Friday, June 01, 2007

Do students understand discipline?

In my last post, I suggested that we are overwhelming our users with too many choices of periodical indexes and cited research that suggests that doing so actually encourages people to make poor choices and, to boot, makes them feel bad. There's another reason why libraries should rethink how they present their online resources.

Last month, I was on a committee in my library that was charged to make recommendations on the future of our research guides and subject guides. While I was doing a literature review on the subject, I stumbled upon some research that has made me re-consider how our library's website should be organized. This research suggests that undergraduate students lack an understanding of an academic discipline: 

A study at Bucknell University Library concluded, “Students do not understand the subject categorization or organization of pathfinders… For instance, when seeking research material on bioterrorism, which subject guide should a student use: the biology guide, the political science guide, or the medical anthropology guide? … This blending of disciplines is not usually reflected in the categorization of subject guides, only adding to students’ confusion about how to address their information needs within the context of discipline-based subject guides .

Reeb B, Gibbons,Susan (Susan L.) Students, librarians, and subject guides: Improving a poor rate of return. Portal: Libraries and the Academy 2004 ; 4 (1) : 123-30.

Citing the growing interdisciplinary nature of research, the increased expectation of personalized online services, and recognizing that “undergraduates’ students’ mental model is one focuses on courses and coursework, rather than disciplines”, the University of Rochester set a goal for creating course-specific subject guides and course-specific navigation to discipline-level subject guides. A number of OCUL libraries are working in this direction and offer ‘course resource’ pages, including The University of Guelph and Carleton University.

How about course-specific lists of indexes?

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