Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Library Learning: Undergraduate Students' Informal, Self-Directed, and Information Sharing Strategies

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Library Learning: Undergraduate Students' Informal, Self-Directed, and Information Sharing Strategies

Article excerpt

Introduction

The approaches students take when learning about the library or conducting research often does not include librarians. Whether based on this author's personal observation and experience or supported by prior literature, it seems that students tend to seek out others before going to the library or librarian for help, if at all (Valentine 303). Perhaps this is because students don't understand the role of a librarian, or they fear embarrassment, or simply because they do not like to ask for help (Valentine 304). Either way, libraries spend a great deal of time and effort marketing services and programs, including promoting librarian instruction and research help, yet students often bypass these options choosing less formal approaches for learning about the library.

This paper summarizes the findings of a qualitative focus group study of fourteen University of Saskatchewan second to fourth year undergraduate students in the humanities and social science disciplines, examining the approaches they take to learn about library resources and services, who they go to when seeking assistance with their research, and why. The study does not assess whether the students are achieving the highest level of success through these approaches but, rather, considers the factors that influence the directions they take.

The study was conducted to answer the following questions:

· What approaches are undergraduate students in the humanities and social sciences typically taking to learn about library resources and services?

· Do these approaches change as students' progress through the undergraduate years?

· Why do students choose the paths they do?

Exploring the paths of informal learning that seem so prevalent among undergraduate students will assist in the development of services, programs and spaces that are more meaningful and relevant to students.

Literature Review

The literature focusing on undergraduate student library use spans many years and presents consistent findings related to the directions students choose to take when learning about the library and conducting research.

Barbara Valentine's 1993 study concluded that students look for the "easiest, least painful way to complete a research project in a timely and satisfactory fashion" (302). Valentine indicates that a "quick and dirty" approach using limited resources was the typical practice by students. They did not use an organized strategy as librarians might teach in an instruction session. The study found that students would conduct "easy" research which meant starting with something familiar. The notion of feeling lost or lacking familiarity with the library and its resources was considered a significant obstacle to the students. Seeking help from peers, friends, family members, and instructors was also identified as a common approach for students. Valentine delved into why students seek out instructors more frequently than librarians and identified a variety of reasons including fear, accessibility, risk versus reward, benefits versus cost associated with consulting authorities, and of course simply not understanding the role of a librarian. Valentine states "students use research strategies that they perceive will reap the greatest benefits with the least cost in terms of time or social effort. The fact that students want to avoid interactions that they believe may be painful should not be surprising" (304).

Similar to Valentine, Fister interviewed fourteen students who had completed a successful research project and found that theses students did not use a well organized research strategy compared to what librarians might teach. The 'tool- intensive' techniques and 'logical and systematic' processes often taught in library instruction was not the typical approach students took (9). What Fister did find was that a significant portion of time, energy, and diverse approaches were spent formulating a focus for their research. …

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