Magazine article Information Today

2004 NFAIS Meeting

Magazine article Information Today

2004 NFAIS Meeting

Article excerpt

NFAIS helds its Annual Conference Feb. 22-24 in Philadelphia. According to the program: "A new information mindset is being created. Information usage behavior ... is being shaped by computer-driven technologies.... Use of traditional information sources ... is on the decline. This trend, combined with the current movement towards open access publishing on the Internet, has the potential to completely transform the information access and retrieval process in the very near future."

Search Engine Study

The conference opened with a keynote by Yahoo!'s chief scientist, Jan Pedersen (see page 33). The remainder of the first day was devoted to search engines and user behavior. Simon Inger, director of Scholarly Information Strategies, Ltd., presented some fascinating data from a comparative study of Google and traditional information services. For the study, a set of known articles was searched using Google. STM articles are easy to find on Google because of their specific language. In addition, their publishers make an effort to have their content indexed by this engine.

In contrast, business, management, or social science articles are harder to find with Google because their language utilizes words that are more commonly used, and their publishers' data is less well-crawled by the engine. Thus, it's more difficult to separate useful articles from the noise of large results sets. Google's overall coverage is more general than that of the selective A&I databases, but Inger noted that Google is actively working with primary publishers to increase its coverage of their data.

User Behavior

A panel of four speakers addressed user behavior. David Seaman, executive director of the Digital Library Foundation, discussed the needs of humanities researchers. He noted that they're frustrated by the time it takes to find relevant information, the lack of material in their discipline, and the need to analyze the credibility of information. They also feel hampered by a lack of training on how to find information. In the eyes of these users, publishers have a "silo" mentality, and there's little ability for users or library services to work with content across publishers or aggregators.

Seaman said that libraries are failing in their service mission because they are unable to repackage content. Publishers therefore have an opportunity to help libraries become data-aggregation services for their customers. They need metadata that will make it easier to gather and repackage information for local delivery and analysis. It's not sufficient to simply offer the current fragmented-data landscape to users.

Carol Tenopir, a professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, summarized some of her extensive research. She cautioned the audience that even though we know much about user behavior, there's also still a lot we don't know. Students generally turn to Internet search engines first and feel confident about their searching ability. They recognize that not all information retrieved from the Internet is reliable. Usage patterns of subject experts vary depending on the discipline in which they work. Most users draw on both print and electronic resources, and they print out information that they plan to review at length. Users will emphasize electronic resources if they're convenient and relevant and if they save time.

We still don't know much about the differences in information-system use based on users' gender, when they were born, their culture, or their geographic location. In a continuing study of more than 18,000 users since 1977, Tenopir and her colleagues have found that information use does not seem to depend on age.

In a sample of medical faculty members, another study found that because users with higher degrees tend to read and need information more than those with lower degrees, they use electronic information more extensively. Tenopir suggested that we determine whether systems should be designed for "average" users or if they should cater to users' differences. …

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