Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Studies about College Students, Libraries, and Information Literacy

A friend of mine, who used to be the library director here at the ISU Library, shared the following link to an article from Inside HigherEd: "What Students Don't Know."  It confirmed a lot that I already knew, experienced, or suspected.  Students hardly know where the Library is, rarely ask for help from a librarian (even though it would help them immensely, ease their anxiety, and increase their efficiency), often overestimate their (re)search skills, rely entirely too much on Google, apply Google search statement logic to database searching, do not search Google effectively, and do just enough research to get by or to "satisfice."

The article mentioned that librarians and faculty are partly to blame.  Librarians sometime overestimate the "digital natives" abilities, sometimes intimidating them further.  Faculty look at librarians as good for finding sources but not good at conducting research.  Steve Kolowich writes a good article here, citing several studies that back up the claims listed above.  He writes: "The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy."  What can we do as librarians to help students?  How can we get them to ask us for assistance beyond locating the restroom?  We can help students with research.

Students could benefit from instruction on how to use Google, so they can understand how it differs from the academic databases:
Throughout the interviews, students mentioned Google 115 times -- more than twice as many times as any other database. The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.) (Kolowich)

Perhaps we can ask that classes come to the Library for more instruction, maybe we can visit their classroom, share contact information and handouts, or maybe we could even ask to be embedded in the course management software, i.e. Blackboard or Moodle.  Moreover, we can smile more frequently at the reference desk and be more approachable. 

With more students working another job and/or dealing with family responsibilities, librarians need to be practical in working with students.  Librarians can tout their skills to students by telling them they can teach skills and strategies that will help them save time and become more efficient with their research.  Give some tips that will make the research process less frustrating.  Kolowich references one of the studies to support the claim that librarians are more relevant than ever: "The evidence from ERIAL lends weight to their counterargument: librarians are more relevant than they have ever been, since students need guides to shepherd them through the wilderness of the Web."

If you are a librarian, read this article.

What can librarians do to garner more trust from students and faculty?  What can we do to increase the information literacy skills of the students?

"Shepherd and Baby Lambs." See FreeFoto.com. by Ian Britton.

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