How Students Use (and Don’t Use) Libraries

This is one of the sobering truths these librarians, representing a group of Illinois universities, have learned over the course of a two-year, five-campus ethnographic study examining how students view and use their campus libraries: students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.

From this interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed.  Professors don’t get off easy either:

However, the researchers did not place the onus solely on students. Librarians and professors are also partially to blame for the gulf that has opened between students and the library employees who are supposed to help them, the researchers say. Librarians tend to overestimate the research skills of some of their students, which can result in interactions that leave students feeling intimidated and alienated, say the researchers. Some professors make similar assumptions, and fail to require that their students visit with a librarian before embarking on research projects. And both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who often are not willing or able to fulfill it.

[Photo credit: Wonderlane]

9 Responses to How Students Use (and Don’t Use) Libraries

  1. no August 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    Love Suzzallo

  2. Joel August 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    It isn’t just our students who vex the librarians. Professors and librarians have often had divergent ideas about the best tools to find information. For example, librarians tried in vain to encourage use of the card catalog among professors, who preferred to rely on the bibliographies of other scholars, or to ask a colleague. In the interwar years, the creation of central libraries staffed by academic librarians was resisted by the professors, who fought to preserve the small departmental libraries, staffed by PhD students, against more complete, and cost-effective, centralized collections.

  3. KGB August 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    I suspect for most us, librarians are not an optimal use of money today. Google won. We’d be better off with funding for more TAs and RAs. I’d love to see three stories about useful librarians quantitative political scientists have worked with in the Internet era. I’m sure there are amazing librarians that can assist with research out there, but I bet they are rare, have specialized in a specific field, and are a luxury of the top tier universities.

    • Matt_L August 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      umm. Librarians are really helpful to historians. You might give them a try. You’d be surprised by the wide range of specialist knowledge they can help you find.

  4. David August 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

    What school’s library is pictured?

    • John Sides August 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

      University of Washington.

  5. Brad August 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    I think one reason undergraduates don’t seek out librarians is because they usually don’t have subject-specific knowledge.

  6. Chris August 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    When the librarian becomes extinct, the fantasy of the naughty librarian dies soon thereafter.

  7. andrew August 24, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    Andrew Abbott’s papers on how academics – faculty and grad students in the library-based disciplines – have used libraries are well worth reading (listed here). Joel’s comment above may be referring to Abbott’s work, as Abbott discusses those developments.