This was an expanded discussion meeting to include as many Searchpath research interviewers as possible in conversation about our impressions and findings.
1. Harry Glazer led off by soliciting Searchpath success stories from those assembled for promotional purposes. Harry would like to know which librarians have used Searchpath successfully and which nonlibrarian faculty have incorporated Searchpath into their courses in a useful manner. He will interview the contacts to develop stories and promotional pieces.
2. We each introduced ourselves and Haynes asked us to share any "aha" experiences we had had while doing the research interviews. We began with those people in remote locations.
The following is a summary of what was said.
The research questions (scripts) worked well; good research design. The quality of students was good, and they knew how to do the tasks. There was good language in the survey questions; the students did not misinterpret them.
The students were described as "delightful" and "motivated".
Because of the difficulty of marking some of the questionnaires electronically, one librarian suggested that the questionnaires be completed on paper. [The students actually coped very well with filling out online forms, but they just wanted to know there was a rule for doing so.] He also suggested that we should standardize descriptions beforehand so that our data would be more consistent.
The scoring rewarded the path we expected; when the student chose a different path, the scores went down accordingly.
Also, there was considerable personal variation among the interviewers, and that will be pursued as part of the research project.
Students did not understand the folders in Academic Search Premier. We assume that they understand the folders in Academic Search Premier from their experiences with shopping carts on the Web, but that is not necessarily so. At least one librarian teaches the folder concept to students when demonstrating the data base.
In general, students did a very good job at web site evaluation. Their idea of Web credibility is good; they seem to understand concepts like authority, objectivity, and the like. We had one student who was hypercritical of data found on a government website because the source was not identified. As one librarian said, "Students pay attention to what we tell them about Web evaluation because the Web is important to them."
Students are aware that a Google Scholar item that is cited several times is reputable and scholarly, which shows some sense of peer review.
At least two students chose Google Scholar as the search engine, then clicked through PubMed to a scholarly article. There is a confusion between free and not free. Google Scholar and PubMed are free, but the full-text article is not (provided by RUL funding). Most students looking for a website actually picked an article from the Web; differentiation between a website and an article is blurred. Google Scholar is changing student perceptions of what a website is.
Students are confused about format. When you ask what something is, they cannot answer.
We librarians have the physical cognitive model of a separate card catalog, a print periodicals index, and a print journal. Students at least need the concept of a journal article in order to understand what a works cited page is all about. But students now come to college without ever handling a paper journal issue; they have obtained all their information online. One librarian observed that as a current masters student in another discipline, she has never yet needed a print periodical!
Students are also confused about the differences between Web pages, Searchpath, and the items we show them during library instruction. In the minds of students, "the University web page is IRIS." "It's all one big thing." Students also do not understand that the electronic articles they find are not the same as the open Web.
We discussed some trends in Google, Google Scholar, and aggregators that will promote easy access but further confuse students in their understanding of different kinds of information. The libraries are working on metasearching and subject portals so that retrieval from RUL will be easier than it is now--but will that help with the format/quality confusion?
Our information tools are perceived as artificially clumsy. Which silo to choose? We place what students perceive as artificial boundaries between subjects. Web pages need to instruct as well as connect to information.
We discussed the place of Wilson databases in reference and the fact that several fulltext Wilson journals are not so indicated in IRIS.
One participant observed that Google Scholar has had a tremendous impact on where money is invested in the world of online databases. Very little money is spent on indexing. Instead, the emphasis is on huge server capacity to push the content online. PURLs (permanent URLs) are seen as the answer to everything. Some people say that in the future only citations to Web sites will be necessary. "There is no association between what the item was, what it is now, and what it will be when plagarized!"
Another librarian reported that many of the free sites that used to be available to check for plagiarism have now been transformed. Some have ceased to operate, and some have become paper mills themselves.
One of us interviewed a student who did not take Searchpath at all, "had a great class", and performed well on the tasks. Another student did not like Searchpath, but knew everything in the task cards from library instruction. A third student seemed very confident about the results of live instruction; Searchpath confused her. These variations point up the differences in learning styles among students. Many students learn well from tutorials, while some do not. No difference in student searching behavior could be observed during a class whether they had taken Searchpath previously or not.
The biggest problem students had was with providing citations to a periodical article and locating the item itself. Some of these issues are in the nature of the catalog itself; the Libraries need to provide teaching Web resources that give direction during searches.
When locating a journal article, "everybody got to the correct periodical record and stopped, unable to go forward without a prompt." We receive questions about locating articles frequently at the reference desk; frequent use of LinkSource in Academic Search Premier gives students less experience with searching the catalog directly. It is the more advanced students, juniors and seniors (and graduate students) doing substantive projects in their fields, who ask about finding journals. There appears to be a disconnect between the process of finding a known article and looking at a related database to find the article by subject.
There was some confusion about the article title as opposed to the journal title, and the students experienced "the mysterious nature of LinkSource". Students sometimes clicked on the LinkSource IRIS link, not the full text link to the article. We had an extensive discussion about using and teaching LinkSource.
When the full text of an article is missing or difficult to find, students simply skip it. If they have to go through too many hoops, the article is considered to be unavailable. If the articles don't come up through Google, then students assume, "There aren't any articles on my topic."
Some students used completely unexpected search methods. "They knew where to go, but did not choose the way we thought to get there." Some students went to the IRIS help guide; one used a subject research guide to locate a journal. One student used My Rutgers to locate resources.
Some students were very quick and some extremely slow. Was there a profit motive at work with the students who were very quick? But all students we observed used only the very first page of any Web search to find acceptable alternatives.
3. Gains from doing this research project:
This research documents some of the information seeking behavior we have previously observed at the desk.
Having so many people from the libraries achieve human subject certification is very valuable.
Students are teaching us what we did not know, what is actually happening in the search process. We thought people would act a certain way, but they don't.
Searching behavior is influenced by whether the paper is written in stages throughout the course or whether the paper is due at the end. The course structure affects what the students actually do, whether they go for "good enough" material, search for material related to a paper they have already written (!), or try to find the best material they can.
4. We discussed how to talk with the university community about this project and its results. We will probably be scheduled for a faculty meeting in the fall. Need to think about how the results will affect Searchpath, our teaching, reference practice, conversations with faculty.
5. Tricia Libutti, the planner and principal investigator of this research project, thanked the members of the team for participating.
6. Meeting was adjourned at 11:40 a.m.