Is research more difficult in the digital age?

Folks at Project Information Literacy claim it is. In their progress report, What Today’s College Students Say about Conducting Research in the Digital Age, the author’s claim (in bold) that “Research seems to be far more difficult to conduct in the digital age than in previous times.”

While this is a compelling argument, and one that many librarians find appealing, it is not a claim that is supported by the Project Information Literacy study. The problem is that they have gathered no data comparing current research struggles to past research struggles. Surely research was difficult before the digital age as well. Whether it is more difficult now is an interesting question, but it is not a question that can be answered from data gathered from today’s students only.

It is a shame that the authors decided to highlight such a speculative conclusion (picked up by others), because the data they gather really do have the potential to tell us quite a bit about how students do research today. I hope the final report sticks to conclusions drawn from their excellent data, and stays away from the speculative sound bites.

For a good summary of the findings, see Academic Research A Painful Process For Students, over at ACRLog.

2 Responses to “Is research more difficult in the digital age?”


  1. 1 Alison J. Head February 23, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    As a Co-Author of the Project Information Literacy Progress Report, I do need to jump in and say “seems to” in the introduction of our report relates to students’ comments in discussion sessions, not ours. In the past, the challenge may have been to gain access to quality information, from what we heard. Today, it’s sifting through a lot more information and determining quality. Same desired ends, but different processes. Is today more difficult? Possibly. Students seem to think so. Thanks for taking the time to read our research. Stay tuned.

    • 2 Chris February 23, 2009 at 7:18 pm

      Thanks for the comment and the clarification. It is interesting if students think that research is more difficult for them than it was for students in the pre-digital era. It would also be interesting to see what those of us who were students in pre-digital era think — I suspect that everyone thinks their generation had it the hardest!
      At any rate, I will definitely stay tuned, as I think you all are collecting some very valuable data about today’s students’ experiences.


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