So a new study of academic libraries shows that librarians have little currency among faculty and students. Faculty see them (alright, “us”) as great searchers but maybe not such great researchers. Students saw them as “more like: ‘Where’s the bathroom?’” Oh, and we appear to be very good at pointing to different areas of the stacks.
So already the defensiveness has set in among responders, which merely proves that it really is all about us, rather than about them, the clients.
So, what did the researchers find? Student study habits are appalling. They overuse Google and have no idea how poorly they use it. Those same low levels of inquiry and searching are evident in other databases. No surprise here as school librarians have known this for decades. The difference between a high school student and a university student? Three months. (thank you for this Ann Symons.)
We also know from the school library research, and from this study, that students (and faculty) confuse confidence with competence, that librarians overestimate student disciplinary knowledge and that faculty overestimate student research ability. The loser here? The student of course.
We Want Ranganathan, We Want Ranganathan
What the students want is pure Ranganathan: Save the time of the reader. In other words, leave the world of library idealism (wander and reflect in the storehouse of knowledge), add a dose of pragmatism (let me help you to achieve your goals here as efficiently as possible) in order that the student might satisfice (act in such a way as to satisfy the minimum requirements for achieving the intended result). Why does this face such opposition? Our students are no longer mainly full-time; they are not even part-time; they are often spare-time… (thank you for this Connie van Fleet.)
We need to do things differently, but no different than the research has suggested for more than 30 years. Why do we ignore it?
The power is the assignment. So we need to change assignments. So we need to focus more on collaboration with faculty, not around information literacy sessions but around designing the assignment to assure appropriate intellectual problem-solving with scholarly resources from reputable sites, with measures built in to prevent plagiarism.
The context is the professor (“she who grades…”) and the classroom (the student’s worksite so to speak). So we need to ensure that faculty know what we do and can do and recommend us to students, and that our instruction is subject- and assignment-specific. (Yes, those who attended sessions and undertook tutorials did somewhat better.)
The ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) Project is worthy of your examination, and also worthy of replication in other library environments. Why aren’t we using anthropologists to study our users? Why aren’t we using mystery shoppers to test customer service? Why do we insist (in many institutions) that only a librarian answer questions (frankly, if a student assistant doesn’t understand your catalogue you have a different and more challenging problem).
Let’s get serious about our clients and help them to satisfice. They may even thank us for it.