Thursday, January 20, 2005

Must read frol the Chronicle of Higher Education

There is an interesting digest of Libqual results in the current ARL Bimonthly Report. What particularly caught my eye was the discussion of the library website:

According to LibQUAL data, many library patrons, particularly undergraduates are not taking full advantage of the information available from library Web sites. While about 40% of faculty at ARL universities reported using the library Web site on a daily basis (still much lower than the number that use search engines daily), only 11% of undergraduates said they used the Web site with the same frequency, and 5.5% of undergraduates said they never use the library Web site--more than twice the percentage of faculty who never use it. This disparity may result from undergraduates not being aware of the services provided by library Web sites, not knowing how to access and use these services, or being lured to other Web sites. Undergraduates gave a rating of 6.04--the lowest rating they gave for any item--for their perception of how well the library keeps them informed of useful services. And undergraduates rated their perception of the ease of use of electronic resources below their minimum level of acceptable service for that area.

Librarians should not assume that college students welcome their help in doing research online. The typical freshman assumes that she is already an expert user of the Internet, and her daily experience leads her to believe that she can get what she wants online without having to undergo a training program. Indeed, if she were to use her library's Web site, with its dozens of user interfaces, search protocols, and limitations, she might with some justification conclude that it is the library, not her, that needs help understanding the nature of electronic information retrieval.

Information literacy is also harmful because it encourages librarians to teach ways to deal with the complexity of information retrieval, rather than to try to reduce that complexity. That effect is probably not intentional or even conscious, but it is insidious. It is not uncommon for librarians to speak, for example, of the complexity of searching for journal articles as if that were a fact of nature. The only solution, from the information-literacy point of view, is to teach students the names of databases, the subjects and titles they include, and their unique search protocols -- although all of those facts change constantly, ensuring that the information soon becomes obsolete, if it is not forgotten first. Almost any student could suggest a better alternative: that the library create systems that eliminate the need for instruction.

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