Library Resources (AND, OR, NOT) Google: C-EBLIP Journal Club, March 20, 2017

By Elizabeth Stregger, Discovery & Access Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Perruso, C. (2016). Undergraduates’ use of Google vs. library resources: A four-year cohort study. College & Research Libraries, 77(5), 614-630. doi:10.5860/crl.77.5.614

There are so many ways to get to our library content. Students can start their research with the catalogue, discovery layer, research guides, library and archives websites, Google Scholar, and of course, Google. In consultation sessions with librarians and library staff over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how these tools are perceived and taught in different areas of the University of Saskatchewan Library. I chose this article for the C-EBLIP journal club because it includes the question: does library instruction impact students’ initial choice of search tool?

A whole bunch of “value of libraries / librarianship” questions lurk around this topic, like pesky book reviews retrieved in a low relevancy search. Does library instruction make a difference? Why bother with library discovery systems if students will use Google anyway? Why do students even need libraries if they can write a passable paper using open web resources? One of the journal club members put a stop to these questions with the following zinger: “Is it valuable for kids to go to kindergarten?”

Getting back to the article, we wouldn’t have chosen “Google vs. Library Resources” as the options in the student survey described by the author. Google is a search tool, not a resource. We thought that more appropriate comparisons would include “Google vs. library systems” or “open resources vs. subscribed content.”

The data collection for this longitudinal study began in 2008 when we might have thought differently. So much has changed since then. It is easier to access subscribed resources from Google Scholar or even Google, depending on authentication workarounds. Librarians and archivists put effort into making special collections and other OA resources more discoverable and accessible to all. In a systematic review context, Google searching for grey literature is a recognized expertise. To sum up our conversation: the emphasis is less on what the student is using and more on how they are using it.

These changes in how we think about Google and student searching prompted a discussion of the challenges in conducting longitudinal research in libraries. The survey used in this study was administered a total of eight times over four years. This is a lot of sustained effort for everyone involved. Longitudinal research is subject to significant practical challenges including attrition, which was a factor in this study. It does not have the flexibility to allow for the reframing of survey questions in response to change. These changes become limitations of the research. The discussion section of this paper included many interesting questions and observations.

The discussion section of this paper included many interesting questions and observations. One of the ideas from the discussion section that we found intriguing was the maturation effect. A lot happens in the years that students spend at university. Library instruction and faculty requirements (the two variables in this study) may have a cumulative effect on how students approach research, but there are many other influences in student life. We discussed several of the other influences that might have an impact, such as interactions with peer mentors or student library workers.

In the end, that is what I will take away from our discussion. A student’s experience is made up of lots of interactions with the library, our people, and our systems. We have less control over the variables than we think. And I’ll hang onto that zinger about kindergarten as I continue learning, experimenting, and making things better.

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