percentage of content accessed via each of these options. We didn’t use the terms ‘free’ or ‘paid’; we have just used those terms here for illustration purposes. We found that, regardless of sector, subject area, or income bracket of the country they resided in, respondents told us that on average around 60 per cent of content was being accessed from one of the free sites. In lower-income countries this figure was slightly higher, and in higher income countries it was slightly lower, but nevertheless the results are surprising.

In the medical sector, we surmised that more than 25 per cent of content is being accessed from subject repositories – the PubMedCentral (PMC) effect, presumably – and in the academic sector around 20 per cent from institutional repositories. Around 10 per cent of content is from a social media site and between 10 and 20 per cent from the author or colleague.

When asking the question ‘why this is so high?’ we only need look at the key discovery resources people will use to find content – the starting points are key to this.

In the medical sector the most important discovery resource appears to be PubMed; if the full text of an article is hosted in PMC,

PubMed will provide a very obvious link to the ‘free version’, so this result is fairly easily explained in this sector. In the academic sector, Google Scholar is an extremely important starting point. Google Scholar indexes many subject and institutional repositories – as well as, it appears, ResearchGate – and puts a link to the full text when it finds it within its search results. While library technology can facilitate

‘Around 60 per cent of content was being accessed from one of the free sites’

an additional link, which takes the user via their library link server and thus onto ‘paid’ content, this function relies on the library setting up their link resolver details with Google Scholar, and their patrons updating their Google Scholar preferences with their institutions details.

News announced earlier this month which will see 1science and EBSCO Information Services collaborate to give academic libraries access to a vast number of openly accessible

scholarly articles when performing a search in EBSCO Discovery Service, will only add to the percentage of people finding and accessing free versions of content. Either way, a link to a free version of the full text can often be found in the Google Scholar search results page, as can be seen below. The Find it @ Oxford link is what a user from Oxford University would see if they had set up their preferences to take them via their library.

This was a new question for us in 2015, as many of our supporters were keen to get data on this key question. Of course, some may question these results as, quite rightly, they will say that many people don’t ever really know where they are getting their content from – they just click on a link and hope it appears. Even even if they don’t know where the content is coming from, there is of course an argument to say that it doesn’t really matter what they ultimately do – if they believe they are getting their content from a resource that is effectively free, they may well not be happy to have to pay for that same content in the future.

Download the full report from

World Library and Information Congress

82nd IFLA General Conference and Assembly 13–19 August 2016 | Columbus, Ohio, United States Greater Columbus Convention Center

Connections. Collaboration. Community.

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