February 16, 2018

Credo Survey: Today’s Students Struggle with TMI

Credo and Libraries Thriving will release the full results of What Students Know about Information Literacy, a survey of primarily undergraduates, on April 11 at the Association of College and Research Libraries conference in Indianapolis. The study surveyed 1,502 higher education students from 420 institutions—83 percent of them undergraduate.

Among the key takeaways from the study for academic libraries is yet more confirmation that most students begin their research process on the open web, though library resources aren’t totally out of the running. While some 38.8 percent began their research process with Google or another search engine, about 30 percent started with electronic materials, about 20 percent whose starting point was the library catalog, and about 10 percent who started with class materials.

Credo chart: where do students start researchNotably, library databases were ranked as the most valuable institutional resource; they were the only library offering to (narrowly) beat out the cumulative offerings of the open web. Library electronic journals were also highly valued. However library print books still beat out ebooks, though only by a couple of percentage points. (On textbooks, the difference was far more marked: students preferred print texts to ebooks nearly two to one.)

Librarian instruction and instructional library materials make a solid showing when students were asked about factors contributing to their sense of being well-prepared, at 40-50 percent each, but they are still dwarfed by class materials, electronic resources, instructor support, and search engines. (Percentages are approximate because students were routed to different iterations of these questions depending on how prepared they reported themselves to feel.)

Credo chart: Library instructional materials that would be helpfulThe good news is that students who feel unprepared hardly ever blame the library: only about 10 percent or less complained of lacking librarian instruction or library instructional materials.

There is, however, clearly a role for librarians in helping with the problems they do experience: about 60 percent cited an overwhelming amount of information as contributing to their feeling of lack of preparation.

So the disparity between those two numbers may mean less that students are getting all the library help they need, and more that they don’t understand how the library can help. About a third of respondents said they never asked library staff for help with a research paper. And while about a third of students had visited the library with a class or had a librarian visit their class, less than eight percent had made an appointment with a librarian.

Though many might have assumed that today’s undergraduates would gravitate to modern, multimedia library offerings, it doesn’t appear to be the case: when asked which library instructional materials would help in future research, research guides and handouts were the hands-down winners at nearly 80 and 60 percent respectively; in contrast, videos and interactive activities barely reached 40 percent.

“The library must be a sustained part of undergraduate education in order to address this skills gap, and a growing focus in the library industry on strategic partnerships makes this possible,” said Mike Sweet, CEO of survey sponsor Credo.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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