5 ways to get more from your journal subscriptions

By: Laura Graham-Clare, Thu May 10 2018
Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

The library is pivotal to the achievement of faculty, researchers and students, and its role has expanded way beyond the housing of information in recent years. From information literacy training, the marketing and integration management of diverse content platforms, data management, publicity, and detailed content analysis and reporting, the library is firmly at the forefront of academic advancement in 2018.    

At the heart of every library’s success lies the careful sourcing and widespread circulation of diverse, high-impact, and reliable content, much of which is delivered via electronic resources. Journals are still the dominant format for emerging academic research, particularly in STM subjects. With a significant amount of library budget invested in journal subscriptions it is vital to achieve a strong return on this investment, as well as demonstrating the impact this content has on the overall performance of your institution. With a strong correlation between the use of e-journals and the number of papers published and research grants awarded (Sconul.ac.uk, 2018), every library needs to ensure that the content it has invested in is highly discoverable and widely used.

With all that in mind, here are some of the most effective ways to improve journal discovery and usage at your institution.

Check out the Infographic here

1. Measure and benchmark journal usage statistics

Regularly analysing journal data to identify usage patterns - including which titles, articles and disciplines are generating the highest downloads - can be an effective way of tailoring your marketing communications to faculty to create greater visibility of new or under-used titles.

It is important to compare your usage to peer institutions of a similar size and research intensity. This is something your journal publisher could support you with. At Springer Nature our Account Development team proactively tracks institutions’ journal usage to identify when collaboration may be beneficial. We benchmark use against peer institutions to determine whether journal usage is typical for similar institutions and we carry out ‘discovery audits’ at institutions whose usage is not where we would like it to be.

During a discovery audit our team acts like a library end-user, searching the catalogue or discovery layer for a broad set of journals subscribed to by the institution. Beyond searching for a journal by name, we also search for key metadata including articles, authors, and full-text within the chapter. These findings are used to determine how discoverable the content is to users and are shared with the library to identify ways to help improve the visibility of their titles.

2. Adopt tried and tested best marketing practices

Having invested in a new electronic resource, you want to make sure that your students, researchers, and faculty know about it - but what's the best way to do that? The first step is to access tools and materials from your publisher that can help you raise the visibility of new content throughout the institution.

Springer Nature works closely with librarians to create awareness campaigns for new journals and journal portfolios on their behalf. We also provide you with bespoke email templates, messaging, brochures, user guides and more to help you build and manage your own communications.

As part of a study exploring the impact of proactive versus indirect vendor support for the promotion of journal subscriptions, we worked with three Californian universities across two six-week periods. The universities each received a different level of support: the first had sustained hands-on activity (events staffed by experts, face-to-face training and advice for users, promotional materials); the second received indirect support (email campaigns, posters, social media messages, videos and digital signage), and the third institution acted as a control group with no additional support from us. 

Usage statistics were recorded before and after the activity, with additional comparisons made against the previous year’s usage. The institution supported with on-campus events and a more hands-on approach saw usage statistics increase by an average of 45% while indirect activity drove a surprising 58% increase, with the control group seeing no change in usage over the six-week study.


Here’s our quick checklist for boosting usage of your journals in just a few weeks:

  • Check out the marketing and training resources made available to you by your vendor as soon as you’ve subscribed.
  • Kick off awareness-raising and user-training sessions with on-campus presentations or webinars from the vendor.
  • Drive broader awareness of new journals with email campaigns to faculty, digital signage on the library homepage, and library resources promoted on the institutional homepage.
  • Include distance education and study abroad programs in your marketing outreach.
  • Post announcements with links to journal pages and publisher platforms on your social media channels.
  • Take advantage of any promotional stands, signage, and posters your vendor can supply to launch a new subscriptions or boost usage further down the line.

“With e-resources in particular, it’s imperative to reach faculty. They are the ones who will move the needle on usage. Taking the time to show up at faculty offices, or in the buildings where the majority of students are taking classes, is much more effective than standing in the library lobby hoping that someone who is focused in that discipline might walk by.”                                

Jamie Hazlitt, Librarian for Collection Development at Loyola Marymount University.


3. Maximise accessibility

Clear, well signposted access to e-content and fast retrieval of relevant articles make a marked improvement to the productivity of an institution. Accessing journals via library resources saves faculty and researchers time and money, so ensuring subscribed journal content is prominent and accessible is crucial to achieving a strong return on investment and improving institutional output. Maximising the number of ways e-content platforms can be accessed will encourage greater visibility of journals and drive usage.

  • Make subscribed journals easily discoverable from the library homepage, faculty and departmental sites, and the learning management system your institution uses.
  • The number of users accessing academic content via mobile is growing, so ensuring your library site and content platforms are optimised for mobile is important to build exposure.
  • With increasing numbers of students and researchers now accessing subscription content remotely as part of distance learning courses and more flexible working patterns, having secure, reliable, remote access to your journal holdings is vital.

4. Boost discovery

Now that your researchers are more aware of e-resources from marketing activity and can easily locate access points via clear signposting, how can you maximise discoverability of individual journals? Here are some of the most effective methods for improving journal discoverability:

      (i) Partner with discovery services

Discovery services provide institutions with an effective method for locating exact content and increasing usage. The most frequently used discovery services are Ex Libris Primo, ProQuest Summon, EBSCO Discovery Service, and OCLC WorldCat Discovery. Libraries can select their licensed content from these services and integrate it with their catalogue.

Springer Nature supplies each of these providers complete metadata and the full text of our journals. This allows them to index our content fully, making it more visible and discoverable to your users.

      (ii) Enable link resolvers

Link resolvers provide customized lists with title-level metadata to libraries for ease of content discoverability and full-text linking. Link resolvers work in tandem with discovery services allowing libraries to indicate their holdings and accessible content with links to the full-text. Springer Nature provides the data needed to support the following link resolvers: EBSCO Full Text Finder; EX Libris SFX; Serial Solutions 360 Knowledge Base; OCLC WorldCat Knowledge Base.

      (iii) Use A&I Services

Abstracting and Indexing Services are usually more subject-oriented but are like Discovery Services in that they also provide search capabilities to their users. Abstracting and Indexing Services such as Web of Science and PubMed are curated by human indexers, whereas Google Scholar does not utilize human indexers. Springer Nature works with just about every A&I service, over 400 in total, through a dedicated A&I Department and in close co-operation with our publishing editors.

      (iv) Move A-Z listings of journals and databases to the library homepage

A-Z lists act as a first step for researchers to identify accessible databases and, if clearly positioned on the library homepage, encourage users to discover and use a broader number of resources from their discipline. SpringerLink and Nature.com could be included in these listings.

      (v) Link to subject collections via online research and LibGuides

After A-Z lists, LibGuides allows for easy navigation of relevant resources in a specific discipline. As access to Springer Nature’s platforms is granted through IP authentication, including EZProxy for off-site users, when you are writing a lib guide you could include a direct link to our journals within the discipline of your choice. You can search Nature journals by discipline and SpringerLink journals through faceted search.

     (vi) Advance discovery with a Metadata Downloader

An enhanced Metadata Downloader has now been launched by Springer Nature which is replacing the retired MARC Downloader Tool. This improved web tool provides librarians and library cataloguers with easily downloadable MARC and KBART metadata which can be embedded into library catalogues, as well as title lists for a library's licensed content.

5. Optimise training and information

The ability to search, filter, process, and apply large volumes of information and data are skills that are now highly valued by employers and skills that libraries equip students and researchers with in e-resources training. Regular in-person and virtual training on the effective use of institutional and third-party discovery tools can have a big impact on productivity, user-satisfaction, and overall performance of the institution.


Join the conversation…

We’d love to hear about the ways you’ve increased exposure to journals at your institution, which strategies have helped you improve discoverability and the different ways your students, researchers, and faculty are accessing and using journal content today. Get in touch with us on Twitter @SN_LibraryLink, using the hashtag #discoverytips or via the Springer Library Zone on Facebook. In the meantime, download your complete discovery guide here.




(1)    Sconul.ac.uk. (2018). The value of academic libraries | SCONUL. [online] Available at: https://www.sconul.ac.uk/page/the-value-of-academic-libraries [Accessed 22 Feb. 2018].


Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Laura Graham-Clare is Head of Community Content, based in London. Working between our publishing, sales and marketing teams, she is focused on thought leadership trends, content creation, and developing insights and information resources for staff, librarians, researchers and information professionals.