ER&L 2013: Listening to Users

“Belinha has more than good looks” by Francisco Martins

What the “Google Generation” Says About Using Library & Information Collections, Services, and Systems in the Digital Age

Speaker: Michael Eisenberg, University of Washington Information School

We’ve moved from scarcity to abundance to overload. We have so many great resources our students don’t know where to begin. They’re overwhelmed.

Think about how our computing technology has evolved and shrank in both size and price while increasing in power over the past 30 years. Where will be 20 years from now?

We live in a parallel information universe that is constantly feeding information back to us. The library is anywhere anytime, so how can we best meet the information needs of our users?

Project Information Literacy seeks to answer what it means to be a student in the digital age. They have been assessing different types of students on how they find and use information to get generalized pictures of who they are.

Why, when you have an information need, do you turn to Google first and not research databases?

Students ignore faculty warnings about Wikipedia. They still use it, but they just don’t cite it.

Students aren’t really procrastinators, they’re just busy. They are working to the last minute because every minute is highly scheduled. Have we changed our staffing or the nature of our services to help them at point of need?

Students don’t think of librarians as people who can help them with their research, they think of them as people who can help them with resources. They are more likely to go to their instructors and classmates before librarians during the research process. The hardest part for them is getting started and defining the topic (and narrowing it down). They don’t think librarians can help them with that, even though we can, and do (or should if we aren’t already).

Students are more practiced at writing techniques than research strategies. Professors complain that students can’t write, but maybe writing shouldn’t be the only method of expression.

Most students don’t fully understand the research process and what is expected. They need clarity on the nature and scope of assignments, and they aren’t used to critical thinking (“just tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you”). Most handouts from profs don’t explain this well, focusing more on mechanics and sending students to the library shelves (and not to databases or online resources). Rarely do they suggest talking to the librarian.

Students are not the multi-taskers we think they are, particularly during crunch time. Often they will use the library and library computers to force themselves to limit the distractions and focus. They use Facebook breaks as incentives to get things done.

After they graduate, former students are good with technology, but not so good with low-tech, traditional research/information discovery skills.

Information literacy needs are more important than ever, but they are evolving. Search to task to use to synthesis to evaluation — students need to be good at every stage. The library is shifting from the role of information to space, place, and equipment. Buying the resources is less of an emphasis (although not less in importance), and the needs change with the academic calendar.

What do we do about all this?

Infuse high quality, credible resources and materials into courses and classes. Consider resources and collections in relation to Wikipedia. Infuse information literacy learning opportunities into resources, access systems, facilities, and services (call it “giving credit,” which they understand more than citing). Provide resources, expertise, and services related to assignments. Re-purpose staff and facilities related to calendar and needs. Offer to work with faculty to revise handouts — emphasize the quality of resources not the mechanics. Offer flexible and collaborative spaces with a range of capabilities and technology, less emphasis on print collection development. Consider school-to-work transitions in access systems, resources, services, and instruction.

Beyond formal instruction, what are the ways we can help students gain the essential information literacy skills they need? That is the challenge for eresources librarians.

NASIG 2012: Why the Internet is More Attractive Than the Library

Speaker: Dr. Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC

Students, particularly undergraduates, find Google search results to make more sense than library database search results. In the past, these kinds of users had to work around our services, but now we need to make our resources fit their workflow.

Connaway has tried to compare 12 different user behavior studies in the UK and the US to draw some broad conclusions, and this has informed her talk today.

Convenience is number one, and it changes. Context and situation are very important, and we need to remember that when asking questions about our users. Sometimes they just want the answer, not instruction on how to do the research.

Most people power browse these days: scan small chunks of information, view first few pages, no real reading. They combine this with squirreling — short, basic searches and saving the content for later use.

Students prefer keyword searches. This is supported by looking at the kinds of terms used in the search. Experts use broad terms to cover all possible indexing, novices use specific terms. So why do we keep trying to get them to use the “advance” search in our resources?

Students are confident with information discovery tools. They mainly use their common sense for determining the credibility of a site. If a site appears to have put some time into the presentation, then they are more likely to believe it.

Students are frustrated with navigating library websites, the inconvenience of communicating with librarians face to face, and they tend to associate libraries only with books, not with other information. They don’t recognize that the library is who is providing them with access to online content like JSTOR and the things they find in Google Scholar.

Students and faculty often don’t realize they can ask a question of a librarian in person because we look “busy” staring at our screens at the desk.

Researchers don’t understand copyright, or what they have signed away. They tend to be self-taught in discovery, picking up the same patterns as their graduate professors. Sometimes they rely on the students to tell them about newer ways of finding information.

Researchers get frustrated with the lack of access to electronic backfiles of journals, discovering non-English content, and unavailable content in search results (dead links, access limitation). Humanities researchers feel like there is a lack of good, specialized search engines for them (mostly for science). They get frustrated when they go to the library because of poor usability (i.e. signs) and a lack of integration between resources.

Access is more important than discovery. They want a seamless transition from discovery to access, without a bunch of authentication barriers.

We should be improving our OPACs. Take a look at Trove and Westerville Public Library. We need to think more like startups.

tl;dr – everything you’ve heard or read about what our users really do and really need, but we still haven’t addressed in the tools and services we offer to them

CiL 2008: What Do Users Really Do in Their Native Habitat?

Speakers: Pascal Lupien and Randy Oldham

Unsubstantiated assumptions about Millennials cause libraries to make poor choices in providing services and resources. Lupien and Oldham spent some time studying how students actually use the tools we think they use. They used typical survey and focus group methodologies, which make for rather boring presentation recaps, so I won’t mention them.

Study found that only 9% of students used PDAs, and tended to be among older students. 69% of students had cell phones, but only 17% of them have ever used them to browse the Internet. 93% of student have used a chat client, and most have used them for academic purposes several times per week. 50% of users had never used online social network applications for academic group work.

The focus groups found that students preferred email over online social networks for group work. Students are more willing to share the results of their work with friends than with other classmates.

42% of students has never played online games, and men were three times more likely to do so than women. Only 4.1% were involved with online virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life.

The survey respondents indicated they were more likely to go to the library’s website first rather than Google. The focus groups also confirmed this, in addition to indicating that the library had the best sources of information despite being the most difficult to manage.

Students are reluctant to mix personal and academic computing. The uptake on online social networks for academic use has been slow, but will likely increase, and we have to ask, “is this the best use of our resources and time?” Our priorities need to be more on improving the services we already offer, such as our websites and search tools. “Rather than looking at technologies & trying to find a use for them in our environment, we should determine what our students need & seek solutions to meet those needs.”


Speaker: John Law

Proquest conducted a survey of seven universities across North America and the United Kingdom, involving 60 students. As with Lupien and Oldham’s study, they conducted it anonymously. Observations were conducted in a variety of locations, from the library to dorm rooms. They used a program like web conferencing software to capture the remote sessions.

Law gave an anecdote of a fourth year student who did all the things librarians want students to do when doing research, and when he was asked why, the student gave all the right answers. Then, when he was asked how long he had been doing his research that way, he indicated something like six weeks, after a librarian had come to his class to teach them about using the library’s resources. Library instruction works.

Course instructors are also influential. “My English instructor told me to use JSTOR.”

Brand recognition is fine, but it doesn’t necessarily effect the likelihood that resources will be used more or less.

Students use abstracts to identify relevant articles, even when the full text is available. They’re comfortable navigating in several different search engines, but not as well with library websites in locating relevant resources. Users don’t always understand what the search box is searching (books, articles, etc.), and can find it to be discouraging. A-Z databases page is too unmanageable for most users, particularly when starting their research.

Students are using Google for their research, but mainly for handy look-ups and not as a primary research tool. Those who use Google as a primary research tool do so because they aren’t as concerned with quality or are insufficiently aware of library eresources or have had bad experiences with library eresources.

Librarians, students use Google and Wikipedia the same way you do. (We know you all use those tools, so don’t even try to deny it.)

Students laughed at surveyors when asked how they use online social networks for academic purposes.