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Survey Methodology

When contemplating this chapter on communicating, it was felt that a survey of astronomy librarians would be useful in assessing problems, successes and trends around the world. The focus was on communications of individual astronomy librarians with their colleagues, their library users and publishers, as opposed to formal communication through publications, professional development courses, resource sharing projects etc.

The survey was done completely by email and circulated in a focused manner. In January 2001 it was posted to three electronic discussion lists where we knew that astronomy librarians were concentrated: Astrolib, PAMnet and PAM-APF (addresses and contact persons see below).

We received a total of 69 responses from 24 countries; with the exception of the USA (33 replies) 1-4 responses came from each country. It is difficult to assess our response rate. One way is to look at the number of subscribers to ``Astrolib'', a highly specialized electronic distribution list. There are currently 216 subscribers to that list. Making the rash assumption that the list represents all astronomy librarians (it certainly represents most astronomy librarians) our 69 responses represent a rate of 32%.

There are several caveats to the results of the survey. The fact that it was done only by email filters out those who do not readily communicate that way and therefore biases the results towards email. This bias can be discounted to some extent in consideration of the large response we got and the degree to which email was favoured. The large number of countries (24) represented in the responses also ameliorates concerns about bias.

The narrow focus of our target group might bias the results, for example towards specialized astronomy libraries and away from science libraries at universities which nevertheless support astronomy. However, 19 of the 69 responses came from librarians at university libraries covering two or more disciplines. At 27.5%, this is a respectable percentage of the whole.

It is interesting to note that within 24 hours we had almost half of the final tally of respondents. But we received responses up to more than six weeks later.

For the purposes of some of our analyses, countries were grouped into developed and developing regions: USA, Canada, West Europe, Australia, New Zealand on the one hand (55 responses), and Mexico, South America, East Europe, Asia, Russia (14 responses) on the other. These categories are in some respects arbitrary and provide only a gross indication of the differences.

In any case, the survey was not based on proper sampling techniques. The results should be seen as indicating trends, not absolute states-of affairs.

next up previous
Next: Communicating among Astronomy Librarians Up: Contents table Previous: Introduction
ESO Garching Librarian