Beyond Downloads

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Background and Objectives of the Project
Through the efforts of publishers working with Project COUNTER, measurements for downloads of articles have been standardized. The COUNTER reports are now widely used by publishers and by libraries to monitor how many articles from specific journals are downloaded and to compare download amounts across platforms, titles, and time. But articles are also shared without downloading by sending links or author’s copies or beyond the first instance of downloading. Sharing digital content by email, internal networks, cloud services, or social networks is now widespread—nearly 60% of researchers surveyed by Elsevier admit to regularly sharing journal articles on a wide variety of channels.
This secondary type of usage may be reducing the accuracy of existing usage measures, as existing methods fail to capture secondary sharing and widespread sharing may lead to a decrease in repeat downloads or, if only links are shared, an increase in downloads. The extent of this problem is unknown and both downloading and sharing varies by stakeholder group (faculty, post-graduate students, undergraduates, non-academic researchers). Therefore, the Beyond Downloads research project will seek to:
  • Define ways to measure non-download usage of digital content both within and outside institutional firewalls
  • Evaluate and measure the relationship between COUNTER defined usage and usage of digital articles obtained through other means, notably via shared content, taking into account differences by stakeholder groups
  • Develop practical methodologies and heuristics for estimating total digital article usage as a function of known downloads and non-download usage
  • Designing a usage multiplier that could be used to reweigh total measured usage towards a more accurate measure of total digital usage that varies by subject discipline and other factors
  • Initiate discussion across the publisher, STM research, and library communities regarding these issues
Methods and Responsibilities
The University of Tennessee, Center for Information and Communication Studies (UT CICS), under the leadership of Dr. Carol Tenopir, will lead a seasoned scholarly communication research team that includes Dr. Peter Shepherd, Executive Director of Project COUNTER, Dr. Hazel Woodward, Board of Directors of COUNTER and retired Librarian of Cranfield University, Dr. David Nicholas Director of CIBER Research Ltd., and Dr. Suzie Allard in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee.
A three-pronged methodology is recommended:
  1. Identify the range of formal (for example, Mendeley, tweets, etc.) and informal methods of sharing (for example email to colleagues) scholarly content and establish which of these can be systematically measured (for example, using altmetrics). For formal systematic measures, calculate averages (per article, journal, and/or discipline) of sharing instances.
  2. Survey researchers to determine estimated amounts of sharing, through both formal and informal channels and calculate averages for sharing that take into account multiple ways to share and differences across disciplines.
  3. Develop and test methods for measuring total digital article usage and a usage multiplier.
The final project output will be publications and conference papers for multiple audiences by members of the project team.