Things They Carry

Article excerpt

Attitudes toward, Opinions about, and Knowledge of Libraries and Research among Incoming College Students

This article uses information gathered from a short quiz and questionnaire administered to 521 incoming students in order to examine their attitudes toward, opinions about, and knowledge of libraries and research. The data analysis uncovered meaningful correlations between students' performance and high school class size, gender, grade point average, and previous experience with library research. No significant correlation was discovered between students' test scores and their levels of self-confidence, comfort in libraries, or self-assessment of library skills. The findings both reinforce and contradict stereotypical assumptions about incoming students and provide information that can be used when modeling programs of bibliographic instruction.

What do incoming college students know bout libraries? What do they believe, and hat prejudices do they carry? How confident are they in their research skills? What experiences do they have, and what bearing do these experiences have on capabilities and confidence levels?

These questions rarely have been posed in the library literature. Although several studies chart the development of library research skills during students' four years of college, there is scant literature examining incoming attitudes, opinions, and beliefs.[1] For bibliographic instruction and reference services to be truly effective, it is essential to know more about the attitudes and skills that incoming students bring with them as they first encounter our libraries.

In an attempt to ascertain student attitudes toward, opinions about, and knowledge of libraries and research, St. Olaf College librarians administered a survey to incoming students during orientation week in September 1996 (see the appendix). The survey included a short knowledge test as well as questions about students' previous experience with libraries, including the amount of time spent in libraries, number of research papers written, and types of reference materials used. It also asked students to rate their competencies and confidence levels with various types of research tools.

In order to examine correlations between competencies (both tested and self-assessed) and various other factors, the questionnaire also asked students about reading habits, television viewing, previous experience with library instruction, and planned majors.

Methodology

All incoming St. Olaf students participate in a week of orientation before first-semester classes begin.(2) During this orientation week junior counselors from each dormitory are expected to bring first-year students to the library for an hour of orientation. In the fall of 1996, 67 percent of the freshman class, or 521 of 769 students, participated in library tours.

Surveys were administered as the first item of business, before students received walking tours of the libraries, heard talks by librarians, or received any introduction to the online system. This sequence, we hoped, would provide a clear sense of incoming attitudes and knowledge, before students had received any instruction or advice.

The Test

The first component of the survey was a short "test" that measured students' basic skills and general knowledge of library materials and functions, i.e., bibliographies, Boolean operators, the scope of subject headings, citation formats, distinctions between primary and secondary sources, and differences between academic journals and popular magazines. In addition to the test, the students were also questioned about their previous library experience, academic background, reading habits, and general attitudes toward libraries. Questions and corresponding tables are listed below. Results of the survey can be found in the appendix.

Miscellaneous Characteristics

What student characteristics may (or may not) be relevant to library attitudes and competencies? …