Internet Use through the University of Toronto Library: Demographics, Destinations, and Users' Reactions

Article excerpt

Using an online survey, focus groups, and logs of telnet connections, the authors studied users who gain access to the Internet via the University of Toronto Library online catalog and information system. The study showed that 75% of the users were male, 46% of the users reported finding nothing that they were looking for, and 13% of the Internet sites available accounted for 80% of the telnet connections. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for professional practice and future research,

Although the Internet is known to have millions of users, very few studies have been published about what it is used for and by whom. The few studies that have been published focus on use by librarians. Tillman and Ladner[1] studied the uses of the Internet by special librarians. McClure, Moen, and Ryan[2,3] conducted a survey in which they asked librarians in academic and public libraries to assess the impact of the Internet on libraries. Eisenberg and Milbury[4] surveyed members of LM-NET: The School Library Media Network, a listserv whose target audience is school library media specialists, about their use of Internet resources and the impact of their use of Internet on the role or status of their library media programs. In addition to formally published studies, some informal information about use of campuswide information systems is available, such as the popularity rankings posted by InfoSlug at the University of California Santa Cruz[5] and the gopher at Texas A&M.[6] What is missing are formal studies of Internet users who are not librarians. Since the whole user group of the Internet would be difficult to study, we studied the users at one site.

We looked at people who used the Internet through UTLink, the online catalog and information system at the University of Toronto. The University of Toronto is a major research university in Ontario, Canada, with an enrollment of fifty thousand students. At the time of the study, students were not automatically eligible for computer accounts that gave access to the Internet, so many of them took advantage of the access to the Internet offered by the library The research questions we investigated in the study included:

1. Who is using the Internet? Are there differences in sex or academic status between Internet users and the overall population at the university?

2. Where do they go on the Internet? What sites do they access and why?

3. What are they using the Internet for?

4. Are they satisfied with what they find on the Internet?

5. Are they satisfied with the way the University of Toronto provides access to the Internet?

6. What changes would they like to see?

We hoped that the answers to these questions would prove useful to librarians who are planning services related to the Internet.

Methodology

We used an online survey, focus groups, and analysis of a log of telnet connections to address the research questions. The online survey results provided demographic information, information about people's reasons for using the Internet, and users' ratings of the information they found, as well as of the method of providing access. The open questions on the survey and the focus groups were helpful in collecting suggestions for improvement and explaining the uses people made of the Internet. Examination of the logs of telnet connections helped to identify the most popular destinations and to compare usage patterns for Internet resources with well-known usage patterns for other types of information.

Online Survey

We were able to do the online survey because the University of Toronto provides Internet access through UTLink, its online catalog and information system (Data Research Associate's Information Gateway). The university provides the access by connecting library card holders to the Hytelnet software (version 6.3) created by Peter Scott at the University of Saskatchewan. …