We struggle to get our user communities to actually use all the databases in which we invest significant funds, and to do so in ways that enable them to succeed academically. Well, I heard some new research findings last week that suggested a simple formula for achieving academic library success that puts our challenge into better perspective. This formula comes courtesy of John Law, Director, Strategic Alliances & Platform Management ProQuest CSA. Law was the guest presenter at the the latest Blended Librarians Online Learning Community webcast (held 5/10). In a presentation titled “Observing Student Researchers in their Native Habitat”, Law described research, ethnographic in nature, that was conducted to see how students do research for actual assignments in their own surroundings. The findings should be of great interest to academic librarians.
Given what Law shared about his research results, there may be cause for optimism. It seems that students may be more savvy about using library research databases than we suspected. They also tend to depend on search engines less heavily for serious research than we may think, and more frequently as a complement to library databases. Yes, students may typically begin in a search engine, but that’s how they acquire background or introductory information. But they then seek out the library’s databases for more detailed information or scholarly content on their topic.
Law reported on a student who used library content to find scientific articles, but then needed to better understand some of the results and shifted to Wikipedia for an overview article, then went back to the library databases. It may be that students are growing more knowledgable about which tools to use for different types of research – maybe those instruction sessions are paying off – and yes – students indicated they often heard about library databases in targeted instruction sessions. Law also told us that faculty can have enormous influence over student choices for research resources.
But all is not well in academic libraryland. We’ve got a few problems. But knowing what the problems are allows us to fix them. Law’s research showed that all too often students simply don’t know what the library offers. As a result they often miss a relevant database for their research. And he found that library web sites can be so confusing that students will actually use search engines to locate their own library’s databases – often with peculiar results. And when they do find our databases, student run into all sorts of challenges getting into them (authentication issues). So here is the formula I’d like to see more academic libraries employ for better results:
Greater Awareness + Usable Websites + Flawless Authentication = Better Results
If we can put together these three challenges, identify where they are broken and then fix them so they work correctly, it can represent the first step in getting the better results we want our students to achieve. If you would like to see more of this presentation for yourself, an archived recording is available at:
You do need to have an account for the Learning Times Network to access the recording. If you don’t have one you can request it at the Blended Librarians web site.