Article Summary 3: Medical faculty’s use of print and electronic journals: changes over time and in comparison with scientists (Tenopir, King, and Bush)

Tenopir et al. surveyed the medical faculty at the University of Tennessee Health Center (across many ages, specialties, and professional focus) in order to determine journal use patterns among medical faculty and other scientists. Comparisons were made using previous research by the authors and others. The primary focus was a comparison of print and e-journal use and how those patterns varied across fields.

The authors submit that e-journals allow faster access to a larger bank of information; e-journal articles include those that will never be published in print form, pre-prints, and copies of articles that are simultaneously printed. They also have lessened the financial burden for individual personal subscriptions as the cost of journal subscriptions has risen steeply.

A literature review revealed several things about medical faculties’ use of journals. Medical faculty members tend to read more journal articles than scientists in other fields, their primary source of current information is medical journals, and they have been less likely to abandon personal journal subscriptions. The authors note that barriers to journal use may include access issues, and presume that increased access would increase journal use.

The questionnaire used asked questions pertaining to the reader as well as reading habits. In order to gather more accurate and valuable results, the authors employed a “critical incident technique” by asking respondents to describe their most recent experience reading an article. This technique was meant to increase the respondent’s ability to recall important details and to allow for more in depth data comparisons.

Analysis suggests that medical faculty read more than members of other professions, their primary purpose for reading articles is to support their research, and they spend less time per article. Most articles are obtained from personal journal subscriptions, but the value of those acquired from the medical library is higher. Medical faculty tended to read more current articles, and were more likely to browse articles than other scientists.

Differences among medical faculty ages did not appear to affect the proportion of print to e-journals read. Medical specialty did not show a significant difference, but educational degree did (those with a medical degree read print articles more often, but those with doctoral degrees read the two with equal frequency). These differences may be unique to medical faculty, as an earlier study of astronomers suggests.

The authors conclude that if  librarians and publishers want to best serve medical faculty, they must make journals more accessible and convenient, and offer more browsable material while maintaining currency. Article delivery to handheld devices is one recommendation.


While most conclusions from this study are intuitive, it is worthwhile to put them into the context of patron service. Medical librarians are expected to serve a very specific group – examining the group’s usage patterns should help librarians maximize source relevancy and utility.


Tenopir C, King DW, Bush A. Medical faculty’s use of print and electronic journals: changes over time and in comparison with scientists. J Med Libr Assoc. 2004; 92(2): 233-241.



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