Friday, March 14, 2008

Notes on Information behaviour of the researcher of the future

Notes on Information behaviour of the researcher of the future - Executive summary

As I read through the Executive summary of "Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future," I noted passages that would be of interest to the Resource Discovery Task Force. I offer these notes below with some explanation of why I believe they are important for the Task Force to consider. These notes are not exhaustive, and I encourage others to read the article and offer their take on the report in future blog posts. The passages I comment on below are only the passages that caught my eye, so to speak. Quotes from the report are in italics. A link to the study's project page is at the end of the post as well.

they [Google Generation] exhibit a strong preference for expressing themselves in natural language rather than analysing which key words might be more effective. (12)

I feel this finding is very significant. Many library workers, including myself, enjoy a powerful advanced search. That said, many research studies, the rise of Google, and my experience at public service desks, all point to the fact that I don't see much power searching--keywords reign. I remember one reference meeting at which a librarian unveiled the top ten search queries from a database. I only remember the top search query, but the other top searches were just as unimpressive. The top search query that fateful month was protein. Yes, a single ubiquitous word, at least in this engineering database, stole the honor. So much for sophisticated searching!

CIBER’s considered view is that the real issue that the library community should be concerned about is the rise of the e-book, not social networking. (17)

This is a timely finding with the release of the Google Book Search API . With more and more books being digitized by a variety of entities, a challenge for any resource discovery tool will be to point users to possible print as well as digitized versions of a text.

for library interfaces, there is evidence that multimedia can quickly lose its appeal, providing short-term novelty. (19)

I think we all know this fact, but boy is it hard to resist some of these bells and whistles. This brings to mind, to me at least, Aquabrowser. In my humble opinion, I don't think that the visual interface would prove useful to me as a searcher. The Resource Discovery Task Force has demo'd some implementations of Aquabrowser, if you are curious:

Columbus Metropolitan Library implementation
Oklahoma State University implementation
University of Chicago implementation

But there is no evidence in the serious literature that young people are expert searchers, nor that the search skills of young people has improved with time. (22)

This finding definitely bucks the trend of most media coverage of the Google Generation. That said, this finding does coincide with my experience in library instruction and public service. Libraries offer a complicated information landscape with unmarked borders. Students typically (I'm generalizing here, I know) don't have a firm understanding of what a library catalog IS, never mind how to search a catalog effectively, nor do students have an intimate understanding of the composition of the information landscape before them. An intimate understanding would include: the publication process, awareness of aggregators, licensed versus purchased content, etc. Without this understanding students and other users are at a distinct disadvantage compared to library workers. We are the insiders. I don't say all this to toot the library worker horn, but this "tacit knowledge" that we possess as library workers does, I believe, enrich our search behavior. Even simple tactics such as double-checking the accuracy of our systems give us library workers a leg up--I know I don't believe SFX all the time.

Students usually prefer the global searching of Google to more sophisticated but more time-consuming searching provided by the library, where students must make separate searches of the online catalog and every database of potential interest, after first
identifying which databases might be relevant. In addition, not all searches of library catalogues or databases yield full-text materials, and NetGen students want not just speedy answers, but full gratification of their information requests on the spot. (31)

The above quote reminds me of a presentation that Steve Frye gave at the Reference Retreat in January 2008. He showed QuickSearch sets in comparison to Google Scholar. This made me think, as does the above quote, that a fruitful avenue for the future would be to develop QuickSearch sets with certain users in mind (personalized search). The Library has already developed some QuickSearch sets, but if we could improve the variety and usefulness of the QuickSearch sets, I think this would be a helpful service to users. I realize there are technical issues and performance issues to consider, but for now I can dream.

From the report "power browsing" is an information seeking behavior that the new discovery tool should address in order to be useful. The authors define "power browsing" new form of online reading behaviour is beginning to emerge, one based on skimming titles, contents pages
and abstracts: we call this `power browsing’. (8, 19, 31)

The authors of the study seem to denigrate "power browsing" at least that is my initial impression. To my mind, power browsing is just efficient searching behavior. User want to quickly ascertain whether an article or book is relevant to their project. Nothing wrong with that. For the Resource Discovery Task Force this behavior underlines that a resource discovery tool should lend itself to power browsing. In other words, a searcher should quickly and easily access: digitized content, full-text, reviews, book covers, table of contents, indexes, tags, etc.

The significance of this for research libraries is threefold:

•they need to make their sites more highly visible in
cyberspace by opening them up to search engines

•they should abandon any hope of being a one-stop

•they should accept that much content will seldom or
never be used, other than perhaps a place from which
to bounce (31)

making simplicity their core mission. (31)

personal/social searching guidance offered so successfully by Amazon for many years? (33)

Finally, the authors leave us with these conclusions. More food for thought. Simplicity is an elusive goal in my opinion. Resources change, interfaces change.... I do think whatever resource discovery tool we adopt it should have some sort of recommendation system akin to Amazon's: Customers Who Bought Items Like This Also Bought. Well, I'm running out of steam, but I'm anxious to here others' thoughts on this report and resource discovery.

Jon Udell offers some further analysis and criticism of the report at his blog.

Google Generation Project page


Ron W. said...

This was a very interesting report. It pretty much demolishes the idea that young people have a sophisticated way of interacting with digital information sources. They search no better than they did in pre-Internet days. As the authors say on p. 22, "a persistent theme in the information literacy literature is that we need a fully developed mental map to make effective use of Internet search tools." But then, they later also say that "at the lower end of the information skills spectrum, the research finds that intervention at university age is too late" (p. 23), "they simply do not recognize that they have a problem" (p. 23).

This has serious implications for information literacy instruction.

Ron W said...

and more confirmation