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Meeting Student Expectations, So We Can Exceed Them (The Summon Service and Information Literacy)

Students entering the university already know how to search – or at least, they think they do. That’s the heart of the dilemma facing libraries. During our recent series of webinars on web-scale discovery and information literacy, Matt Borg of Sheffield Hallam University probably summed it up best.  “Our first-year students have been searching for information since they were old enough to hold a mouse. Yet they still struggle with finding and using academic information – information appropriate to their studies.”

As our series of blog posts drawn from the webinar series continues, let’s look at how the Summon service helps libraries deal with this dilemma. “Summon bridges the knowledge gap between the search habits of our students, especially first-year students, and the more structured search strategies that librarians teach,” explained Amy Faye Fin, formerly of Bowling Green State University. “Since we can’t work every student to help them search like a librarian, Summon helps us bridge that gap between the ideal and the reality of student searching.”

Academic librarians at the University of Huddersfield reached essentially the same conclusions after conducting some formal research. Alison Sharman shared the results of focus groups that a colleague conducted as part of his masters’ thesis. “He got extremely positive feedback,” she told us. “It has the single search box which they found very easy, and they could find items without instruction. It was also very fast at retrieving results. Students couldn’t believe how fast it was.”

In fact, according to Amy, having a web-scale discovery search tool such as the Summon service benefits everyone. “Librarians and faculty want students to find and use scholarly information. Students want to start right away and get quick, easy search results.  The Google-like search box is familiar, saves everyone time, and meets the needs of many students who struggle with research. The faculty get excited about the results. So Summon makes all of our users happy.”

Alison conducted her own focus groups, with third-year business management students. “I asked if they preferred using Summon to searching individual databases,“ she related. “I think one of my favorite replies was, ‘It’s like when you get insurance quotes, isn’t it? Like comparethemarket.com.’” However, this is not to say that familiar Web-style search makes individual database-searching tools irrelevant. Rather it is a bridge to teaching more-experienced students how to use them more effectively – a topic which we will explore in future posts.

As these libraries have found, engaging with students around the search strategies they bring with them to the university is the foundation of a new approach to teaching information literacy. Short-term, we may be giving students what they want, but at the same time, the Summon service sets the stage so we’re better able to give students what they need. We’ll continue that theme in our next post.

If you’re interested in hearing from the presenters themselves, all webinars in the series are available for on demand viewing.  Also, register now for the three new sessions we’ve got coming up with librarians from Case Western Reserve University, the University of Denver, and Wake Forest University.  We’re sure you’ll want to hear from these speakers about their unique perspectives on the topic of information literacy and the Summon service.