Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Closing the Gap: Investigating the Search Skills of International and US Students: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Closing the Gap: Investigating the Search Skills of International and US Students: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt


Academic librarians are increasingly concerned about students' information literacy. The ability to effectively search academic resources is critical to academic success. In the past 10 to 20 years, the most significant change in patrons' library skills is related to the introduction of new technologies. Rapidly changing technology affects how students search for information and, in turn, influences how academic libraries serve students. International students, especially those who learned English as a second language, often struggle to use the library more than their American counterparts. To help international students understand the many facets of academic libraries (such as the academic culture, services, and resources), library programs and services have been developed to meet international students' informational needs. Although the population of international students is on the rise, research on international students' ability to search library resources is limited.

Previous studies have indicated that there are significant differences between the library skills of international students and those of US students. This exploratory study examined the ability of undergraduate and graduate international students to identify books, journals, and journal articles and compared it to a small control group of US students. The number of students was limited by a $1,500 American Library Association Diversity Grant. It was expected that, even with a small sample size, that international students' library skills would lag behind those of US students.

This research design was patterned after Zoe and DiMartino's research on end-user international students in the 1990s. In the 90s, considerable time was spent teaching students how to search for information in end-user databases. Libraries were moving from searching by librarians to systems which allowed users to find their own information. Today is it possible to collect data on searching, using software that records the user's interactions with the computer, often called keg-logging, or tracking software. Using tracking software in this study allowed analysis of how students acquired their answers and comparison of the results of international and US students. This method differs from the other studies which used surveys to determine how international students find information and what resources are used. An exit survey provided demographic information about students, such as frequency of library use, satisfaction with library services, and prior computer use in their countries of origin. The implications of the study can be used to improve library instruction and online catalog records to increase accessibility for all students.

Literature Review

The number of international students attending American universities has increased each year. According to the Open Doors Report [1], the international student population has increased 3 percent, totaling 582,984 for 2006/2007 alone. Newsweek [2] reported that, according to the US Commerce Department, international student education is a $13 billion boost to the economy. The article also noted that the number of international students studying in American colleges and universities has been on the rise. The Institute of International Education ranks these students' presence as having the fifth greatest impact on our economy. Because of the economic impact, services to international students are also on the rise as universities and colleges develop more partnerships with other countries. Libraries need to be involved in the planning to create opportunities for success for this important group of students.

Much of the literature of the last 20 years provides methods for improving library orientation and instruction sessions to culturally diverse library users--both minority and international students. Articles focused on cultural and language differences and characteristics librarians need to be aware of to provide culturally responsive service to international students. …

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