Archive for the ‘How teens use the library: “not so much”’ Category

So WHAT if you know all the answers? A cautionary tale in information seeking behavior among older teens:

Interview with high-school junior Jane Doe about general and specific “information seeking behavior” at an urban public library. Place: Quincy, Massacusetts.

Demographics: Like 80% of Quincy residents, Jane Doe is white. At $50,000 dollars a year, her family is median income. Like 49% of the City population, the Does own their own home. Jane is a (self-described) representative of Quincy students who use the public library for recreational reading and for research assignments. Jane has a part time job as food server.

General Library use:
Jane Doe uses the Thomas Crane library or one of its branches about once every two weeks. The last time she used the library was last week, when she logged onto the library databases from her home to see if she could find a newspaper article about the Quincy Tide Mill. That database query was unusual.

“Mostly,” she said, “I go to the Library just for pleasure. I like to check out the new books-detective and romance fiction. Sometimes the poetry section. I like the magazines.” Jane will also browse through the collections of CDs and DVDs, “but,” she said, “I would never go into the Library to seek out a CD or DVD. They don’t have what you’d call a sprawling collection of the kind of music I like.” (rock and alternative).

When it comes to books or research, it’s a different story. The public library is the first stop if Jane wants or needs a specific book, or information from books on a specific topic. “I can almost always find what I am looking for. The computers [OPACS] are easy to use. I usually know the title or author or a keyword. Once I find a call number I generally browse in that area [of the stacks].”

Did she find the newspaper article she was looking for in the databases? No. “I don’t really like databases,” Jane said. “They seem like they’d be more helpful than they really are.” Keyword searches “are like a shot in the dark. If I search on the Internet, I get something specific, but the databases are full of essays and articles that seem really tangential. I have a lot of homework. I don’t have time to like, read fifteen articles just so I can find maybe 15 sentences I could even use.”

The one library service Jane doesn’t use is the Reference Department. In fact, this high-schooler did not make a distinction between the staff at the Library circulation desk and the reference librarians in the department one floor above circulation. To her-everyone on the staff is a “Librarian”.

“Sometimes librarians can be kind of bitchy,” she said. “Like that horrible woman at [branch library] who told us we couldn’t sit at a table because the table was for adults and there weren’t even any adults in the Library.” Jane does not seem to take this personally. Overall, she wouldn’t say librarians are particularly friendly-or unfriendly. Patrons her age, she said, ‘get looked at as a nuisance or something right off the bat. No matter WHAT you’re doing, it’s like you could be told not to do something at any moment.”

Jane is also certain that her own information seeking skills are at least as good as those of the staff. “I know how to look up books,” she says. “Any question I could possibly ask a librarian I can do myself.” She does not generally use the library website because “if you’re using that, you’re probably looking at databases-and I’d rather just use the Internet.”

Library programs don’t appeal to Jane. “I feel like I’d be taking another class and I already take enough classes.”

On a scale of 1 to 10, Jane rates her overall satisfaction with the Library a 10. “I’m perfectly satisfied,” she said. “It usually has the book I’m looking for. If I can’t find it, I can get it from another library.” She rates her satisfaction with Library staff at 7-8. “I don’t need much help,” she says. As for the databases—they get a 4. Jane says she never uses her school library: “Not even to hang out.”

Jane’s Specific search: School assignment: Write a paper about the interaction between northeastern Indian tribes and the early settlers.
Jane didn’t like this topic. “It just seemed stupid. Like didn’t we do that in elementary school?” She came to the Library and spent about two hours researching the question. First, she used the OPACs to find print material. “I looked up books about Indian culture,” she said. “Most of them were obnoxiously outdated. Maybe not in the information, but the way they were written.”

Did you go to the reference department? I asked. And look for or ask for any bibliographies on your topic? Jane did not ask any reference librarians for help; nor did she use the reference collection. “I was pretty sure there was nothing librarians could do that I couldn’t. And I’d rather do it at my own pace. Sometimes when you ask a question, they act annoyed or like you’re really stupid.”

Jane did try to use the databases. “I found some abstracts,” she said. “But there was too much stuff.” When she used Google, she said she had better luck: “You type in a series of words-like Indians and settlers and culture, and you get something that relates to what you’re looking for. Then you can narrow it down. It’s more specific.”

Jane said she felt frustrated both with the assignment (“which wasn’t the Library’s fault”), and the variety of sources she found at the Library. “I knew I needed book stuff,” she said, “but mostly I got my information off the Internet.” According to Jane, she read a “couple sets of facts” then “sort of made up some conclusion.”

But the library trip was worth it: “I had plenty of book titles to put in my bibliography.”


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