepted: 16 June 2015.
The research reported in this paper comes largely from a year-long international study, ‘Trust and authority in scholarly communications in the light of the digital transition’, which was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (UT/CIBER, 2013). Essentially, the main thrust of the project was to determine the impact of the digital transition and the new products it has ushered in, such as open access publications and the social media, on academic researchers’ scholarly practices.
The project’s broad research questions were then:
This paper focuses on the behavioural differences researchers according to discipline and especially whether arts and humanities researchers1 in the digital age are any different in the way they think and behave to their counterparts in the sciences and social sciences. Previous research suggests that they do. Thus in a study conducted for the Research Information Network Nicholas and Rowlands (2009; 2011) found significant differences in information-seeking and usage between researchers in the life sciences, physical sciences, economics and history. In particular there were large differences in the extent of e-journal usage and time spent online, the use of gateways and advanced search facilities and levels of concentration in reading in top n titles. For instance, half of all life scientists used journals every day, whereas only 16% of historians did so. However, when online, historians spent more time on each visit. This is in part due to the greater length and more discursive nature of articles in history as compared to the sciences, which means that it is less easy to scan a full-text article for a single fact or figure that is not present in the abstract. Historians search for and use e-journals in ways very different from their scientific and social science colleagues. Compared, for instance, with life scientists, historians were more likely to access e-journals via Google, and to use search tools, especially menus, once they are inside the publisher’s platform.
Housewright et al. (2013) offered explanations for these differences suggesting that humanities scholars: 1) are preoccupied with the past; 2) tend to research as individuals and not collaboratively; 3) have a marked preference for the book and monograph; 4) and partly as a consequence are more library-oriented. All factors which might lead to them being behind the digital curve. However, on the other hand, it could be argued that all scholarly behaviour is becoming standardised, by the common digital platforms that all scholars use, the tablet, smartphone and the search engine. This paper attempts to throw some light upon these issues.
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