User study-ish

Yesterday I conducted a very unofficial and hugely informal user test to see how the young ones search. I explained to my subject that there were no wrong answers, I just wanted to see and learn how non-professionals search. I’m way too far removed from the experience; as with cataloging I cannot help but know the path to follow. The following is what happened [note I am not naming names because that makes it seem so much more official]

Subject was (and is, I suppose) a recent college graduate.  I provided a topic and asked “please find two peer reviewed articles and one book that you might use as a source as if you were writing a paper on the impact of Jimmy Carter’s presidency”.  I asked “please go to your library website to start the search”.

Subject went to unnamed university library website, logged in [yay still worked after graduating!] and put in search terms. What search terms? Subject typed “jimmy carter impact” in the search box provided. No Boolean, no truncation. Subject did not use any of the limiters available (such as ‘limit to peer reviewed’). Results were quickly scanned. Anything of interest went into a new browser window to review. At one point subject stumbled on google scholar and asked “WHERE HAS THIS BEEN THE LAST FOUR YEARS?”  I explained the history, basically been around since 2004. Groans met my explanation, subject noted “knowing this would have been very useful!”.

I watched the subject go outside the library website for each item of interest. Subject took any citation of interest (actually, just the title) to the open web to find it. Once found, subject scanned the content quickly to see if it would answer her “impact of jimmy carter’s presidency”. Subject never varied search terms nor used any other tool on the library site.

I asked “what does peer reviewed mean?”  Subject noted this meant “a scholarly article”.  Uhm, yeah, sort of …

I asked “if you had to cite an article found in APA style, how would you do it?” . Subject went to a new browser window and opened the Purdue OWL site, explaining this was the site used since high school.

As we finished, I showed the subject the features on the unnamed university library site where the limiters, citation builder, etc. all reside. I noted these are all within the areas the search began but were skipped/ignored. I further explained that all the full text that had been ‘discovered’ on the open web were due to the library purchase – because the subject logged in to the library website, the proxy took effect and full text was found. Subject was astonished and wondered why this was not shown to students. I asked if they had any library instruction – “well in one class we were shown JSTOR”. I asked why the library site was not used more, subject said “I’ve just always done it like this”.

Now, is this typical? I have no idea. I just asked one person to do this and had no formal method of testing. It does make me wonder though and and pushes me to the belief that library instruction needs to be part of the school experience – from kindergarten on up really, with new bits and parts each year to build upon, like we do with grammar, math, etc…

 

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