January 26, 2012
Report Suggests Students Don't Need Many Library Services at Crunch Time
There is an interesting report from Project Information Literacy (based at Washington University Information School) called How College Students Manage Technology While in the Library during Crunch Time. Here is the abstract:
Abstract: The paper presents findings from 560 interviews with undergraduates on 10 campuses distributed across the US, as part of Project Information Literacy (PIL). Overall, the findings suggest that students use a “less is more” approach to manage and control all of the IT devices and information systems available to them while they are in the library during the final weeks of the term. In the hour before we approached them for an interview, more respondents had checked for messages (e.g., Facebook, email, texts, IMs) more than any other task while they were in the library. A majority of respondents who had checked for messages during the previous hour had also prepared assignments and/or studied for courses. More respondents reported using library equipment, such as computers and printers, more than they had used any other library resource or service. Over half the sample considered their laptop their most essential IT device and most had a Web browser and, to a lesser extent, a word processing application running at the time of the interviews. Most students were using one or two Web sites at the time of the interviews, but there was little overlap among the Web sites they were using. A large majority of the respondents could be classified as “light” technology users, i.e., students who use one or two IT devices to support one or two primary activities (at the time of the interviews). A preliminary theory is introduced that describes how studentsʼ technology usage may be influenced by locale (i.e., the campus library) and circumstance (i.e., crunch time). Recommendations are made for how campus-wide stakeholders—faculty, librarians, higher education administrators, and commercial publishers—can work together to improve pedagogies for 21st century undergraduates.
While the subjects of the study are undergraduates, much of the use of the library mirrors what I see anecdotally from the reference desk as we get near exams. The few questions we get at that time relate more to technology and equipment than it does to anything law related. My impression is that most students have acquired most of the information they need for their outlines by that time and the library is the setting where they are putting it together.
Here are some of the findings from the report. 81% of interviewed students used technology to stay in touch with friends via social media or messaging systems. Few students used library resources compared to the equipment located there. 39% used computers and printers; 11% used research databases; 9% used library books; 5% used face-to-face reference; and 2% used online reference. Although the report covered undergraduate students, I’m not sure that Lexis or Westlaw use by law students would be much different in these circumstances.
There are four promised recommendations for librarians at the end of the report. These are (1) assessing the library’s role as a refuge; (2) designing mobile apps to support new study habits; (3) explore the viability of social media one course at a time; and (4) learning beyond self-styled techniques for managing IT devices. The recommendations have no specific answers. The concern with number 1 is the distinct lack of engagement students have with the library at crunch time.
As to the first recommendation, the authors received more complaints about WiFi connectivity and printer/copier maintenance. I have to agree that law students raise similar complaints. They urge libraries to consider what services students actually need at these times compared to what libraries make available. I’m not sure how this issue necessarily critical as library services generally don’t change at these times. Student needs might change but I’m not sure there is a gap where the library might provide different services. The complaints tend to be facilities based rather than resource based.
The second recommendation suggests libraries either create or license mobile apps that enhance study opportunities for students. It’s an interesting idea, but one that would require broad university support for creation and implementation, plus money for support. The third recommendation is another where the role of the library within the greater institution comes into play. Blackboard and its alternatives were designed for collaboration in a controlled environment. I’m not sure social networks could be a substitute for them given the requirements of confidentiality in federal law. Social networks like to be, well, very openly social. Still there is room to create software that turns class sites into class hangouts, assuming that is what a student wants.
The fourth recommendation builds on the fact that students tend to use fewer devices, mostly a laptop and/or a smart phone for connectivity. Odd that tablet computing hasn’t made the cut yet, but I suppose that is fodder for a future study. The real problem isn’t the devices themselves, but perhaps teaching students to use them better for note taking or identifying other specialized software. Librarians could fill a role in teaching best digital management strategies. The last idea is the most interesting. That’s a service libraries tend not to supply.
A PDF copy of the report is here. [MG]
Since we are in a technology world, it is very beneficial towards students to have mobile apps for easy access. Libraries are important, too but it is very intentional to have your time scheduled. It is hassle for me. I prefer mobile apps.
Posted by: CCNA | May 1, 2012 6:39:27 PM
There are four promised recommendations for librarians at the end of the report.
I guess the most interesting thing is, why should providing technology services be the job of the library? A university's IT department exists for a reason. And, clearly, undergrads don't use the library all that much - and so, maybe the academic library really should accept the idea that its primary users are faculty and other patrons whose primary role is research, not homework or studying. Once a library accepts that, it can focus on serving these users specifically, rather than trying to be all things for all people.
Posted by: Mikhail Koulikov | Jan 27, 2012 10:10:45 AM