Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences

Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in the life sciences

How do researchers in the life sciences use information and how can this be improved?

This report by the RIN and the British Library provides an insight into how information is used by researchers across life sciences. It describes research which sought to capture the day-to-day patterns of information use in seven UK research teams from a wide range of disciplines. The study found that there is a significant gap between how researchers behave and the policies and strategies of funders and service providers and concludes that these ‘one-size-fits-all’ information and data sharing policies are not achieving scientifically productive and cost-efficient information use.

Key findings from the report include: 

  • researchers use a limited range of information sources and resources identified primarily through informal sources and trusted colleagues, rather than institutional service teams
  • researchers access information primarily online and regard Google as the "ultimate enabler" despite being aware of its limitations. However the use of social networking and Web 2.0 tools for scientific research purposes is far more limited than expected
  • whilst researchers are positive about data and information sharing, and the concept of open access, achieving the balance between open access and protecting intellectual capital for future use is still an issue for them. Data and information sharing activities are mainly driven by needs and benefits perceived as most important by life scientists rather than ‘top-down’ policies and strategies
  • there are marked differences in the patterns of information use and exchange between research groups active in different areas of study, reinforcing the need to avoid standardised policy approaches.

The report sets out a number of recommendations to funders, universities and information service providers on how policy and services can be more aligned with research practice. These include:

  • policies and strategies must be informed by an understanding of research practice and brought closer to research groups and communities - further engagement with researchers is essential
  • funders must heed the strong call for locally available information support through emerging hybrid roles and disciplines such as bioinformatics
  • research managers must review current career development, professional recognition and reward structures to ensure that information sharing activities are recognised and rewarded and that sustainable careers for those providing information services are supported.

The research was undertaken by the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, and the UK Digital Curation Centre and the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services,

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.