It has taken me way too long to get around to reading Project Information Literacy‘s progress report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in a Digital Age.” Some of the key findings from their survey of over 2,000 students:
–They spend a lot of time getting a grasp of context: the big picture, the words being used to describe what they’re investigating, what they’re supposed to produce as a finished product. (This, it seems to me, is particularly true of novice researchers – or any researcher who is investigating something they know little about.)
–They don’t report using searching Google as their first step in starting a research project; they consult course readings to get their grounding. (Google and Wikipedia come first for non-classroom research needs.)
–Most of them don’t seek help from librarians. They seek it from their professors. Only about 20% consult librarians, and that is most often for help with search terms and with finding full text sources already identified.
–They consistently use a limited number of sources and strategies based on what has worked before. In large part their problem isn’t finding sources, it’s limiting the number of sources available so they can complete a project.
–putting off research because of “library anxiety” seems to have been replaced by confident procrastination.
–In addition to Google, almost all students report using library databases. Databases are useful for locating credible sources, and credibility matters to them (though brevity is also appreciated); Google is helpful in understanding context and figuring out what those sources mean.
–Most students also consult the catalog as part of their research process.
–The traditional “research strategy” still found on some library websites – moving from general to specific by means of reference books, then books, then articles,then the web – bears no relationship to student research practices. (I can’t resist adding that I thought that “research strategy” was bogus twenty years ago.)
The authors raise some thought-provoking conclusions which mirror some of my concerns. Does the kind of work these students do using library resources contribute to life-long learning, or are they preforming tasks that will get them through college and then be abandoned? If they are taking their cues from faculty, shouldn’t we be sending cues to faculty? Maybe rather than providing library services most students find unimportant to them, we should spend more time working with their research mentors: their teachers.
More will be coming from this project – including an analysis of instructor assignments. Which reminds me – I’ll bet faculty would be interested in the findings of this survey. See if you can use a few nuggets from it to start a conversation.
photo courtesy of oceandesetoile and the Flickr Creative Commons pool.