November 5, 2007 (ANN ARBOR, MICH.) -- Student researchers have an overwhelming preference for online resources that make the best use of their research time says a new study by ProQuest, a leading database provider to libraries and researchers. Students prefer the content available in library databases for its ability to deliver more relevant information in a single search. However, if discovery and access to library databases is more cumbersome than they expect, they will abandon library resources for the more familiar terrain of Google and Wikipedia.
"Student researchers are keenly aware of the importance of effective time management," says John Law, ProQuest director of platform development, who led the study of student research habits. "They understand that their academic success depends upon their ability to find and synthesize a large volume of information, judge its relevance, and incorporate it into their academic experiences. Effective time management is the only way a student can balance all of the competing priorities of their academic work with the added demands of employment and their social lives."
The study, entitled "Observing Students in their Native Habitat," monitored students as they were conducting research for actual course assignments and also collected survey data about how they use online resources. When study participants were asked to identify which resource they preferred for academic research and course assignments, they overwhelmingly preferred library databases. However, students will opt for Google if they have difficulty navigating the library's e-resources Web page, if they're faced with multiple obscure links or "how-to guides," or if they're not aware of the library databases that pertain to their particular need.
According to the 2007 study, another major barrier to successfully using library online resources is student's misunderstanding of the requirement to 'authenticate,' or login to use their library's resources.
"Many students are simply unaware that from outside of the library, using any computer with internet access, their student ID is often all they need to use their library's research databases," said Mr. Law. "However, if the student attempts to use the database without authenticating, the resource doesn't work as expected, produces only limited results or asks the student to purchase the content. Experiences like these often lead students to return to the open web as a primary research source"
In addition to identifying the barriers that frustrate students when using library resources, the study also details the factors that influence where and how a student initiates research:
- Students respond well to library instruction on electronic resources that are presented to them in a class by a research librarian. Especially important in this regard is raising awareness that a variety of library databases exist and where to find them.
- Students place an unusually strong importance on resource recommendations they receive from their professors. In fact, students tend to generalize these recommendations across all types of research assignments and as a result, use databases that may not be appropriate for the task at hand.
- Students respond to brand names and possess a relatively high level of brand awareness. However, knowledge didn't extend much beyond name and students were rarely able to distinguish between resources at the database level.
- Students choose Google and Wikipedia as handy look-up tools for quick, simple background information, when they need specific fact, and when they need an unfamiliar term defined. However, students indicated they did not consider the Google results or information gleaned from Wikipedia to be authoritative.
Results of the ProQuest study have inspired toolkits specifically designed to help academic and public libraries better market their online resources, become more attuned to patron concerns and develop outreach strategies to assist their patrons throughout the research process. The new academic toolkit will be available from ProQuest at no charge later this year to any interested library. The public library toolkit is available now at http://www.il.proquest.com/division/libraryadvocacy.shtml
"Libraries are competing with the open web environment," says Mr. Law. "To stand apart from their competition, retain essential funding, and increase patronage, libraries must keep pace with commercial web applications. The key? Deliver an experience that's more satisfying to the user."
Mr. Law will present the study findings at the Charleston Conference, on November 7, and at London's Online Conference in December. Results will also be published in the VALA Conference Proceedings in 2008.
ProQuest provides seamless access to and navigation of more than 125 billion digital pages of the world's scholarship, delivering it to the desktop and into the workflow of serious researchers in multiple fields, from arts, literature, and social science to science, technology, and medicine. ProQuest is part of Cambridge Information Group (www.cambridgeinformationgroup.com).
ProQuest's vast content pools are available to researchers through libraries of all types and include the world's largest digital newspaper archive, periodical databases comprising the output of more than 9,000 titles and spanning more than 500 years, the pre-eminent dissertation collection, and various other scholarly collections. Users access the information through the ProQuest and CSA Illumina online information systems, Chadwyck-HealeyTM electronic and microform resources, UMI microform and print reference products, eLibrary and SIRS educational resources, Ulrich's Serials Analysis System, COS Scholar Universe, and Serials Solutions resource management tools. Through the expertise of business units Serials Solutions and COS, ProQuest provides technological tools that allow researchers and libraries to better manage and use their information resources. For more information, visit www.proquest.com, www.proquest.co.uk, and www.csa.com