Measuring Use Patterns of Online Journals and Databases

Article excerpt

Purpose: This research sought to determine use of online biomedical journals and databases and to assess current user characteristics associated with the use of online resources in an academic health sciences center.

Setting: The Library of the Health Sciences-Peoria is a regional site of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Library with 350 print journals, more than 4,000 online journals, and multiple online databases.

Methodology: A survey was designed to assess online journal use, print journal use, database use, computer literacy levels, and other library user characteristics. A survey was sent through campus mail to all (471) UIC Peoria faculty, residents, and students.

Results: Forty-one percent (188) of the surveys were returned. Ninety-eight percent of the students, faculty, and residents reported having convenient access to a computer connected to the Internet. While 53% of the users indicated they searched MEDLINE at least once a week, other databases showed much lower usage. Overall, 71% of respondents indicated a preference for online over print journals when possible.

Conclusions: Users prefer online resources to print, and many choose to access these online resources remotely. Convenience and full-text availability appear to play roles in selecting online resources. The findings of this study suggest that databases without links to full text and online journal collections without links from bibliographic databases will have lower use. These findings have implications for collection development, promotion of library resources, and end-user training.


Remote access to online catalogs and bibliographic databases has altered library use patterns over the past decade. Library statistics show fewer patrons entering the library as more resources become available online and patrons gain access from their desktops [1]. Many academic institutions are currently building substantial collections of full-text journals and continue to increase access to various online databases. Because these resources come at a great cost, it becomes important to understand database and full-text journal use among university patrons and the characteristics accompanying today's remote and inhouse library users. Increased access to computers, the Internet, online databases, and full-text journals necessitates reassessing online use patterns and user characteristics.

The paper reports on the findings of a survey distributed to faculty, students, and residents to determine use of the online resources and characteristics of current users. Some specific questions address whether computer literacy still plays a factor in determining who uses online resources, whether users of the online databases are also users of the online journals, whether there are differences in the use of resources among the various user groups, what users' primary information sources are, where users access the online resources, and whether users are fully aware of the multitude of resources available.


Studies have found that the implementation of online databases affects internal library use, particularly when databases can be accessed through the Internet. Hurd and Weller noted a shift to online databases (MEDLlNE and Current Contents) by chemists when the databases became available through the network at no charge to users [2]. Another study by Curtis, Weller, and Hurd also found that health sciences faculty preferred accessing electronic databases from their offices rather than going to the library [3]. Grefsheim, Franklin, and Cunningham determined that computer use correlated negatively with time spent in libraries and journals read but positively with the use of online databases such as MEDLINE [4]. As early as 1991, when the Grefsheim, Franklin, and Cunningham study was published, there was evidence, even for those researchers who were not regular users of computers, for "a trend away from subscribing to print products in favor of online retrieval of needed currentawareness information" [5]. …