D-Lib Magazine
October 1999

Volume 5 Number 10

ISSN 1082-9873

Evaluation of Usage and Acceptance of Electronic Journals

Results of an Electronic Survey of Max Planck Society Researchers including Usage Statistics from Elsevier, Springer and Academic Press

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Diann Rusch-Feja
Max Planck Institute for Human Development
[email protected]

Uta Siebeky
Fritz Haber Institute
[email protected]



The Max Planck Society (MPG) <> is one of the major pure research societies in Germany for all subject areas incorporating predominately interdisciplinary research. Over 2,000 permanent researchers and an annual average of 6,300 visiting fellows, and doctoral and post-doctoral stipend recipients are active in 84 Max Planck Institutes and several additional research centers throughout Germany. Information provision with the most complete, uptodate scientific resources is the primary goal of the Max Planck libraries and information retrieval units. In accordance with the growing awareness of the significance of electronic publications as a dissemination means in the scientific fields, an advisory committee of researchers established an "Information Provision Project" and a corresponding Task Force in July 1998 to investigate the feasibility and usability of electronic resources for research purposes. The MPG provided central funding for a test installation of the full sets of Elsevier, Springer, Academic Press and Institute of Physics electronic journals for various time periods from September 1998 through the present.

To evaluate the use and acceptance of the electronic journals, an online survey was conducted from April 15 to May 15, 1999. Almost 11% of the scientists, visiting fellows, and doctoral candidates, representing the biomedical, chemical-technical-physical, and humanities sections of the MPG, participated in the survey. Consequently the survey was completely cross-disciplinary and cross-organizational, equivalent of surveying a consortium of special libraries and their parent institutions in highly individual fields with little content overlap spread among more than 90 physical sites of various size and type. Few other studies have investigated both users and use patterns in such large numbers or across so many disciplines. The interpretation of the data has led to further developments within the MPG, and it may also be of use to other organizations. The following summary gives an overview of the major highlights of the survey results: a detailed discussion of the survey is given in the full report (Full Report).

The survey documents a major shift in research information use. The data demonstrate how important network access, electronic journals, and even publication in electronic journals have become for the top-level researcher. They reveal a significantly high acceptance of electronic journals and an unwillingness to return to print versions only. The frequency of use of electronic journals from the four publishers did vary from daily to once-a-month use, with the greatest cumulated frequency in most cases being a use every two weeks. Nevertheless, a sizeable number of respondents indicated that they used electronic journals daily. The respondents also rated the advantages and disadvantages of electronic journals. Desktop access, currency, ease in downloading, additional search modi, etc., were considered to be the greatest advantages of electronic journals. The most significant disadvantages were the lack of archiving and migration mechanisms for electronic journals (which threatened continued access), incomplete issues, and absence of back issues. Having to read from the computer screen and the dependency on the networks were also seen as negative. Restrictions on searching, access, and display possibilities through the necessity of having to re-identify oneself in various servers may also function to limit use of the electronic journals. Comments found in the survey repeatedly expressed the desire for an integrated access system or interface to all journals, as well as to other information services.

The questionnaire also allowed capture of additional information, such as which other journals were desired in electronic form, which services could be eliminated in the event of budget restrictions, what additional assistance and information needed to use electronic journals, etc. In light of possible budget restrictions, there was a definite indication that electronic journals could no longer be done without. Almost the same number of respondents, however, spoke up for retaining print versions. Opinions on binding of journals showed the same division, with a slightly higher tendency towards a willingness to cease binding journals. Books as information resources were affirmed and only a few respondents wanted to give up access to various databases.

The data gathered in this survey showed that within only months of a test installation, these researchers were familiar with the specific offerings of electronic journals, and the data showed to what extent additional needs for other electronic journals exist. By tabulating the frequency of the journal titles specifically listed by the respondents and resorting them according to the publisher, it was very obvious which publishers and titles were important in the research fields and which should be next on the negotiation schedule. It would now be an interesting comparison to recompile this list using current journal impact factors.

Data from publisher-provided usage and transaction statistics shed additional light on the distribution of use among the inter- and cross-disciplinary fields of research within the Max Planck Society. Subject-oriented comparisons between the researchers' use in the biomedical section, the chemical-physical-technical section, and the humanities section of the Max Planck Society show strong use of electronic journals by the biomedical specialists and the chemical-physical-technical researchers. Both the nature of the publishers' offering of electronic journals and the nature of the research fields seem to have influenced the less prominent use of electronic journals in the humanities section.

In addition to supporting the continuation and development of electronic journals collections within the Max Planck Society, the survey results show that all aspects of information provision will be necessary to maintain sufficient and quality information provision to researchers in the Max Planck Society. This includes the efforts already begun by the Information Provision Task Force in examining pricing models and establishing guidelines for licensing negotiations, establishing a set of criteria for the optimal integrated access system, and developing an adequate archiving system for electronic information within the Max Planck Society - both for electronically subscribed journals, as well as for Max Planck publications and research results.

To gain greater awareness of the problems and opportunities connected with electronic information provision and how they are being dealt with in prototypical research models and in implementations in other countries and other similar research organizations, the Max Planck Society organized a conference entitled "The Transformation of Science: Research between Printed Information and the Challenges of Electronic Networks" ( in June 1999. This gave MPG researchers, Institute directors, and administrative officials the opportunity to exchange ideas with the project coordinators and implementors of the US National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative, and telecommunications experts from industry and academia, as well as representatives from other library consortia, publishers, and learned societies. An innovative electronic review journal, Living Reviews in Relativity ( of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Research, was presented there.

Also at this conference, the Steering Committee of the Task Force for Information Provision in the Max Planck Society proposed the establishment of a "Center for Information Management of the Max Planck Society (CIM)" ( which would function to improve information management and innovation within the MPG. This "innovation and service" Center would provide needed research and development capacities to keep the MPG at the leading edge of information provision tools and techniques; help implement them within the libraries and the information infrastructure in the MPG; and promote their use among the researchers in the MPG. The decision on incorporating the Center for Information Management in the MPG will be made in the final quarter of 1999. With this Center, existing information provision structures and units would be strengthened and information services throughout the MPG could be streamlined and made more effective.

A further result of the survey data was to suggest retesting using the same criteria and a wider scale of journals in early 2000 to trace the pattern of development within the shift of information use. This would assure greater participation, which is currently reflected in the publisher-provided monthly transaction statistics and would give greater validity to a more differentiated statistical analysis

The greatest impact, however, of the survey was that the test installation was received surprisingly positively and that the respondents' answers indicated that the offering of electronic journals should not only be continued but increased significantly in the future. We hope that the data analysed in the full report will be interesting for other libraries, research institutions, and learned societies, as well as for publishers and aggregators.

Copyright � 1999 Diann Rusch-Feja and Uta Siebeky

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DOI: 10.1045/october99-rusch-feja