Friday, January 18, 2008

Article Note: On Undergraduate Perception and Selection of Information Sources

Citation for the article:

Kim, Kyung-Sun and Sei-Ching Joanna Sin. "Perception and Selection of Information Sources by Undergraduate Students: Effects of Avoidant Style, Confidence, and Personal Control in Problem-Solving." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.6 (December 2007): 655-665.

Read it via EBSCO's E-journal service.

This article, in brief, did not tell me anything that I did not know already. Even though the authors provide a good number of tables and charts to go along with their survey results, in the end, much of the advice they offer for instruction librarians are things that are known in the literature and in the field. The authors were investigating how undergraduates make decisions about selecting information sources; they did so by considering the impact that an avoidant style, confidence levels, and personal control in problem-solving have in the decision process. The authors take the time to define these concepts and to lay out their methodology, but in the end, the findings are not terribly new. If nothing else, their findings confirm previous studies, some of which the authors include in their literature review.

A couple of examples of the findings:

  • "A particularly noteworthy finding was that Web search engines and Web sites were rated highly in most dimensions except 'accuracy,' 'objectivity' and level of 'organization.' Participants tended to perceive that resources available on the Web were highly accessible and easy to use" (659). This is not ground-breaking. Any IL librarian in an academic setting pretty much knows students see the Web as convenient, accessible, and easy to use.
  • "If information cannot be retrieved 'successfully' in their initial attempts, individuals with low self-efficacy might experience more uncertainty and stress than those with high self-efficacy. This might, in turn, contribute to less efficient searches and also low level of satisfaction with the search process as suggested in previous studies" (662). This gives some idea of how the students view themselves: how confident are they in their skills? Here I think there is something missing from this study, and that is the notion of competency. Melissa Gross's article, which I noted here, discusses this idea of how accurate is the feeling of being competent. In other words, if you are not competent, but you feel that you are, how would you know? Low-skilled individuals, if they have some confidence, often tend to overestimate their actual skill. I right away recalled that article when I was reading this one. By the way, the Gross piece is not cited in this article, which I would have expected. I would guess Gross's work was not readily available when this study was being done (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt).
There are a couple of pieces of advice for instructors, which serve more as reminders:

  • I do this pretty much on a regular basis for instruction sessions, especially if dealing with low-skilled or at-risk students: "Especially for those with little confidence, instructors should underscore that confusions and anxieties are commonly experienced during the research process, and that having difficulties in searching is not necessarily an indication of failure. User training can also support such users by helping them develop and practice effective strategies for query formulation and reformulation (such as the use of synonyms, thesaurus of index terms), and for finding and using alternative sources" (662-663).
  • "To encourage use of high quality sources, especially among the users with a high avoidant style, IL education could help users become aware of the availability and accessibility of high quality sources. For example, IL programs can highlight the fact that some resources that are not physically available could be delivered fairly quickly through document delivery services; and that librarians are easily accessible through a variety of channels (e.g., phone, e-mail, live chat, instant messaging, and in person)" (663). Ok, the first part of this statement I found a little condescending. To help them become aware of the high quality sources? That is a basic part of our jobs. Do we really need to be told that? As for the part about librarians, I will grant we can still work on advertising the various ways in which we are accessible. However, this is something that is pretty much all over the library sector of the blogosphere.
Overall, while this study confirms previous works and a lot of the conventional wisdom, it does not reveal anything new. While the authors claim this is one of the few studies that looks at undergraduates in terms of their perceptions and propensities, the findings seem to repeat knowledge that most experienced librarians already have. At least to me, after reading all about their method and how the study was made, the article fell short.

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