What Students Don’t Know
By Steve Kolowich
Inside Higher Education
A two-year anthropological study of student research habits shows that students are in dire need of help from librarians, but are loath to ask for it.
This is one of the sobering truths these librarians, representing a group of Illinois universities, have learned over the course of a two-year, five-campus ethnographic study examining how students view and use their campus libraries: students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.
The ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) project — a series of studies conducted at Illinois Wesleyan, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois’s Chicago and Springfield campuses — was a meta-exercise for the librarians in practicing the sort of deep research they champion. Instead of relying on surveys, the libraries enlisted two anthropologists, along with their own staff members, to collect data using open-ended interviews and direct observation, among other methods. [Follow link above for full article]