Meta-synthesis of the Research on Information Seeking Behaviour of Graduate Students Highlights Different Library Resource Needs Across Disciplines and Cultures

Joanne L. Jordan


Objective – To synthesize research on the information seeking behaviour of graduate students.

Design – Meta-synthesis of quantitative and qualitative research.

Setting – Higher education institutions mainly in the U.S. and Canada, but including studies from other countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Subjects – Graduate students (master’s and doctoral level).

Methods – The Library Information Science and Technology Abstracts (LISTA) database was searched from 1997 to 2012. References of retrieved studies were reviewed and a Google search carried out. Studies were critically appraised using the Evidence Based Librarianship (EBL) critical appraisal checklist by Glynn (2006). The author extracted information from the included studies and took notes on the studies’ findings. Notes were then grouped into themes according to relevant research questions that emerged. A critical interpretive synthesis approach used qualitative and quantitative information from the synthesis to answer these research questions. Small user surveys were summarized in the tables but not included in the synthesis.

Main results – The review included 48 studies. Most studies were rated as having good study design and results, but many were thought to be weak when it came to their sampling and data collection techniques.

Students often initially look on the Internet for information. Many acknowledged that this information may be unreliable and turn to sources recommended by their advisors. Increasingly library resources are accessed remotely, rather than print versions. However, knowledge of library web resources and services is not always good, with many students using Internet search engines to find information.

It is suggested that accessibility of resources in different disciplines and familiarity with technology drives information behaviour. It is not always feasible for all sources of information needed in different subjects to be made readily available electronically. Professors, faculty members, and advisors were consulted most often by students, however this varied between disciplines and institutions. Librarians who demonstrated and promoted their expertise to academic departments were more highly valued by students.

Students used reference lists of articles to find other relevant material (citation chasing). Students were more concerned about the speed of accessing material rather than the quality or reliability of the content. Some students were put off by seemingly complex library systems and tools. Boolean operators and advanced search strategies were rarely used and if they were used, it tended to be by students with more computer expertise.

International students may not be as aware of the library services that are available to them. Differences in culture and language can affect whether a student feels comfortable asking for help with library resources.

Conclusion – Different types of students, such as master’s and doctoral level students or those from different disciplines, access different types of resources in different ways. Graduate students may benefit from training offered in a variety of different formats to address these different needs. Other people are important in helping students begin their research and therefore institutions should ensure those advising students are aware of information services and training available. It is suggested that further research should be done looking into cultural differences in information behaviours. It is also recommended that researchers should increase their use of standardized, validated questionnaires to improve consistent measurement of information behaviour.


academic libraries; information literacy; graduate students

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