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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.1 (2004) 151-153

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Dimensions and Use of the Scholarly Information Environment: Introduction to a Data Set Assembled by the Digital Library Federation and Outsell, Inc., Amy Friedlander. Washington, DC: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2002. 897 p. $40 (ISBN 1-887334-94-7)

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Library decision-makers and planners need useful data more than ever. The professional literature is swollen by articles about the coming and the promise of digital libraries, but most librarians have sensed for a long time that the research library of the future is going to be a complex, dynamic amalgam of formats and forms of service, driven and shaped in large measure by the equally complicated preferences and predilections of users.

In that light, Amy Friedlander's Dimensions and Use of the Scholarly Information Environment--the product of a survey of 3,234 faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students from three types of educational institutions in the Carnegie Classification--is timely, informative, and potentially useful. Conducted by Outsell, Inc., in collaboration with the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and the Digital Library Federation (DLF), the study was conceived as part of a planning and research process designed to achieve an understanding of how library use is changing and establish a basis for future investigation and analysis.

The primary goal of the survey was "to collect data on the relevance of existing and possible future services as well as on student and faculty perceptions of the library's value in the context of the scholarly information environment." (p.1) In addition, the study attempted to determine what types of information resources are used to support research, teaching, and learning, and how those resources are located, evaluated, and used. But for research [End Page 151] libraries, the heart of the matter remains the use of journals and the costs associated with maintaining journal collections in print and/or digital formats.

The report is an informative snapshot that consists of a brief narrative section and 658 data tables. It provides a fairly explicit sense of how faculty and students are using academic research libraries today. For example, in response to a question about how users find information about printed books, more than 82 percent of the respondents indicated that they use electronic resources; 47 percent indicated that they consulted other printed sources; and 23 percent asked for assistance. Responses to questions about user satisfaction indicated that levels of satisfaction with library resources and services are high, with general levels of satisfaction in the range of 75 percent and rising to 90 percent among users associated with liberal arts colleges and law schools.

Viewed in isolation, however, the data presented may not be all that useful, because for the most part they neither address nor convey solutions to the decision-making and policy-making problems confronting research libraries today. As the powers-that-be at CLIR and DLF undoubtedly understand, the greater value of the report is yet to be realized; synchronic views of library use are informative, but longitudinal data are what most effectively inform policy making. Ultimately, the worth of the work done by Outsell and Friedlander will be determined by the extent to which it is replicated, corroborated, and extended by the reuse of their methods and by the use of their work as the bases for studies examining the same behaviors over time and/or in the context of other social groups. In this vein, CLIR has announced that it will deposit the raw data tapes with the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), so that other investigators may exploit the information developed in this study. Friedlander notes: "At least two categories of future studies can be envisaged. The first category would delve more deeply into subsets of the data. The second would contextualize the data in comparative...


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