Electronic Journals and Changes in Scholarly Article Seeking and Reading Patterns


A recent article by James Evans in Science (Evans 2008) is being widely discussed in the science and publishing communities. Evans' in-depth research on citations in over 34 million articles and how online availability affects citing patterns, found that the more issues of a journal that are available online, the fewer numbers of articles in that journal are cited. If the journal is available for free online, it is cited even less. Evans attributes this phenomenon to more searching and less browsing (which he feels eliminates marginally relevant articles that may have been found by browsing) and the ability to follow links to see what other authors are citing. He concludes that electronic journals have resulted in a narrowing of scientific citation patterns. This brief article expands on the evidence cited by Evans (Boyce et al. 2004; Tenopir et al. 2004) based on the authors' ongoing surveys of academic readers of scholarly articles. Reading patterns and citation patterns differ, as faculty read many more articles than they ultimately cite and read for many purposes in addition to research and writing. The number of articles read has steadily increased over the last three decades, so the actual numbers of articles found by browsing has not decreased much, even though the percentage of readings found by searching has increased. Readings from library-provided electronic journals has increased substantially, while readings of older articles have recently increased somewhat. Ironically, reading patterns have broadened with electronic journals at the same time citing patterns have narrowed.

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