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Librarian Fail; Again December 2, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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Project Information Literacy (PIL) has just released a report entitled, “Lessons Learned: How Students Find Information in the Digital Age” and the Free Range Librarian blog has some interesting things to say on it, namely, what many of us are painfully aware of, “that students rarely if ever consult librarians.” The study compiled the responses of 2,318 students from six different campuses (comprised of major universities as well as smaller community college). The major findings include:

1. Many students in the sample reported being curious, engaged, and motivated at the beginning of the course-related and everyday life research process. Respondents’ need for big-picture context, or background about a topic, was the trigger for beginning course-related (65%) or everyday life research (63%).

2. Almost every student in the sample turned to course readings—not Google—first for course-related research assignments. Likewise, Google and Wikipedia were the go-to sites for everyday life research for nearly every respondent.

3. Librarians were tremendously underutilized by students. Eight
out of 10 of the respondents reported rarely, if ever, turning to
librarians for help with course-related research assignments.

4. Nine out of 10 students in the sample turned to libraries for
certain online scholarly research databases (such as those
provided by EBSCO, JSTOR, or ProQuest) for conducting
course-related research, valuing the resources for credible
content, in-depth information, and the ability to meet instructors’

5. Even though it was librarians who initially informed students
about using online scholarly research databases during freshmen training
sessions, students in follow-up interviews reported turning to instructors as valued research coaches, as they advanced through the higher levels of their education.

6. The reasons why students procrastinate are no longer driven by the same pre-Internet fears of failure and a lack of confidence that once were part of the college scene in the 1980s. Instead, we found that most of the digital natives in the sample (40%) tended to delay work on assignments as they juggled their needs to meet competing course demands from other classes.

These findings, as always, drive home my perennial argument that outreach is largely overlooked or ineffectual. This can be the librarians’ fault, the professors’ fault, or a combination of both. While students feel understandably more comfortable speaking to their professors who they see on a daily basis, these professors should feel comfortable with directing students to the librarians and librarians should encourage this. While this is the ideal situation, how often is it actually practiced?

Furthermore, the students’ use of certain databases time and time again leads me to believe that library web sites need to become more transparent and navigable. In fact, almost every day I help a student who says they just use EBSCO, ProQuest, or Gale without understanding the differences between the actual subscriptions (i.e. whether they are using EBSCO’s ERIC or EBSCO’s MLA Bibliography). While I don’t suggest an aggregated search that utilizes all of the libraries’ subscriptions, I do suggest an aggregated search that searches all the databases for a subject. While many libraries group databases under subject specific research guides, none that I know of search all the databases for a particular subject. I think this would greatly help students. Does anyone use such a search feature or know of a library that does? What have the results been like?

See the full report here: PIL_Fall2009_Year1Report_12_2009


1. Marla - December 3, 2009

Marist College has something they call “Foxhunt” that searches all of their databases and ebooks at once. The director developed it with an outside company. It’s pretty awesome for people who have no idea where to start, but it is difficult to do a more advanced search.

pupfiction - December 3, 2009

I’ve seen something like that elsewhere as well, but I think it would be ideal to have something that searches just the databases for one subject, although maybe some federated search engines allow you to choose which databases to search, which would be equivalent. Even if this were the case I am sure students would find it confusing. Perhaps if it were too easy they wouldn’t need us!

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