Millenial Mythology

Millenial Mythology: Putting suppositions to the test in an academic library, from Pascal Lupien, Academic Liaison Librarian, University of Guelph, and Randy Oldham, System Support Technician, University of Guelph

Questions: What percentage of students

  • Own PDAs
  • Use their cell phone to get the internet
  • Participate in a virtual world
  • Use a social network
  • Use these for academic purposes

(the audience was calling out responses to each, such as 5% own PDAs, ALL use social networks. The shouted answers sounded pretty standard to me, but let’s see what the data tells us is true on their campus…)

  • Own PDAs – 9%
  • Use their cell phone to get the internet – 69% own. 72% can browse internet, only 17% had done so. (So, should we REALLY be moving our services to mobile platforms? Are they REALLY going to use them if we do?)
  • Use a chat application? 93% did. Do you use it academically? YES.
  • Use a social network? Most do. 50% never use for academic work. 35% used only on a few projects. Data skews younger; the younger the user, the more they use networks for academic work. Focus groups show they prefer email for group project work, and don’t want to share work online with strangers – only with friends. “Why should I share information with people who haven’t done the work?”
  • Participate in a virtual world? 4% say yes. Second Life is not reaching students.
  • Play online games? 42% never. 20%+ less than once per month. With a gender gap — many more men say yes. (So do we really need to integrate online gaming technology in our teaching and learning?)

They also asked about where students go to find information, and learned from surveys that many more students than expected went to the library’s sites — homepage, indexes, etc — first, rather than Google, knowing that the good information is in the library — but that the library resources were the hardest and most frustrating to use. (So you start off pleased that they use the library then get sad because they don’t like us.)

Discussion points to pull from this data:

  • Technology is everywhere, but they may not be using it the way we assume they do or predict they will. How will this change? What services should we be digging into?
  • Student culture is reluctant to mix personal and academic computing. Therefore, what’s the appropriate way for us to work with social networking as use increases and the personal/academic divide (possibly) grows?
  • If students are using the library in large numbers, how do we improve access to address their concerns? How do we make more efficient search tools, and user-friendly websites?
  • Are we looking for technology to sell to make us cool, or technology that fits a need? Explore what we can offer, but make sure that it actually meets a local need.

Observational study of students’ natural research behavior on existing assignments, from John Law, Director, Strategic Alliances & Platform Management, ProQuest.

Most observational sessions happened in coffee shops and apartments, with far fewer in computer labs and libraries. “You have to go native” so sat on beds in student bedrooms, etc — wherever they were, the observers were.

  • How students decide which resources to use – library outreach/marketing (great anecdote about student who was “walking advertisement” for libraries with “resources too expensive for us to access otherwise” etc — because a librarian came to his class to tell them that), course instructor (what the professor says is the bible for research – even if a faculty member in a totally different subject area said it was a good resource), brand awareness
  • How students ues library resources – vast majority of participants attempted to use library resources. But many failed, even though they wanted to, due to the state of websites. Once they’re in databases, they seem to succeed, but they can’t always figure out how to get there. Students often work with multiple resources at the same time, but abstracts are essential in identifying relevant search results. “Even when the full-text is present, they use abstracts as a reliable summary to decide whether something is relevant.”
  • How students are really using google – “studies show 90% of students use google for research” but maybe we should be asking better questions… we all use google, but is it our primary tool? And is that what gets asked? Some use it as a primary search tool, some to supplement research, and most to do handy look-ups. When we ask “Who uses google for research”, how much of that is for handy look-ups? Who uses Google for primary search? Students for whom it will suffice – if quality isn’t a concern, then google will suffice. Students who are insufficiently aware of library e-resources. Students who’ve had bad experiences with library resources. “Students are pretty smart about using different research tools for different reasons.” (Just like us. This is also how we search; why we think they’re radically different than we are is a mystery to me.)
  • How social networking sites factor into student research – they don’t. “We stopped asking this question because they were laughing at us.”
  • Chief inhibitors to success – Lack of awareness of resources. Significant difficulty navigating library websites. When the catalog search is front-and-center, they want to use it for ANY search. Authentication provides barriers.

Audience question on “how can I apply all this to baby boomers?”  And the answer from all 3 was “be seamless, be better, be more available” — no matter who your audience is.  Identify the best technology and use it to address expressed user needs.  “People say ‘Your websites are crap’, and we have to fix that.”

(This was one of the best presentations I’ve seen in a long while — personable presenters with good anecdotes to support their information, concise, and relevant. Thanks, guys!)


  1. What was the scope of the Guelph survey?

    Also, having a researcher sitting on your dorm bed while you get online is creepy like the “Burger King” King is creepy.


  2. You’re not the Worst Librarian Ever. I would never marry the WORST Librarian Ever. I’m smarter than that.

    I kind of zoned out on the methodology section while I was getting my wifi connection up and running, but the slides on the presentation are in the book, which says that they got results on their survey by mass-emailing their 19,000 students, and got a 14% reply rate, or 2700 responses. They also did focus groups with outside facilitators to unpack some issues that they wanted narrative responses for.

    The Proquest guy was clear on the creepy factor. 🙂 But, ethnographic research is done where the subject works and lives… so…


  3. I wonder if some Mythological Regional Librarians Association has ever done such a survey across multiple campuses.


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