Characterizing Journal Access at a Canadian University Using the Journal Citation Reports Database

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article outlines a simple approach to characterizing the level of access to the scholarly journal literature in the physical sciences and engineering offered by a research library. The method utilizes the Journal Citation Reports (JCR) database to produce lists of journals, ranked based on total citations, in the subject areas of interest.

Details of the approach are illustrated using data from the University of Guelph. The examples cover chemistry, physics, mathematics and statistics, as well as engineering. To study the stability of the results produced by this method of analysis, data from both 2003 and 2008 is analyzed. Data on document delivery requests received from Guelph users in recent years is also reviewed as a supplement to the JCR-based analyses.

The approach taken in characterizing access to the journal literature is found to be simple and easy to implement, but time consuming. The University of Guelph Library provides access to the current issues of a large percentage of the journals reviewed in the subject areas examined. Access to the historical literature in those areas is also strong. In making these assessments, a broad and comprehensive array of journals was considered in each case. Document delivery traffic (i.e., Guelph requests) is found to have decreased markedly in recent years. This might be attributable, at least in part, to improving access to the scholarly literature.

Keywords

collection assessment; scholarly journals; Canadian libraries; university libraries; Journal Citation Reports database

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Introduction

Study rationale and development

LibQUAL+ 1 results for the University of Guelph Library have indicated some dissatisfaction on the part of faculty and graduate students with the level of access to the journal literature offered by the Library, specifically through their responses to question IC-8: "Print and/or electronic journal collections I require for my work" (ARL 2007; ARL 2010). As an example, in the 2010 LibQUAL+ survey results for question IC-8, the mean perceived values for faculty and graduate students were less than the respective mean minimum values.

Results like this were surprising to the authors in light of the broad range of journals to which the Library subscribed and the journal backfiles held. It was also a concern because research journals are of fundamental importance to the process of scholarly communication. University libraries are responsible for ensuring access to these resources for their faculty, students, and staff.

In addressing this situation, the authors felt it would be helpful to establish a practical, flexible way to characterize the access provided by the University of Guelph Library to the journal literature. Subsequently, the resulting data could be shown to faculty and students as a basis for discussion of their journal needs.

The Journal Citation Reports (JCR) database, published by Thomson Reuters, was considered for this study because the JCR is an established reference work commonly found in North American university libraries 2, and the University of Guelph Library holds a current subscription.

The intent of this study was to use the JCR database to assemble a group of "prominent" journals for each of the disciplines considered, against which the University of Guelph's holdings could be compared. A journal's "prominence" was determined by its JCR "total citation count" for the year in question. "Access" referred to the availability of online or print versions of the "prominent" journals. In other words, an "accessible" journal was one for which the Library was paying a subscription / license fee (or was "free" or open-access) and whose content could be made available to University of Guelph users. Backfile (or backrun) access to "prominent" journals was also checked.

This study builds on analytical work done previously at the University of Guelph (Gale). …