Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And I was so hopeful

I read a report on an exploratory study being done on how students use the Internet and library resources in their research. It was this section (below) of the First Monday article, which I read on someone's blog (though I can't remember who's now), that perplexed me:

Recent research has made claims about students’ reliance on the Internet for academic research over their use of campus libraries.

Research from the “Pew Internet & American Life Project” reported that nearly three–quarters (73 percent) of college students reported using the Internet for research more than the campus library (Jones, 2002). Other findings suggest a vast majority of students turn to the Internet first for academic research (Griffiths and Brophy, 2005; Van Scoyoc, 2006). Further, some authors have claimed students use commercial search engines, such as Google, and bypass the library’s many complexities all together (Thompson, 2003).

Yet, our study did not substantiate earlier claims about the Internet cannibalizing academic library use. Instead, we found:

1. Students used the library and considered library resources helpful — both the reference librarians and databases from the library Web site.

2. A majority of students were not as reliant on search engines, as prior research studies have suggested. Only about one in 10 students in our survey reported using to Yahoo! or Google first when conducting research. Only two in 10 students in our survey used search engines as a second step.

Students faced problems when trying to narrow down research topics and make them manageable. Yet, they sparingly used Wikipedia in their research processes.

I know from my own personal experience of working with students at my college that they are indeed using Google and Wikipedia first and foremost in their research. Yes, many will use library resources... eventually. But only after they come to me in search of assistance. Who knows how many students aren't coming for help and only use the Internet.

I have to admit that I am always skeptical of research studies, and so the first thing I do is look at their research methodology. It was here that I found my "aha" moment. Apparantly, this study took place at a small liberal arts college with a 12:1 student to teacher ratio. The total sample was 13 upper division students. I realize that this is the beginnings of the an exploratory study (and from what I understand, the study does plan to expand out to as many academic student types as possible), but I have a hard time accepting these results from a sample of 13 students.

I wonder if this might make for an interesting Information Literacy exercise for my own students?

1 comment:

Paul said...


Thanks for the post. Only 13 students? Ouch. How can any generalization be made.

Any study about the sources students use should factor in requirements or grades in someway. I always feel that we can't condemn students if they can turn in Internet based resources and pass with flying colors.

It's a discussion that needs to be with both students and faculty.

Thanks Nancy