At the recent SSP Annual Meeting in Chicago, TrendMD had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion entitled New Tools and Trends in Discovery Technologies. The central premise of the panel was to explore, from different stakeholder perspectives, the challenges posed by the staggering growth of scholarly content production. With over 2.5 million scholarly articles published each year – more than 8,000 each day – to have your paper discovered and read, and ultimately cited, has become a central problem for publishers and authors. Studies have shown that 50% of articles are never read (Eveleth, 2014) and a much higher percentage are never cited (Meho, 2007).
There were two main goals for the panel:
1. To examine current trends among readers re: how they find the content that will be most interesting and useful to their work; and
2. To survey what strategies, technologies, and services are being used by publishers and libraries to promote discovery of their content.
The members of the panel represented a variety of stakeholder perspectives on the importance of Discovery in scholarly journals.
• Simon Inger, the co-author, along with Tracy Gardner, of the report How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications, provided a first look at the results from the latest version of that survey, which has just been completed. A&I databases and search engines continue to be the first place that users look for articles on a specific subject, but browsing is an important part of the researcher workflow. The new findings validate a key point from the previous study: that users continue to value the Related Articles functionality on publisher websites, while the popularity of other website features, like site search, saved search, and alerting continue to decline. (This was especially exciting for me to hear, given my role at TrendMD.)
• Lettie Conrad, an independent consultant with many years’ experience and expertise in user-centered online product development, shared some of the recent research in the area of discovery, including her own interviews of users. She described the importance of understanding the specific use cases for information needs, and how those use cases impact user expectations; the importance that users place on known and trusted brands, consistent tools, and familiar web design standards; and, interestingly, the role of serendipity – the opportunities that discovery tools provide for stumbling upon related content they didn’t know to look for, including recommendations to extend their original search.
• Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe, a Professor in the University Library (and affiliate faculty in the School of Information Sciences) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described how, in her role as Coordinator for Information Literacy Services in the University Library, she previously co-led a group that is responsible for the library’s access strategy. She described the process that went into the design of the library’s search platform, which has helped to solidify the library as a gateway to information for the university community. A key point: “Library users want “my everything” and not absolutely everything, …. everything owned, licensed, or otherwise provided should be discoverable.” That’s a clear mandate for a more proactive role for the library – regardless of the advances we’ve seen in search technology. More details can be found in her Scholarly Kitchen article, Discovery Should Be Delivery: User-Centric Principles for Discovery as a Service.
The publisher perspective was provided by two representatives of some of the most prestigious scholarly journals in their fields:
• Mark Ruthman, Manager, Digital Product Development for the American Academy of Pediatrics, provided a deeper look into the effectiveness of various platform features designed to increase discovery and engagement of users. He shared data on key metrics, including pages and time per session, and bounce rates, as they compare for different referral sources, including Alerts, Search (Google and Google Scholar), PubMed, Facebook, and TrendMD. He had a key bit of advice for publishers: “Be discoverable where your users are already going; they are busy and don’t want new places to go.” Clearly, this principle is reflected in the significant number of referrals he reported (1.6 million/year) referred by TrendMD.
• Stacey Burke, Marketing & Communications Manager for Science Publishing at the American Society for Microbiology, is responsible for marketing programs that grow author submissions and institutional usage of ASM’s books and journals. Stacey described the challenges for marketers in the increasingly competitive environment that scholarly publishers face. The explosive growth of journals in microbiology – from 21 in 1944, to 5,861 journals with at least one microbiology paper in 2015 - has led to declining readership and submissions for the ASM journals. Stacey described the strategies that she has used for reversing those trends, including direct outreach to authors and libraries with email campaigns and other promotions, and website features including TrendMD. The result has been a turnaround in the decline, with a 5% increase in submissions so far in 2018.
These diverse stakeholder perspectives demonstrated why publishers and libraries need to take a proactive role in making sure that their content is discoverable. It’s not sufficient to leave discovery up to the A&I services and the search engines, because users expect more, and publishers and authors need more, in order to sustain their businesses and their work. TrendMD has become an essential tool that’s helping bridge that gap. Many thanks to the panel participants for sharing their ideas and their data!