Research and the Library: That Can't Possibly Be Right.

Now who do I believe? For years now we have heard much about the oncoming demise of the library and its services due to the increasing use of general search engines like Google to find academically acceptable sources for student assignments. Somehow this article from First Monday: A Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet entitled, “Beyond Google: How Do Students Conduct Academic Research?,” slipped my notice. Alison Head argues that students use library services more than we realize. I hope this is true. Among the more interesting results of her study:

  1. A majority of students began their research by consulting course readings or the library’s Web site for online access to scholarly journals. To a lesser extent, students used Yahoo!, Google, and Wikipedia as first steps.
  2. Most students consulted aggregated research resources — many of which had been identified for their scholarly quality by professors, librarians, or library databases.
  3. Many students were challenged by research tasks, especially selecting and evaluating information and figuring out professors’ expectations for quality research.

Notice also that three times as many students begin their research with the library’s website rather than visiting the library or asking a librarian:

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).

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

I suppose it’s time to add a few more services to the library’s website. We already offer reference and research help through instant messaging and I am currently working on adding screencast tutorials on accomplishing certain tasks, podcast interviews on researching certain fields, and an online research guide. Anything else I should add?