Title

Exploring the experiences of Australian science researchers; Library, Google and beyond

Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Science

First Advisor

Justin Brown

Second Advisor

Nicole Johnston

Abstract

Universities and research institutions in Australia are under pressure to produce high-quality research outputs. To generate the desired level of research, continuous provision of information is required. As a result of developments of digital technologies, the information behaviour of academics, both as consumers and creators of new information and knowledge, has evolved and changed over the decades.

In this study, the primary research question focused on how science academics based at Australian universities experience digital information sources as part of their scholarly activities. To support these research goals, the thesis explores where science academics seek information to support their research activities, the factors that influence those information choices and how they utilise the information once it has been found.

A mixed methods approach including a Web survey and interviews was utilised to explore these issues. The Web survey employed a range of questions, including Likert-scale, multiple-choice and open-ended questions, enabling qualitative and quantitative data analysis. 210 science academics from 34 Australian universities were surveyed with 24 taking part in follow-up interviews. The resulting data was analysed by using a combination of selected statistical and thematic analysis to draw out findings aligned to the primary and supporting research questions.

The study concluded that Australian science researchers experience digital information sources in a variety of ways, and the modern academic environment shapes these experiences—with performance metrics, time drivers and personal circumstances being the leading factors that impact researcher’s actions when seeking, retrieving and disseminating information to support their academic work and resulting outcomes.

The study findings envisioned science academics working at Australian universities as self-sufficient, independent individuals, adapting their information behaviour to their current circumstances and needs. Their self-sufficiency is expressed in their performance of a variety of information behaviours by themselves, without recourse to or the need for the input of others. Engagement with other scholars and the university library are of low priority for these academics. They are not concerned with where their information comes from as long as it is deemed to be of high quality, credible and available to access and retrieve when they need it. While aware of the existence of their university library, science academics are not particularly interested in using them, except as a supplier of full-text publications. Their attitude to university libraries can be described as “positive but indifferent”; that is, libraries are there but mostly invisible to users.

This study investigated the information behaviours of Australian science academics throughout their entire research journey and analysed the results in the context of a series of existing information science behavioural models. The research contributed a new Science Academics Information-Seeking and Transformation Model, which encompasses an academic’s actions from the moment the need for information arises to when the scholarly outcomes are published. The results also provide insight to those responsible for supporting scholars to understand the challenges they face when seeking, retrieving and disseminating new information and new knowledge in the context of modern academia.

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