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Image of the information environment of scholarly communication through the lens of researchers in the Slovak Republic

Summary: We define the information environment of scholarly communication generally with the use of concepts of information environment and information infrastructure, digital and open science. The typical information behaviour of researchers in Slovakia is explained based on a qualitative study of information behaviour of 19 researchers. The models of common information interactions and differences among disciplines are presented. Findings are interpreted in contexts of digital publishing, open science, information resources and proposals for library services. We also report on findings of an international survey of research data literacy (257 Slovak researchers). In conclusion we explain the concept of academic information ecologies and a new model of the interactive academic library, including recommendations for the academic information environment. Trends of digital information and quality of outputs of scholarly communication are emphasized.

Keywords: information environment, information behaviour of researchers, research data literacy, academic information ecologies, model of an academic library

Jela Steinerová / Katedra knižničnej a informačnej vedy, Filozofická fakulta, Univerzita Komenského v Bratislave (Department of Library and Information Science, Faculty of Arts, Comenius University in Bratislava)


Information environment and information behaviour of scientists are topics that have been taken up by information science of the present day to be analysed under the new circumstances of the digital environment. That is why the objective of this contribution consists in a novel definition of some concepts on a theoretical level, such as information environment, information infrastructure, digital science and open science, while using these contexts for the introduction of some selected results of the recent research focusing upon the information behaviour of scientists in the Slovak Republic upon the foundation of a qualitative study including international research of data literacy among scientists. Thus a certain image of the information environment and the way it is perceived by chosen scientists has appeared, in parallel with new questions originating in connection with the building of the information infrastructure and with some practical aspects of the functioning of academic libraries. We have chosen, from among the plurality of results, in particular the opinions of scholars concerning digital publishing, open science, information resources and proposals relating to the improvement of services of the academic libraries. An important context of this research is seen in the ecological aspects of the information environment for which we have suggested a new model of academic information ecologies as well as a model of an interactive ecological library.

Information environment and scholarly communication

The information environment in a broader sense can be characterized as a comprehensive system of interactions of mass, energy, persons and information in time and space, all that in connection with safeguarding the information process (Steinerová, 2018). The information process is formed by the life cycle of creation, processing, communicating and applying information. It takes place in a certain information environment, and that is why the information environment is seen as a certain framework within which the utilization of information gets materialized. In a broad context the information environment can be also defined as a part of the societal environment where the information process gets implemented.

If viewed from other aspects, the information environment is delimited as a plurality of information resources consisting of information objects (documents, databases), tools, systems and services that are used for managing and analysing information as well as information search (Lauri et al., 2016). There is yet another option to define the information environment, and namely as correlations between the person and the information objects within the context of the objectives of information behaviour and the search for information,. In this sense the substance of the information environment is represented by information interactions as mutual affecting between man and information, mediated by information services and systems. An information environment, seen from a practical viewpoint, contains an information infrastructure, databases, information systems, information services, tools, analytical and researching systems. Regarding science, the information environment is part of the societal and technical domain of the scientific and researching process in various contexts of scientific disciplines.

The actual foundation of an information environment is the person organizing the information process on an individual, communal (group oriented), organisational (institutional), national as well as international level. There are types of approach in information science highlighting also elements of time and space as important component parts of the information environment (such as the “sense-making” model suggested by Derwin). Other approach options stress especially the information resources: e.g. information objects and services. Technological viewpoints of approach prefer information technologies, such as the information environment of a given system, computer or network

Specifically, the information environment can be investigated in connection with the information management, existing knowledge and information ecology (Davenport & Prusak, 1997). In this case the information environment is handled as comprising and information strategy, an information policy, information behaviour and information culture, information professionals, processes of information management as well as information architecture. This is a certain structure enabling the functioning of diversified information oriented activities. Within the concept of information ecology (Davenport & Prusak, 1997), it is of importance to solve the diversity of sense in the information environment, while governing the information behaviour both on the level of individuals and of the collaborating communities. Many authors highlight also the context of information, respecting various styles of processing information, along with applying suitable information architecture.

Other ways of investigating the information environment are related to the varying working ambiance of people, the actual utilization of information and their information literacy.

The first one to have defined the environment of information use in the working processes was Robert Taylor (information use environment, IUE) (Byström, Heinström & Ruthven, 2017). The environment of the application of information consists of a set of elements affecting the flow and the use of information within the boundaries of a defined entity determining the criteria serving to assess information. It is reflected in a typical structure of problems of certain groups of people, their typical approach and the elements of solutions for tackling their problems. Then such groups can form communities connected by a certain common factor, such as employment (professional communities), scientific disciplines or interests (interest communities). According to the concept of R. Taylor the problems are characterized by the handled issues, by activities and by searching for sense. The information problems are not static and algorithms for their solution are not available.. The settings for certain environments represent a sort of restriction ensuing from the typical environmental elements, organization styles, domains of interest and approach to information. The solution of problems comprises also impulses for the use of information, factual or motivational factors related to the understanding of problems and information features, such as from the viewpoint of data, time etc. This model suggested by R. Taylor highlights the variable, developing, time dependent and rather chaotic context of information use. Recently this model has been adapted to form a model of workplace information environment (WIE) (Byström, Heinström & Ruthven, 2018). The model indicates the dynamics in the interrelations of humans, tasks and environmental setting in their development in the course of time. It highlights the personal information management, information literacy in the workplace environment, task sharing, various dimensions and types of problems (such as well structured or poorly structured problems), collaboration and information culture.

In connection with the information environment also the concept of digital information environment appears to be broadly used at the present day. It comprises a plurality of digital tools, objects, data databases, service types and systems ensuring the use of information and technologies in different contexts. It gets formed, e.g., in science, education, professions, workplaces or in the everyday information behaviour of man. The basic components of a digital information environment are digital objects, digital libraries, digital archives, digital museums, digital services and tools or digital repositories. An information environment in the technological sense can be represented by computers and by technological program oriented instruments enabling communication and information processing, its presentation and visualization, and also collaboration and participation, such as in computer networks. A digital environment can be structured on the level of one personal computer, but also on the level of computer networks.

These concepts of information environment, information infrastructure and of digital environment are modelled in the newer concepts of scholarly communication of the present day. We try to explain the principle of digital publishing in science, the changes concerning the utilization of electronic resources, the forming of new models of electronic periodicals. The present day information science is looking for better ways of communication and collaboration within scientific teams as well as for scientific reviewing with novel options and tools of the digital ambiance. New players are seen entering the stage, namely the producers of electronic resources, aggregators pf services and systems, developers of new electronic tools, such as reference managers, systems for handling scientific data etc. There is a question how these changes make themselves obvious in the real information behaviour of scholars, and also in their opinions concerning digital science and open science, and also relating to the newer possibilities of work with scientific data

Digital science and open science

Digital and open science represent important types of the information environment context, affecting its development in the direction of servicing the information infrastructure for the scientists. The digital science brings along the shift of scientific communication into the digital ambience and novel ways of using digital tools, resources, methods and data. The new methods of implementing science in digital environments are seen to transgress borders of space and time, to assist rich interactions between the scholars, the actual work with data, the sharing of data and of information resources as well as artefacts and tools in various disciplines (Steinerová, 2018).

The digital science develops following new models and new visions of scientific communication, new models of electronic periodicals, digital information services, including the open access to information resources The substance resides in the conversion of the scientific information interactions and the innovation of processes under the influence of the development of advanced technologies of information and communication.

Digital science comprises its information infrastructure and a new culture of collaboration and communication, participation and openness, which gives rise to creative innovations and transdisciplinary problems. The development of digital science is not related to the natural and the technological disciplines, but also to the humanitarian and social sciences where it highlights the role of experiment and of simulation in the digital environment.

Open science is a concept of scientific research highlighting the application of open access to the use of digital resources, data and education. The point consists in maximum transparency concerning the procedures, methods, data and explication of scientific results. The outputs of scientific research should be accessible also for the broader public. Public resources utilized for the support of scientific investigation should be used in combination with the private ones, while remaining transparent, in particular in the digital environment. In parallel, a search is going on that is looking for newer economic models of publishing and distributing the outputs of research as well as those of the innovations of the research process, including the value of information in scholarly communication, beginning from the actual creation down to publishing the results and achieving the ecological repeated utilization of data and knowledge.

The open science should be transparent in its methodology, when acquiring data, making observations and experimenting. Then the results and scientific data enable multiple utilization and public access. Digital and web related instruments in open science can be used for collaboration and presentation of the research. Open science is seen to apply principles of verification, objectivity, originality as well as the development of a community in a digital environment. For instance an experiment or the course of development can be repeated under different conditions, e.g. certain scientists make available also their program codes, enabling data to be used anew. It is important, in some types of research, to publish the used methodology in a detailed way, for being re-used in another context.

The principles of open access to scientific data and publications are targeted to the development of societal knowledge, in particular its accumulation and objective character. The openness of science can be interpreted on two levels. The essence of the internal level consists in contributing new ideas to the scientific process, whereas the external one means the option of using some existing ideas in a different context. The foundations of open science are scientific publications, research data, investigation methodology, expertise and supporting services. The actors of open science are research fellows, research teams, organisations, managing bodies as well as the broad public. There are also different degrees of openness, from interested professional communities, over the creation of opportunities for young scholars, for managers, down to the public. Various degrees of openness or closure of science depend upon legal and financial limitations of access to literature and data beginning in the cost of approach, licenses, possibly also the form of data and diversified forms of data and information protection. An important role in the open science is played by information structure and sustainable digital information service.

The development pace of the digital humanitarian and societal sciences is seen to be slower than that of digitizing natural sciences and technology including informatics (such as typical data dependent sciences astronomy and physics). There are many examples, e.g. NSDL (National Scientific Digital Library), California Digital Library, Perseus, Europeana. Topical problems of digital science consist in developing digital archives and repositories, collaboration projects, improvement of methods for the application of artificial intelligence, processing of huge amounts of data (sensory, astronomic, meteorological, social and cultural data).

Open science is a concept of transparent approach to the management of scientific research as well as transparent approach to data, methodologies, outputs, collaboration in science with the application of digital environment. In addition to the transparent information infrastructure and transparent strategies the trends consist of collaborative projects and systems, open access to publications and data, visualisation of scientific data a novel methods for assessing outputs.

Essential factors of the digital and open science are seen to be the digital information infrastructure, transparency and open access to information resources. These factors bring about also changes in the structure of the information ambience of the scholars, their methodologies, their process in managing scientific data and, last but not least, also publication strategies. This is the context within which the research concepts of information behaviour of the scholars in Slovakia have been handled, while referring to the results of this qualitative investigation (Steinerová, 2018).

Information behaviour of scholars in Slovakia: selected results of a qualitative assay

In 2015–2017 we began tackling the information related behaviour of scientists from the viewpoint of certain problems of the information environment. The results have been commented upon in a publication (Steinerová, 2018). It focused upon how the scholars in this country behave in the light of information. Having applied the methodology of interviewing 19 chosen experts representing diversified disciplines, we handled groups of domains comprising natural sciences (astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine), humanities (archaeology, history, linguistics, philosophy, logics, religion science, sinology, literary science), societal sciences (ethnology, sociology, political science, economics) and informatics (representing technological sciences). The demographic distribution of our respondents were 13 men and 6 women; their average age was 54,4 years and the length of practice amounted to the average of 30 years. The length of interview averaged 72 minutes; the collection of data continued from October 2015 to May 2016. The criteria for the choice of respondents were, in particular, their extraordinary scientific results, international experience, handling large amounts of data and scholarly expertise. Detailed information about the procedure, the respondents themselves and the methodology have been published (Steinerová, 1918

As concerns methodology of research, certain original methods of content analysis were applied as well as qualitative analysis and concept modelling. Relating to the design of investigation our focus was directed to the structure of the information environment comprising a number of component parts, such as the process of research, the information process, the information infrastructure and factors of influence. All that served as basis for the formulation of 25 questions for the following semi-structured interviews. The results of analyses were interpreted in the light of the structural aspects of the information environment. The data derived from interviews were encoded (open and selectively coded), the follow-up analyses of the contents ere multiple, i.e. processed by a number of investigators, and the final synthesis was achieved with the help of 23 conceptual maps utilizing the C-MapsTool software (Novak & Cañas, 2010). The conceptual maps identify two types of interpretation repertories used by the scientists; the critical and the constructive one (Steinerová, 2018).

This contribution focuses upon some interesting results of the research relating to both the shared processes and the differences between the disciplines as concerns publishing, digital publishing, open science, information resources and suggestions as to how the services of academic libraries can be improved. Thus a certain image of the information environment of the scholarly communication in Slovakia has been achieved, and namely one that can be of interest also for the neighbour countries. From the viewpoint of the information behaviour of scientists the results indicate some common processes on the methodological level, but also some rather substantial differences between the domains.

Results: common processes and different aspects of the disciplines

The shared patterns of information behaviour of scholars are characterized by critical analytical information processes along with deep expertise as well as motivation of the scientists. Professional experience is reflected especially in the excellent orientation in the information resources, by steady monitoring of resources enjoying authority in the field, personal networks of contacts with the international community of scholars. The information behaviour of scholars shows also the transdisciplinary character as well as the social and technological complexity of the information procedures of today. The mentioned expertíse comprises also monitoring of novelties in the field, utilization of reviewing made by colleagues, using digital resources, and also digital publishing, collaboration and data sharing in digital environment.

Such common processes were introduced by us also in the ecological framework of scientific information interactions (Steinerová, 2014 ; 2016). A model of information oriented interaction (Steinerová, 2018) contains factors of methodological character, those of expertise as well as open science factors. Methodological factors represent conceptual processes of understanding, description, exploring, explaining / creation of sense, prediction / modelling, collaboration and meta-literacy / project management. The factors of expertise are based upon cognitive processes of analyses, interpretations, heuristic procedures, comparison, representation, measuring //experiments, observation. The factors of open science are represented by component part of open access, data management, digital transparency, participation, promotion and electronic publishing.

This framework points to the dominant analytical and synthetic processes related to processing scientific data, highlighting the publishing, the digital information environment collaboration and participation. In general, they are bonded by by the basic principles of investigation, namely curiosity, searching, problem solving and creating sense. The model reflects indirectly how the scholars are integrated in academic communities and how the academic culture gets formed, while acknowledging also the importance of managing the research projects. The necessity has been discovered to strengthen the correlation of science with the public, in particular within the digital environment. As regards information handling, it is also essential to improve the scientific and methodological information literacy, with special focus upon the young scholars. The scientific information literacy is understood to be the application of information interactions in the course of utilization of information in scientific research, while highlighting the process of research, the personal basis of knowledge, including experience and expertise in the domains. The methodological literacy means especially the ability to discover and use methodologies that are well suited for the given discipline (Steinerová, 2013).

From the perspective of variations between the disciplines we have identified some marked differences in the information interactions of scholars between the groups of disciplines, especially the natural sciences, the humanities, the social sciences and informatics. We have been able to confirm the dependence of the information work upon the given context as well as upon the depth of immersion of the scholarly information related to interactions of academic disciplines and cultures. Tab. 1 provides a visualization of the model. The most marked differences appeared in the issues to be solved, in the methods and procedures used, the types of data, the publishing schemes, the information strategies related to acquiring and processing information. There are also differences concerning the use of digital tools and the creative outputs. That is why it should be underlined that one single model for all disciplines does not appear to be appropriate from the viewpoint of assessing the outputs, the quality of research or of its management.

Tab. 1. Model of differences in the interactions of scholars between the disciplines2

Information environment

Information behaviour of scholars

Natural science


Social science



Life, Nature, the AllNatureatureoda, vesmír



Systems algoritmy

Problem solving

Interpretation time , priestor

Social phenomena

Problem solving






standardized measuring

qualitative analyses

socio-economic, behavioural analyses

Data analysis


Special analyses

Text, objects

Social data, Statistics

web – data

analytical SW



models, visualisations, special SW


CCC periodicals

Monographs, studies

Periodicals, monographs

Conference proceedings


Tools, digital archives, specific systems

Specific systems

Social archives

Special SW, digital libraries

Information strategies

Intelligent technologies, models

Text analyses

Analyses of texts and data

Data analyses


Practice, life



Projects, products


Narrow context

Broader context

Broader context

Narrow context

Information objectives

Understanding, solving, discovering

Understanding, discovering

Understanding, formulae



Invention, patent, method

Precedency – topics, discovery, method

Topics, formulae

System, patent, method






Results: differences between the disciplines relating to publishing

Let us indicate the differences in publishing between the groups of disciplines related to their academic culture, in order to provide some examples of deeper analyses connected with the information behaviour of the scientists. As such the differences of publishing between the groups of disciplines correlated to the respective academic culture can be suggested. The question has been formulated thus: Where do you publish most often in your field (types of resources, rules, reviewing)? The discussion of scholars reflects the typical publishing modes in three groups of sciences (humanities and social sciences, natural sciences, technological sciences). Scholars active in the humanities and social sciences prefer to publish monographies, but also broader scientific studies, conference papers and papers in periodicals. Owing to the fact that scholars in the mode of humanities focus preferably upon man, his products and culture, they make use in particular of interpretation, heuristics, restructuring of knowledge, sometimes including their own experience and emotions. Their specific publications comprise, e.g., (philosophical) reflexions, essays, translations. Social scholars, in their turn, often chose processes of investigation, analyses, interpretations and deep categorisation of information. Their research tends to focus upon man, social communities and developmental aspects of society. They often use electronic resources, if an electronic environment is available, such as data of social archives, international social and economic databases. They often publish in periodicals and in conference papers. The publishing schemes in social sciences are seen to depend upon the chosen ways of research. The qualitative method gets close to the humanities, whereas the quantitative methodologies are rather near to the natural sciences.

Preferred publishing in the natural sciences has unambiguous orientation to high standard periodicals registered in WoS and Current Contents, with high impact factor. Let us give an example:: „There are typical 10 high quality periodicals in our discipline. We try to publish in CC („currented “ ) periodicals with high impact factor “ (R15). The scientists working in the regime of natural sciences focus in particular upon solving issues of Life and Nature, their practical methodological expertise comprising especially observation, experimenting, measuring. Their typical information behaviour includes monitoring the well-known high standard periodicals representing the essence of the discipline. These sciences carry on outspoken traditions of digital repositories, discipline oriented information systems and international networks (such as ArXiv.Org, PubMedCentral, Medline, ChemicalAbstracts). The information needs of these scholars are characterised by deep search in electronic resources (databases). In publication strategies they prefer top professional periodicals registered in WoS. Collaboration and high degree of co-authorship are seen to be a typical publishing scheme of the natural scientists; in particular digital reports, documentation and digital archives are frequent among their specific resources. The scholars also share publications and data in the digital environment.. As to the publication strategies of the technological sciences, articles in periodicals and conference papers are seen to prevail In this case there is a blend of information infrastructures, computer networks, databases, academic networks, electronic resources, datasets, digital tools, websites and publishing. The methodological modus of the technological sciences focuses upon the solution of practical problems, the development of new methods, tools and systems, utilizing simulation, designing, experiments. The scholars prefer electronic resources and digital libraries (ACM Digital Library). In some modes of investigation and publishing we were able to note inter-disciplinarity: e.g. “conversion” between disciplines, sharing of scientific data in novel contexts. Some scientists formulated also questions of correlation between quality and quantity of scientific publishing, Meanwhile we also noticed the necessity to strengthen the information infrastructures of digital humanitarian and social sciences and the management of scientific data.

Results: digital publishing and open access (OA)

When studying the information behaviour of scientists, we kept an eye also on the aspects of their approach to digital publishing, open access and open science. We formulated the question: Do you recognize the principles of the resources of open access (OA and open science; do you make use of OA periodicals in your discipline (electronic periodicals, data archives)? The discussion of scientists enabled us to identify factors of open science, such as the promotion of results for a broader public,, transparency of processes, publishing and open access. Further effective factors that were discussed comprised participation, collaboration, networking with colleagues and information sharing The natural sciences and „data“ sciences utilizing particularly huge data amounts, such as astrophysics, physics, genetics, archaeology, social sciences, economics informatics) enabled us to note strong bonds with advanced technologies. However, also the humanities display interesting projects focusing upon the development of digital sets, digital libraries and digital archives, especially related to cultural heritage. Let us offer some examples: the digital system with map of historical monuments in Bratislava (PamMap), the atlas of Slavonic languages, archaeological digital systems, digital sets of Mayan culture, sets of digitized literary texts etc.

As regards open science, the scholars expressed their opinions also about information policies, assessment of outputs, approach to data and publishing. Rather weaker factors were, e.g., the academic social networks, sharing of information and data and alternative metrics (altmetrics). In this context we divided the discussion of the scholars in two types from the viewpoint of open science; the supportive discourse and the critical one. In the supportive discourse the scholars highlighted the advantages of open science and of open access, especially the increased number of references, some spotlights on the persons of scholars, the speed of publication. On the other hand, certain apprehensions were heard in the critical discourse, and namely related to commercial influences and the problem of evaluating digital publications. Some scholars expressed their approval of the European trends of open science (Open Science, 2017, whereas some others considered possible quality deterioration of digital publishing. By way of example: „It is too early for some sort of final assessment or judgment at the present moment, experience is variable. OA has brought an unbelievable invasion, the origin of periodicals offering possibilities of publishing. These are the most numerous, but they present the least interest. This is apparent in the promotion – looking like some sort of publishing mill –speed of publishing in the first place. Some serious periodicals switch over to this model... they enjoy tradition, and in spite of the imperfections, they possess an impact factor in WoSe“. (R6). An analysis of opinions of scholars concerning digital publishing and open access is shown in the conceptual map (Fig.1).

Fig. 1 Conceptual map Publishing in the digital environment and open science in the light of approach of academics

Results: barriers, information resources and systems, the service of libraries

Having used the question: Which barriers stand most often in the way of your scientific work? (such as the administrative burden etc.)? we have identified a plurality of groups of hindrances in the work of scientists from the viewpoint if information environment (Steinerová 2017). The point is in individual, social, technological, administrative, financial and systemic barriers (including those related to social environment) The most apparent hurdles were overburdening by administrative chores, lack of funds, insufficient access to grants. One respondent formulated the issue thus: „We would need better funding of infrastructure. I don´t have the payroll in mind, but this particular need… (R19). In general the scholars indicated barriers concerning access to infrastructure and problems related to research financing. As concerns the social framework, they criticised also the lacking interest of society in high quality research. A constructive discourse enabled the scientists to formulate suggestions for improving the access to information, in particular concerning, integrated information services, management of scientific data, organising and managing the research process, digital libraries and repositories, information sharing and interdisciplinary networking.

Special attention should be given to young scholars who need support from experienced colleagues including a transparent system of evaluation and the perspective of their profession in the future. The scholars also highlighted the importance of advanced technologies and services for the digital humanities. The problematic aspects concerned the drawbacks of coordination and lack of scientific strategies, such as: „...disintegration of scholarly communities, fragmentation, small communities,, weak collaboration and coordination “ (R15). Most in demand for the scientific strategies, according to the discourse of scholars, are factors of quality control in the disciplines, infrastructure funding, setting of priorities, support of academic culture. The field of developing open science also requires common strategies, comprising not only the universities, grant agencies, research institutions, information institutions and libraries, but also the media and the private sector.

Our focus in the domain of information infrastructure was the utilisation of information systems and databases,, the problems related to the service of libraries and the proposals how to improve the information infrastructure and the library service, Questions in this respect were formulated as follows: “Which tools – such as information systems and databases – are most often used in your scientific discipline?

The importance of electronic information resources was confirmed by all respondents. We split these resources into the category of digital libraries and that of digital archives /ACM Digital Library, etc.), further the specialised professional international systems of information, web suites of institutions and experts,, specialised international databases (WoS, SCOPUS) and the resources of specialised international systems (IAEA, WorldBank, Eurostat ai.). In general, the international networks of experts were highlighted as effective information resources, however, with certain variations among the disciplines. The natural sciences enjoy a functioning consolidated community with highly developed information and technological infrastructure, e.g. systems and instruments in astronomy. A specific case is archaeology, at the boundary between the humanities and natural sciences, making use of specialised information systems (geo-information systems, photographic databases).Other disciplines note close links of their resources with the commercial informatics domain (bioinformatics, genomics), while highlighting the solution of problems of the practice.. Example: „We should orientate according to the practice where we ought to look for research problems, as they exist there in unbelievable numbers. Our output can have both the form of some application comprising our novel idea, and that of papers “ (R7). On the other hand we ought to point to the fact that the use of information resources tends to be combined with the creation of own systems and databases, especially in the humanities. The digital system of historical monuments, web sites of archaeological studies, digital collections of songs, digital archives of linguistic studies can serve as examples. Some respondents underlined the utilization of their own (personal) digital sets. An interpretation repertory focusing upon information resources, tools and systems is represented by a conceptual map in Fig.2. It shows information systems and databases as tools, but also as resources for research with diversified content and degree of advanced technologies. Again, the dependence upon the given discipline context is seen to be confirmed by the specific resource context in the natural sciences opposed to the humanities and social science. The types of resources in the map represent open systems on various levels of international collaboration, down to personal digital systems and archives.

The matter of interest in the following part is the utilised library service and suggestions how to improve the same. The following questions have been formulated: Which libraries do you use most often? Which services do you appreciate as the best? (What can you propose to improve their services?) In this connection we had especially in mind the work with documents and information. All respondents use electronic resources; especially in the natural sciences and in informatics they are seen to prevail. In spite of that the respondents utilise also the traditional libraries in Bratislava, Prague, Vienna. Some interesting proposals related to the library services pertained to the contextualisation of libraries and to the education of students and PhD students. Example: „There is a problem in that the researcher can find and study certain specific narrow issues, but he may need also the context of the discipline (which is often a problem for the young). If the library is able to help them to broaden the horizon of context – well, I can´t imagine a better service “ (R7). A large proportion of respondents appreciated the documentation of feed-back to publication activities, the purchase of literature and editing work in the course of publishing preparations. A general statement can be made that the information demand of the respondents is related to many-sided assistance to their scientific activities, publishing and access to electronic resources. Quite a number of them consider also the social academic networks to be valuable resources, in particular for sharing information, documents and data. In proposals concerning novel services of libraries the scholars also appreciated digital repositories; as to the humanities they mentioned also digital museums. The most cherished aspects of service are speediness and flexibility, data protection and service modes for the scientists in form of analytical information services, such as the trends of research, novelties, discipline contexts.. As concerns differences between the disciplines, the preference of the natural sciences of the approach to licenses information resources could be confirmed, whereas the humanities focused upon the building of digital archives and digital libraries.

Requests to integrate services and systems, to support the management of projects, to introduce know-how sharing, to avoid duplicated research – these issues have also been among the suggestions of improved services. The respondents gave a thought also to the upkeep of the technological infrastructure and the system of organising publications and data. Interesting suggestions concerned the positions of scientific assistants and information experts as members of the team. . Many interviewed stresses the need “to keep ballast under control” (R16), the verification of information, context search, analyses and management of scientific data. An important service for the scholars from the side of libraries resides in the promotion of their work and achievements. The interpretation repertory of the respondents focusing upon suggestions how to improve the service of libraries is shown by the conceptual map in Fig. 3. The map reveals certain specific contexts of various disciplines and academic cultures in the light of preferences and proposals of the respondents, as well as rather recent trends of the functioning of information professionals assisting the scientific activities.

Fig. 2 Conceptual map Information systems and databases

Fig. 3 Conceptual map Proposals for improving librarian services

Scientific data literacy: some results of a survey

In addition to the qualitative study of the information related behaviour of the scholars in 2017–2018, we joined also the international survey of the scientific data literacy and of the management of scientific data in Slovakia,. This survey was organised by experts from Great Britain, France and Turkey (Ünal et al., 2019). As to Slovakia, the distribution of a questionnaire was organised for scholars from the universities and the Slovak academy of sciences. We evaluated the total of 257 filled-in questionnaires from these scientists.. The greatest plurality had scientific workers (70,8 %) and the natural sciences (75 %). More detailed information about the given survey can be found in other works (Steinerová, 2018b). That is why we can restrict ourselves to pointing briefly to some interesting results that round-off the image of the information environment of scholars in Slovakia, by way the first one of this type in our country.

The investigation confirmed the interest of scholars in scientific data. Whereas some domains enjoy standardised procedures (data sciences), some others show rather intuitive proceedings as regards acquiring and processing information In fact, scientific data can be explained as a representation of objects within the frame of scientific research; as entities utilised as part of evidence within the scientific investigation (Borgman, 2015). Sometimes the scientific data form component parts of information infrastructures, but they bear contextual traces f the respective disciplines. In the open science trend sometimes also open data are characterised. Problematic aspects of scientific data are their typology, representation, mobility, and in particular their interpretation and value, possibly also the philosophy of data (Steinerová, 2019). The scientific data literacy, on its turn, reflects ability and knowledge with regard to the utilisation of scientific data, depending upon academic culture, expertise and the personality of each scholar. At the present day the aspects of scientific data are indelibly connected also with the management of scientific data as a comprehensive process including service in the course of developing a data service for the scientists.

The results of our survey indicate the highest proportion of data production within the frame of standard MS Office documents (texts, tables, presentations), To a smaller extent also graphics, Internet and web data as well as archive data are in use. The scientists produce by far less data than the amounts they use; in this respect the higher proportion of utilised “raw” data, graphics, configuration sets and resource codes are found in the natural and the technological sciences. The scholars also largely share their data in the digital environment, especially with researchers of the same team or their own institution.

We were able to identify certain apprehensions of scholars related to sharing data. The most concerned lest data be misinterpreted showed the social scientists. Experts from the natural sciences, on their turn, confirmed the most pronounced fears of data misuse. The most respondents admitted that they have not prepared any data management plans down to the present day The younger colleagues and women show more interest for getting tutored in the field of scientific data management. More detailed information regarding further results can be found in other contributions (Steinerová and Ondrišová, 2019).

At any rate this survey has ascertained the existence of standardised procedures of data processing in some fields (data sciences) The return side of advantages brought by data sharing are fears of scientists, lest data be misinterpreted, misused and insufficiently protected by ethic and legal regulations. The differences in the work with data are due to varying academic cultures and variations in contexts of the disciplines, but we have identifies also differences between the younger and the older scholars. However, in general the scholars are interested in sharing data in digital environments, in education focusing upon data management, as well as forming strategies and service demand for proper data handling. The benefits of systematic work with scientific data have been confirmed also by many similar foreign surveys, such as Tenopir et al. (2015), Borgman (2015).

Academic information ecologies

The two surveys among the scholars in Slovakia, namely the qualitative on-line study and the questionnaire investigation, enable us to gradually compose the particles to form an image of the information environment of scholarly communication based upon findings about the information behaviour of scientists. Typical processes of their information related behaviour are overall observation, search, navigation, verification, dialogue, discussion and data interpretation. The basic common processes shared by the disciplines involve monitoring of the resources (the nuclei of periodicals, topics), associative ideasyet including, reading, studying and creation (writing). Certain trends can be confirmed that have been revealed by other surveys of academic information behaviour, such as collaboration in the digital environment, data sharing communication within the academic social networks where, however, the scholars are seen to focus especially upon searching partners and presenting their achievements (Greifeneder et al., 2018). Of importance is the support and the popularisation of science in the public; in this respect more support is required by the digital humanities and the social sciences (MacKenzie and Martin, 2016), asking for better scientific information literacy.

The scholars perceive the image of their information environment with both critical and constructive approach. Certain problems pertain to the societal environment, the position of science in society, as well as to the management of science, of the projects, of scientific institutions and grant agencies. Further problems are related to funding and to the accessibility of grants, the organisation of the research process and the functioning of the information infrastructure. The information environment is comprehensive, yet including a plurality of gaps and unsettled issues. This is why we have suggested a model of academic information ecologies (Fig.4) as one of the possible approaches to the solution of problems of the information environment.

Fig. 4 Model of academic information ecologies

This model represents the strata of ensuring the information interactions of scholars. The academic information ecologies are characterised by being dynamic and variable sites and rooms of interaction between scholars and information in academic communities. They depend upon the context of the given disciplines and academic cultures. Their typical expression is the immersion of the information process into that of research. The dominant values within the academic information ecologies are those leading to systems, services and tools. The features of academic information ecologies comprise the adaptation of persons and information in the scientific communities, the management of information resources and data in the information ecosystems, the social/technological and the social/cultural evolution of the communities, information and technologies, the context dependent specificity and diversification of information processes and data.

The information infrastructure and the sustainable digital information services, in particular the access to information resources, are shown to be the foundation of the model of academic information ecologies The information process and the research process are developed upon this basis, the top level being reserved to the values affecting the information procedures. The influences conditioning the work with information are indicated on all strata. These are: collaboration, participation, creativity in the digital environment.. Concerning the level of information process, there are factors of open science and science policy, the evaluation of outputs and barriers in the social environment. Concerning values we identify the importance of contexts and cultures of the disciplines, as well as the environments of scientific communication. The ecological coordination of these factors helps to support the creative exploration and creative scientific products as common parts of scientific investigation and scholarly communication. The academic information ecologies depend upon their context, upon scientific interpretations and scientific dialogue and discussion, embodying a continuous construction of scientific knowledge along with the utilisation of information resources. The digital environment enables to broaden the scope of information ecologies within the network collaboration of scientific communities, supporting digital publishing and digital literacy. Having in mind the further development of the information environment, it is essential to cultivate the academic information ecologies in the context of new models of the digital and open science, digital publishing and digital information.

Model of an interactive academic library

The development of academic information ecologies is founded upon the building of the information infrastructure within which the libraries form also new services. Quite a number of studies have already indicated such challenges highlighting the building of integrated centres of excellence for the support of science and research in the digital environment (Kirchner et al., 2015; MacKenzie and Martin 2016) and, last but not least, also the Manifest of Academic Libraries (Bourg et al., 2011). That is why, in accord with the cited trends, we have worked out a newer model of an academic library based upon the results of our study, and namely as an interactive room founded upon a collective dialogue of scientific communities. The mode applies the proposals regarding the services of academic libraries, as formulated by the respondents of the qualitative study. The innovated services pertain to three dimensions of the academic information ecologies; the managerial, behavioural and semantic one (Fig. 5).

The substance of this model are services with value added, shifting the informative interactions of the scholars into the digital environment. This brings about changes of certain processes concerning the use and management of electronic resources, access to digital information, but also relating to the creation and strategy of digital publishing Not only these services can be extracted in some linked interactive libraries, but also certain benefits expressed by the scholars in the discourses, and namely from the registration of publications and citations, over analyses of the trends, services of digital libraries and repositories, down to the evaluation of research, preparation of publications, visualisation, education, support of information literacy and creativity, promotion of science and international collaboration.

Fig. 5 Model of an interactive academic library


The image of information environment in the eyes of scholars in Slovakia indicates certain white spots and gaps of the information infrastructure in the light of the ever more demanding information needs of the scientists. This concerns both the services of academic libraries and of the digital ones. Their newer models in the digital environment are shown also by foreign studies (MacKenzie and Martin, 2016; Kirchner et al. 2011),however, a really comprehensive picture can be provided by frameworks of information ecology involving aspects of the economic, environmental and social sustainability of digital information in science (Chowdhury, 2014). Yet the perspective opened up by the shift of the scientific communication and information into the digital environment reveals also new questions, such as what correlations can be found between the quality of scientific publishing and the economic models of open and digital science. Open questions relate to the character of prestige enjoyed by publication in the digital environment, to commercial interests and, finally, also to the non-commercial services of the academic libraries Meanwhile newer players are seen to enter the stage, in particular the producers of digital resources and scientific databases, companies providing commercial services of digital libraries, and also aggregators of web sites, publishers, research institutions and universities.

An ideal vision in the societal context might be an integrated knowledge infrastructure whose component parts would be innovated and innovative academic libraries. The scientists need services and tools with value added in the digital environment, irrespective of whether the point is in collaboration or in the management of scientific data and the support of digital publishing. Accordingly, concepts of digital and open science are seen to be the new challenges. The results of our investigations enable us to identify three main hurdles of scientific work: lack of funds, administrative overburdening of scholars and problems related to information policies and the position of science in society. The information environment in the eyes of scholars in Slovakia is a comprehensive one, gradually developing in the direction towards digital environment, while especially the services of the academic libraries can expect massive changes in the context of the development of institutional information strategies. Essential improvements pertain to the management of information systems, the management of scientific data and databases, the assessment of the scientific results and the creation of new tools, in particular digital libraries with their services.

The most important component parts of the academic information ecologies, however, are held to be the values interlinked with the social practice of scientific communication. Motivation, experience and creativity of the scientists, shaping their information behaviour, are seen to play a great role. Accordingly, in addition to the information infrastructure, we wish to highlight especially the support of creativity, innovations, original thought, combined with lasting interest in the solution of problems, impulses provided by data and interdisciplinary inspirations in the communities of scholars.

The recommendations for the strategies of science comprise, among others, the support of the technological and knowledge founded infrastructure, as well as the search for the combination of technological and social aspects. The changes of the research work will require the assistance to on-line collaboration and participation, the sustainment of trust in the digital information space and to the verification of information. In spite of the enormous progress and the shift of scientific communication to the digital libraries, repositories, digital publishing, information and data sharing, academic social networks or blogs, a high standard assessment by experts in the given art and those of the international scholarly community remains the undisputed foundation of quality of the information environment of scientific communication.

As to the information policies, the recommendations comprise better integration of the processes of management, of the plans and the decision making in the research process and the information process, both being closely correlated. An essential strategic factor forming the information environment of science is the support of young scholars on the level of the perspective system from the viewpoint of estimation and positioning of a scholar in society. Further also the deepening of the international dimension of the information environment, accompanied by integration in the international projects has been recommended. One of the challenges is looking for harmonious relations between theoretical and applied research, as well as between the public and the private sector. The development of open science should reflect in its strategies the factors of transparency, approach and participation, promotion and relations between science and the public. These factors comprise implicitly also the functions of the new information professionals, in particular managers of information resources, managers of scientific data, digital librarians, information assistants of research teams, keepers of repositories, publishing assistants and promoters of science. These new information professionals should play a great role in the quality control of scientific communication, especially on the international level, but also in tune with the strategies of open science and digital publishing. In parallel, the information professionals will have to pay more attention also to the ecologic functions, especially to the “cleaning” of the information environment, namely by discarding inappropriate, poor or untruthful information, further to data protection, to the protection of the scholars against information overburdening, or also to the security of digital libraries and information. In this sense a role is reserved to the development of theory and practice of the information ethics, founded upon the values of information in society and information as resources, products and aims.

The image of the information environment of scientific communication has shown the necessity of sustaining the important values of science for the society, while developing the academic culture and the culture of the community of each discipline. However, strengthening the concept of research and the esteem for the scientific information environment in society through the intermediary of getting young people interested should start as early as upon the elementary levels of developing the information literacy and educating the youth. Let us hope that also our probe into the information environment of science may help to improve the understanding of the contribution of scientists and information professionals for the benefit of society.


The paper was worked out in the framework of the task APVV 0508-15 HIBER and the project “Scientific University Park” of the Comenius University in Bratislava No ITMS 26240220086.

The author wishes to express her thanks to all participants of the quality survey focusing upon the information behaviour of scholars as well to the respondents of the same..


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1The contribution has been worked out on the basis of the published monograph Steinerová, Jela. (2018). Information environment and scientific communication: information ecology. Bratislava: UK, 2018. 230 p..

2Comments to the table. The left column contains the basic categories representing the structure of the information environment and the leading questions in the interviews. These categories were the outcome of the analyses, emerging as the fields that characterize the differences between the selected groups of sciences. The key representations from the conceptual maps are indicated by bold, whereas italics marks illustrative examples relating to problems, methods and data. The acronym CCC stands for Current Contents Connect.

Dec 19, 2020
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