Life scientists? information use ? one size does not fit all

Added by Sarah on 02 November 2009 10:00

Report of research patterns in life sciences reveals that researcher practices diverge from policies promoted by funders and information service providers


News release - 2 November 2009

A report by the British Library and the Research Information Network (RIN) launched today provides unique insight into how information is used by researchers across life sciences. 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, the report concludes that ?one-size-fits-all? information and data sharing policies are not achieving scientifically productive and cost-efficient information use in life sciences.

The report, Patterns of information use and exchange: case studies of researchers in life sciences was developed using an innovative approach to capture the day-to-day patterns of information use in seven research teams from a wide range of disciplines, from botany to clinical neuroscience. The study undertaken over 11 months and involving 56 participants found that there is a significant gap between how researchers behave and the policies and strategies of funders and service providers. This suggests that the attempts to implement such strategies have had only a limited impact.  Key findings from the report include

  • Researchers use informal and trusted sources of advice from colleagues, rather than institutional service teams, to help identify information sources and resources
  • The use of social networking tools for scientific research purposes is far more limited than expected
  • 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 the life sciences, reinforcing the need to avoid standardised policy approaches

The study used ground-breaking research methods to map information use in research teams from across the life sciences. This included specially designed ?information lab books? to chart and monitor individual researcher?s day-to-day information practices.

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 and help UK life scientists sustain their position at the forefront of world-class research.

Commenting on the report, Professor Sir Kenneth Calman, Chair of the National Cancer Research Institute & Chancellor, University of Glasgow said: ?This report is a crucial piece of work and allows us to understand in more detail the role that information and data play in contemporary research across the life sciences.  Further, it demonstrates the gaps that exist between policy and practice and it is with this in mind that funders, universities and information professionals should take note of this report and draw on its recommendations to inform their plans in supporting UK life science research in the future.?

Dr Eric Fevre, a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellow who participated in the study, commented: “It is fascinating to see mapped out how we, as life-scientists, use information resources within our academic networks, but the report also highlights potentially valuable tools and technologies that we under-use or ignore completely. It encourages scientists to think formally about their use of information in research and thereby increase their efficiency in so doing.”

Patterns of information use and exchange: Case studies in life sciences will be launched at a reception at the British Library on 17th November at 6.30pm.

The report can be downloaded from


For further information, interview opportunities or to attend the event please contact:

British Library Press Office:

Jacob Lant: /          T: +44 (0)20 7412 7105

Miki Lentin: /         T: +44 (0)20 7412 7112

Notes to Editors:

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world’s greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library’s collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation. It includes: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Further information on science collections,  services, events and projects is available on the Library’s website at

The Research Information Network (RIN) was set up in 2005 by the four UK higher education funding bodies, the seven research councils and the three national libraries. The RIN?s role is to enhance and broaden understanding of the information resources and services available to researchers, and how they use them; and to promote the innovation and development of effective policies and strategies for the benefit of the UK research community.

Institute for the Study of Science Technology and Innovation (ISSTI) brings together the Research Centre for Social Sciences, the ESRC Centre for Social and Economic Research on Innovation in Genomics (Innogen) and the Science Studies Unit in the School of Social and Political Science, and an interdisciplinary array of other specialist research centres and groups at the University of Edinburgh from the Schools of Business, Economics, Engineering, Informatics and Public Health and beyond

UK Digital Curation Centre provides a national focus for research and development into curation issues and promotes expertise and good practice, both national and international, for the management of all research outputs in digital format.

University of Edinburgh?s Information Service is led by the Vice Principal for Knowledge Management, Chief Information Officer, Librarian to the University, and organised into 6 divisions.

© Research Information Network 2005–2009