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The Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus blog links to an article in the journal portal exploring student information seeking activity. Oregon State University librarians Jane Nichols and Margaret Mellinger studied student attitudes, knowledege, practices, and skills in an effort to determine if and how students would use a proposed subject based library. Their study, Portals for Undergraduate Subject Searching: Are They Worth It? The short answer, “probably not.”

Among the findings:

  • undergraduates seek information based on course assignments, rather than broad subject areas
  • library arrangement of resources does not match students’ expectations of how to access or find information
  • faculty arrangement of course materials in Blackboard is also confusing and inconsistent
  • students were unlikely to personally customize library, course, or even commercial sites they use. (The survey, however, was pre-Facebook.)
  • upper division students are more sophisticated in their use of library resources than lower division students

Overall, the study concluded that students were task and goal oriented, and not likely to use portal like features. They suggest an interesting alternative instead – building course specific library web pages reflecting the specific needs of the course. This approach would provide a degree of automatic customization and better present existing library and course resources.

Sources:

Josh Fischman, For Students, It’s About Courses, Not Subjects, December 10, 2007
http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/2601/for-students-its-about-courses-not-subjects

Jane Nichols and Margaret Mellinger, Portals for Undergraduate Subject Searching:
Are They Worth It? Portal: Libraries and the Academy 7.4 (2007) 481-490. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/v007/7.4nichols.html

Students using Card Catalog, University of Washington, Article: http://www.washington.edu/home/historical/insidelib.html, Image: http://www.washington.edu/home/historical/graphics/CardCat.gif