Students who consult librarian more likely to use Library databases

Highlights from our end-of-quarter survey of 1st year Stanford students in Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR) courses. The Program in Writing and Rhetoric is Stanford’s version of freshman writing, and 90% of Stanford freshmen take one of these courses in their 1st year:

  • 99% of students used the Library catalog
  • The Library catalog and the Library databases were rated most useful (ahead of Google and Wikipedia)
  • Nearly 40% of students consulted a librarian about their research paper
  • Students who consulted a librarian were more likely to use Library databases and the online Research Guides, and rated the Library databases more useful than those who did not consult a librarian
  • The more useful students find Library databases, the less useful they find Google.

On to the details:
Stanford Libraries’ Information Center staff provide dedicated support to every PWR class in the form of an assigned librarian, an online class research guide, and a library workshop. We surveyed students at the end of each quarter this year, after they finished their final assignment, a Research Based Argument (RBA)–essentially a research paper.

We had a response rate of over 30%, for a total of 423 respondents.

Percent of students who used the following research tools to find resources for their RBA
99% Socrates (Stanford Library catalog)
93% Library Databases
93% Google
73% Wikipedia
71% Online Class Research Guide
67% Bibliography, Works Cited, or notes page of a journal article or book
57% Google Book Search
51% Google Scholar
25% PWR Boost display books (a special table we set up w/ relevant reference books)

How useful were the following research tools for finding resources for your RBA? (1=Not very useful, 2=A little useful, 3=Useful, 4=Very useful

Socrates (Stanford Library catalog) = 3.3
Library Databases = 3.3
Google = 3.1
Google Scholar = 2.9
Google Book Search = 2.8
Online Class Research Guide = 2.7
Wikipedia = 2.4
PWR Boost display books = 2.0

Consulting a librarian for help

39% Consulted a librarian (any means)
25% Visited Reference Desk in person
14% Consulted assigned librarian directly
6% Used IM to consult librarian
3% Sent email to generic library/reference email

More findings (only statistically significant results reported):

  • Students who consulted a librarian were more likely to use Library Databases (96%) than students who did not consult a librarian (91%).
  • Students who consulted a librarian were more likely to use Online Class Research Guide (77%) than students who did not consult a librarian (68%).
  • Students who consulted a librarian rated Library Databases more useful (3.44) than students who did not consult a librarian (3.22).
  • Students who consulted a librarian rated Class Research Guide more useful (2.8) than students who did not consult a librarian (2.65).
  • Student ratings of the usefulness of Google are positively correlated with their ratings of the usefulness of Wikipedia and Google Scholar. In other words, the more useful a student found Google to be, the more useful they also found Wikipedia and Google Scholar.
  • Student ratings of the usefulness of Library Databases are positively correlated with their ratings of the usefulness of the Library Catalog, Online Class Research Guides, and Google Book Search. In other words, the more useful they found Library Databases, the more useful they also found the Library Catalog, Online Class Research Guides, and Google Book Search.
  • And my favorite finding–the more useful they found Library Databases, the less useful they found Google. Google is useful, until they find something (like Library Databases!) that is more useful.

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19 Responses to “Students who consult librarian more likely to use Library databases”


  1. 1 Shawn November 4, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Hi Chris, can I get a copy of your survey as well? I will be sure to attribute. TY!

  2. 3 JL Cassidy August 6, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I like your statistics and would like to use your article in my “Technical Services/Cataloging” class starting in a few weeks. (Graduate library & info science school)
    May I have your permission to reproduce it?
    Prof. J. Cassidy, GSLIS, QC-CUNY

    • 4 Chris August 6, 2009 at 10:37 am

      Prof Cassidy-
      I’m very happy that our findings are of use to you. You are certainly welcome to make copies of the blog entry for your class. I only ask that you properly attribute the info to me (Chris Bourg, Stanford University Libraries), and to the blog (Feral Librarian: http://chrisbourg.wordpress.com). Thanks!

  3. 5 CP August 4, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Chris, Thanks for this interesting report. I would also like to see your survey if possible.

  4. 7 Chuck Guarria July 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Chris, would it be possible to send the survey? I recently dcreated a survey for our students but would love to c urs and maybe plagerize (kiddn) a questions or 2.

    Thanks!

    • 8 Chris July 15, 2009 at 2:00 pm

      Chuck-
      You bet. Will send it to you via email. Some questions are Stanford-specific, but can probably be tweaked for your institution. Feel free to use … perhaps we should put a Creative Commons note on it ;-)

  5. 9 MYHerring July 9, 2009 at 6:14 am

    I tried to stress some of these things in an article I wrote for AL years ago (“10 Reasons Why the Internet Is No Substitute for a Library” see here for article, http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/resources/selectedarticles/10reasonswhy.cfm and here for poster of same, http://www2.winthrop.edu/dacus/about/ordertenreasonsposter.htm) and expanded that in a monograph for McFarland (http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-3082-6). Of course all this sounds all too self-serving but the point is that unless we fight for the over-arching purpose and value of libraries, they will NOT continue. They are too costly, too revenue-draining, and too space-consuming to remain withut a sound argument why they need to be preserved.

  6. 11 bossybot July 8, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    would love to know the GPA of library users vs non-users!

    • 12 Chris July 8, 2009 at 8:17 pm

      So would I! We may try to design a future study where we could at least find out there grade on their freshmen research paper. I assume you would predict the same results I would predict — students who use library resources and find them most useful would be the ones who get the highest grades.


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