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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

The Nature of UK Research Literature: Some Thoughts Arising from a Bibliometric Study

Patricia Layzell Ward,
Department of Information and Library Studies,
University of Wales Aberystwyth,


This paper reports part of an investigation into the UK research literature 1965-1995, and follows the methodology developed by Jarvelin and Vakkari. The ultimate aim of the project is to examine trends in UK research from 1965 (selected because it was a time of growth in UK LIS education and research), and to consider the influences that determined the nature of research and development in LIS in the UK.



This project has emerged from two interests. The first, as a researcher, lay in replicating a method and applying it to a different set of data. One of the characteristics of research in the LIS discipline has been a lack of testing of methods, but the IFLA Section on Theory and Research has encouraged the emergence of a set of papers which examine LIS research (for example Cheng,1996) using the bibliometric methods developed by Jarvelin and Vakkarri (1990;1993). The second interest comes from a curiosity about the nature of R & D. Do we examine similar problems in the different parts of the world? Do we import methods from other disciplines? What effect has R & D had on professional practice? How far do we communicate with researchers from outside our principal discipline? If so, do we take their findings into account in designing research strategies? In short, the interest centres on the sociology of information transfer within the discipline, and the profession. The results that will be reported today are a first contribution to this larger picture.


In order to make a comparison between the research carried out in different countries, the method of Jarvelin and Vakkari was adopted (1990). The data were collected and classified using the classification scheme they devised. Whilst their research focused on international journals reporting research in the field, this study concentrated on the research reported in UK research journals at ten year intervals - 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1995. Not all of the current journals identified as being of a scholarly or research nature had been published in the earlier years.

Table 1. Source journals			1965	  1975	     1985	1995

Aslib Proceedings				  *          *         *          *
Int. Journal of Information Management		             	       *          *
Int. Journal of Information & Library Res.	                                  *
Journal of Documentation			  *          *         *          *
Journal of Information Science			  *          *         *          *
Journal of Librarianship & Information Sci.                  *         *	  *
Library & Information Research News			               *          *
New Review of Academic Librarianship                                              *
Research in Librarianship			  *          *  

Notes: * = year available for analysis

The International Journal of Information Management was formerly Social Science Information Studies and the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science was formerly the Journal of Librarianship.

The findings are necessarily presented as an overview, further detail is available from the author.

A comparison between research and professional articles

For each of the serials selected, all full-length articles were analysed. Following the methodology, research articles were those which reported a systematic inquiry designed to elicit new facts, concepts or ideas: professional articles were reviews, discussions or bibliographies. The table below indicates a systematic and considerable growth in the number of research articles published in 1965 and 1995, whilst the number of professional articles remains fairly constant.

Table 2. The distribution of research and professional articles

			1965		1975		1985		1995

			n=		n=		n=	         n=
Research articles	10		46		62		116
Professional articles	34		33		33		 37

Totals			44		79		95		153

The distribution of library and information science topics in research articles and professional articles

The greatest number of the articles were classified under the heading of LIS activities which includes circulation, collections, information services, administration etc. There has been a growth of interest in information retrieval, and in information seeking and the professions. There has been limited interest in scientific and professional communication. One could speculate that the more recent growth emerged from the impact of electronic publishing.

Table 3. The distribution of LIS topics in research and professional articles

Topics		            		1965	  1975	  1985	  1995	

			 		  n=	   n=	    n=      n= 
The professions				   2	    1	     6	    12
Education in LIS			   5	    7	    10	     8
LIS activities				  12	   39	    32	    62
Information storage and retrieval	  10	   20	    21	    34	
Information seeking			  11        4	    21	    25
Scientific and prof. communication	   4        8        5       9
Other aspects of LIS						     2
Other discipline						     1

Totals					  44	   79	    95     153

The most frequent topic changed during the 30 year period. Information retrieval headed the list in 1965, this changed to information and reference service in 1975, and for 1985 and 1995 the preoccupation has been in administration and planning.

Table 4. Most frequent LIS topics in research and professional articles

  	1965			1975			1985			1995 

1. inf. retrieval 	 1. inf. & ref. service  1. admin & planning    1. admin & plan
2. use of inf. channels  2. bib. databases       2. automation          2. inf. retrieval
3. inf. & ref. service   3. inf. retrieval       3. inf.retrieval       3. automation
3. admin & planning      3. admin & planning   
                         3. educ. In LIS

Note: some topics recorded similar scores

Viewpoint on information dissemination

Jarvelin and Vakkari introduced this interesting field in their classification.

It is perhaps to be expected that the majority of the articles were written from the viewpoint of the intermediary organisationís viewpoint, but there has been a growth in the number written from the end-users viewpoint, particularly in 1995. This may well result from the growth in the market of electronic information services and the growth of the Internet.

Table 5. Viewpoint on information dissemination  		

Phase of information dissemination		1965	 1975	   1985     1995

						 n=	 n=	    n=	     n=
Several interconnected phases			 -	  1	     2	      2
Producerís viewpoints				 -	 11	    10	     15
Sellerís viewpoint				 -	  2	     1 	      1
Intermediaryís viewpoint			12	 22	    22	      9
Intermediary organisationís viewpoint		13	 24	    35	     48
End-userís viewpoint				16	 13	    17	     55
End-user organisationís viewpoint		 -	  -	     5	     15
Developerís viewpoint				 -	  -	     -	      1
Educatorís viewpoint				 3	  6	     2	      5
Other viewpoint				         -	  -	     1	      2

Totals					  	44	 79	    95      153	

Research strategies and methods

Surveys dominate the research strategies. An increase in the use of the case or action approach , content or citation analysis and evaluation. Bibliometrics and experiment are less likely to be used in research in the UK.

Table 6. Research strategies in the articles

					1965	1975	1985	1985

Research strategies			  n=	  n=	  n=	  n=

Empirical research strategy
Historical method			  -	  1	  4	  1
Survey method				  7	 15	 19	 44
Qualitative method			  -	  -	  -	  -
Evaluation method			  -	  3	  -	  8
Case or action research method	 	  -	  2	  1	 11
Content or protocol analysis		  -	  2	  4	 10
Citation analysis			  2	  5	  6	 10 
Other bibliometric method		  -	  1	  -	  -
Secondary analysis			  -	  2	  1	  -
Experiment				  -	  2	  5	  4

Conceptual research strategy
Verbal argumentation, criticism		  -	  3	 12	 22 
Concept analysis			  -	  3	  9	 12
Mathematical or logical method		  -	  4	  7	  4
System/software analysis design		   -	   1	  5	  8
Literature review			  3	  8	 12	 11
Discussion paper		         32	 27	 10	  8
Bibliographic method			  -	  -	  -	  - 

Totals				         44	 79	 95	153	

Given the results above, it is to be expected that questionnaires and interviews are frequent methods of data collection. ĎThinking aloudí or Ďverbal argumentationí - the latter term also being used by Jarvelin and Vakkari, is the most frequent method. The historical method and observation are less frequently reported in 1995.

Table 7. Data collection methods in the research articles

Method					1965	1975	1985	1995

					 n=	 n=	 n=	 n=
Questionnaire, interview		  7	 12	 13	 44
Observation				  -	  6	  5	  4
Thinking aloud				 35	 33	 38	 48
Content analysis			  -	  4	 15	 23
Citation analysis			  2	  6	  6	 10
Historical source analysis		  -	 14	  9	  5
Several methods of collecting		  -	  1	  1	  8
Use of data collected earlier		  -	  2	  -	  3
Other methods of collection		  -	  1	  8	  6
Not applicable				  -	  -	  -	  2

Totals					 44	 79	 95	153

Comparison with earlier studies

Even if a common methodology is employed, it is still difficult to make comparisons with earlier studies, so the comments that follow are offered with a degree of hesitation. Cheng (1996) reported a difference between the focus of research in China with that of Scandinavia. In China the concentration had been on theory and history, whilst that in Scandinavia and in the UK was on practice. Comparing the Scandinavia studies with this preliminary study indicates broadly similar findings.


One of the surprising outcomes of this study was the comparatively small number of articles in the UK refereed journals. This may be due to the wide range of journals in the English language to which UK authors can submit their articles, and it may be considered prestigious to submit copy to a major US journal. Indeed, the research assessment exercise now conducted in UK university departments places an emphasis on research of international standing.

The published output from research projects is, of course, not limited to articles in journals, and Kajbergís study (1996) covers reports, conferences and other relevant sources. The UK study is to be extended to cover the report literature.

Whilst there is a clear indication of growth in the number of articles published, this was not as great as expected. During the period under examination higher degrees had been introduced in the majority of the UK schools, and there had been a noticeable growth in the volume of students studying for masters degrees. In the UK there are two types of masters degree - the taught and research. The taught masters students will outnumber the research students, but for the majority of the taught masters students, a dissertation is a requirement for the award of the degree. The question is raised as to whether the dissertation contains an element of original research, or if it does, whether the students are not necessarily publishing their findings. So, in common with any investigation, the preliminary findings raise a number of interesting questions which will take the study forward together with a citation analysis.


Cheng, Huanwen (1996). A bibliometric study of library and information research in China . A paper presented at the 62nd annual conference of IFLA. Beijing, 1996. 068-LTR-I-E

Jarvelin, K. and Vakkari, P. (1990). Content analysis of research articles in library and information science. Library and Information Science Research , 12, pp. 395-421.

Jarvelin, K. and Vakkari, P. (1993). The evolution of library and information science 1965-1985: a content analysis of journal articles. Information Processing and Management , 29, (1), pp.129-144.

Kajberg, L. (!996). A content analysis of LIS serial literature published in Denmark 1957-1986. Library and Information Science Research , 18, pp. 25-52.