The Information Practices of Physical Science Librarians Differ from Those of the Scientific Community: More Research is Needed to Characterize Specific Information Seeking and Use

Carol Perryman

Abstract


A Review of:
Brown, Cecilia M. and Ortega, Lina. “Information-Seeking Behavior of Physical Science Librarians: Does Research Inform Practice?” College & Research Libraries (2005). 66:231-47.


Objective – As part of a larger study exploring the information environments of physical science librarians (Ortega & Brown), the authors’ overall objective for this study is to profile physical science librarians’ information behaviours. The authors’ two-part hypothesis was that first, peer-reviewed journals would be preferred over all other sources for research dissemination, resembling the preferences of scientists, and second, that peer-to-peer consultation would predominate for practice-oriented decisions.

Design – Mixed methods: survey questionnaire followed by citation and content analysis.

Setting – Five internationally disseminated professional association electronic mailing lists whose readership comprised those with interests in science librarianship: the American Library Association (ALA) Science and Technology Section; the American Society for Information Science & Technology (ASIST) Science and Technology Information Special Interest Group; the Special Library Association (SLA) Chemistry Division and its Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Division; and the American Geological Institute Geoscience Information Society.

Subjects – Seventy-two physical science librarians voluntarily responding to an online survey.

Methods – A questionnaire was distributed to inquire about physical science librarians’ professional reading practices as well as their perceptions about the applicability of research to their work. Participants were asked to rank preferences among 11 resource types as sources supporting daily business, including personal communication, conference attendance, electronic mailing lists, and scholarly journals. Differences between the mean rankings of preferences were tested for significance by applying the Friedman test with p>0.0005. Journals identified most frequently were analyzed using the Institute for Scientific Information’s (ISI) Web of Science index and Ulrich’s Periodical Index to measure proportions of research and non-research citations, as well as the general topic areas covered by the journals. Next, content analysis was performed for the years 1995, 1997, and 2000 in order to characterize research methodologies used in the previously identified journals according to a previously tested schema (Buscha & Harter). Results from this portion of the study were compared with participants’ responses about journal usage.

Main Results – Librarians reported using personal communication (both face-to-face and electronic mailing lists) more frequently as a means of information gathering than professional journals, Web sites, conferences, trade publications, monographs, or ‘other’ resources. Variations in responses appeared to correlate with years in the profession and in the respondents’ time in their current positions, although there are indications that the importance of all information resources to practice and research declines over time. The relative importance of resources is also shown in time spent reading journal literature, less than 5 hours per week for 86% of participants.

Conclusion – For the first hypothesis, the authors found that unlike scientists, survey participants did not prefer research publications as vehicles for dissemination of their research results. For the second, librarians ranked peer-reviewed journals third in preference after personal communication and electronic mailing lists as sources of information supporting daily practice, supporting the second hypothesis that respondents would emulate the information use practices of mathematicians.

Keywords


physical science librarians; information practices; information behavior

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