Monday, 15 April 2013

The new digital students, or, “I don’t think I have ever picked up a book out of the library to do any research – all I have used is my computer.”

Plenary session by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC Research

Connaway's talk collected quotes and information from several studies from the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Connaway introduces the talk by saying that "it used to be that the user built the workflow around the library, now we must build our services around the users' workflow. It used to be that resources were scarce and attention abundant. Libraries were the only game in town. Today, attention is scarce and resources are abundant". Learning of the opinions and behaviours of users through these studies provides an opportunity to rebuild the library around the user's needs.


Main themes drawn from the studies
  • Convenience is King
    Unsurprisingly, users prefer to use Google for it's speed and convenience. Students commented on how easy it was to use the internet to find resources instead of driving to the library. Connaway explains that convenience changes with the context and situation, so we need to provide resources and services in a variety of formats, 24/7.
  • Easily satisfied
    Students use the resources that are delivered to them most easily - such as the first few results on a search engine search. Websites such as the British Library catalogue and WorldCat have found their biggest traffic to be pushed through from search engines, rather than users going direct to the sites.

User behaviors
  • Power browsing: scanning small chunks of information, viewing the first few pages, no real reading.
  • Squirreling: short basic searches, downloading content for later in a hoarding behavior.
  • Self taught: users' information skills are self taught or learnt from other student and faculty.
  • Lack of understanding of copyright and open access from both students and faculty.

Views of the library
  • Inconvenient: limited hours, distance to library
  • Physical materials: users ultimately associate library with physical books - users don't associate e-resources with the library.
  • Website hard to navigate.


Connaway drew on the results of these studies to make the following recommendations:
  • Improve OPACs (this is already happening at many libraries) and create seamless route from discovery to content delivery.
  • Advertise resources and value of services.
  • Provide help at the time of need - Chat and IM that appears on the search screen when users have problems with searching, based on the same model as retail websites.
  • Design systems with users in mind, modeled on popular services.
  • Focus on relationship building.

Another reoccurring theme of the talk, which was not explicitly tackled in the recommendations, was the opinion that online resources were part of an information 'black market'. Students felt they had to hide the use of online resources - for example using Google Books for citation but referencing to the print copies. This kind of secretive behavior is an interesting phenomenon, and I feel Librarians should be able to talk honestly with users about the resources they are already using (e.g. Wikipedia) and understand the motivation behind the behavior rather than only directing them elsewhere scornfully.

Connaway's talk was quite an eye opener. Although, as Librarians, we are very aware of the popularity of search engines such as Google and the influence they are having on information seeking behaviour, listening to direct quotes from users reveals the severity of the situation. Connaway explained that the only way we would believe her findings was if she quoted directly from the participants. Although it is tempting to listen to some student quotes with dismay, it is more important that we use them to influence our service delivery in the future.

The video of the talk is available here. 

Evelyn Jamieson

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