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Overachievers, procrastinators, and failed Googling: exploring why students ask librarians for assistance
California Academic & Research libraries Discussion Interest Group (CARL-DIG) (2015)
  • Jaimie Beth Colvin, Pepperdine University
  • Marc Vinyard, Pepperdine University
  • Colleen Mullally, Pepperdine University
According to national trends on reference statistics from ARL, reference questions are declining. At our university, however, reference statistics are on the rise. While this is great news, we don’t know why it's happening.  We wish that we could attribute this good fortune to our approachable posture and wonderful instruction sessions ... we’re the sirens of the library luring nearby students to our reference desk with our enchanting smiles, but instead of meeting disaster, students find information.
We aren’t mythical creatures, though. We’re just librarians who really want to know the answer to a crucial question: why do our reference services continue to thrive?  Answering this question will help us identify what we’re doing right and understand cultural trends that we can capitalize on.
 Our research will focus on what motivates students at our university to ask librarians for research assistance. To quantify what we see, we have begun to include more detailed information at the transaction level for the reference statistics using Springshare LibAnalytics. Our form now includes mapping the patron’s question to one or more threshold concepts from ACRL’s Information Literacy Framework along with reporting questions that were specifically linked to library instruction sessions. We realize, however, that quantitative data is not sufficient to explain why students are asking for research assistance. In order to understand why we are increasingly in demand, we are using a qualitative using in-depth interviews. We will conduct semi-structured interviews of students who have asked us for research assistance in order to learn more about their information seeking behavior.
We have speculated about the connection between reference transactions and other services such as library instruction, but we have never actually conducted research to explore these relationships. Conducting interviews will allow us to look beyond our assumptions of why students seek out help.  To collect participants for our study, we will invite students to take part in an interview after their reference interactions.  Our study will draw from this list of interested participants. Viewing reference services from the students’ perspectives will provide valuable insights that we couldn’t obtain from quantitative data.
 By sharing our research plan for exploring the information seeking behavior of students, we hope to inspire fellow librarians to investigate their reference statistics in order to determine what story they can tell their community about the value of research services. Our hope in conducting the interviews is to learn whether there are more effective ways for us to reach students, and to discover whether we are indeed as approachable as we perceive ourselves to be. With our results, we hope to shed light into the mysteries of students’ information seeking behavior.
  • help seeking behavior,
  • students,
  • information seeking behavior,
  • reference
Publication Date
Winter December, 2015
Citation Information
Jaimie Beth Colvin, Marc Vinyard and Colleen Mullally. "Overachievers, procrastinators, and failed Googling: exploring why students ask librarians for assistance" California Academic & Research libraries Discussion Interest Group (CARL-DIG) (2015)
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