Undergraduate Library Instruction in the Humanities Increases the Use of Books Over Journals

Mê-Linh Lê

Abstract


Objective – To assess the impact of in-class library instruction sessions on the quantity, quality, and format of resources cited by undergraduate students.

Design – Citation analysis and literature review.

Setting – A public university in the United States with approximately 9,000 undergraduate students.

Subjects – Undergraduates in eight first-year Composition I classes and five upper-level Humanities classes at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).

Methods – This study consisted of three components. In the first, first-year students with little to no academic library experience from eight classes of first-year Composition I were divided into two groups: those who received library instruction and those who did not. The instruction sessions were all taught by the same librarian, were one-hour hands-on classes held in a computer lab, and focused on basic library information, searching the catalogue, as well as searching journal databases. Later in the term, the citation pages from papers submitted by the students as a class assignment were analyzed by the authors who looked at the average number of citations employed in each paper, the frequency of scholarly citations, and the frequency of source/format type (e.g., book, article, website, etc.). SPSS was used for data recording, storage, and to calculate statistics (although it should be noted that the authors do not include any of the descriptive statistics that can be generated by SPSS). In the second component, which attempted to discern if there were any differences in the citations used by students from the different disciplines, the same form of citation analyses was performed on bibliographies from upper-level students enrolled in five History, Art History, Art, and English classes who had participated in a library instruction session in the past. The results of the two citation analyses (Composition I versus upper-level students) were then compared. The third component compared the results of the citation analyses to data extracted from five similar studies in order to determine if the FGCU findings were typical of undergraduate students or deviated from the norm.

Main Results – The comparison of citations from the Composition I students showed that students who received a library instruction session had more average citations per paper (5.3 to 3.2); used slightly more scholarly sources (51.7% to 49.4%); were much more likely to use books (25.6% vs. 6.3%) or magazines and newspapers (18.5% vs. 9.6%) as a source; and were less likely to cite journal articles (16.3% vs. 27.3%) than their counterparts who received no library instruction. Students who had not received instruction were more likely to use videos (5.4% vs. 2.8%) or course texts and handouts (11.7% vs. 0%). Both groups exhibited a preference for material that could be accessed online, and web sites were the most frequently cited source, accounting for nearly one-third of all citations.

When the results from the Composition I students who received library instruction were compared to upper-level students who had received instruction in the past, it was found that the average number of citations increased as the course level got higher (i.e., fourth year students used more citations than third year, who used more than second year, etc.). In general, the number of scholarly sources also increased as the course level did. The analysis also showed a strong preference for books over journal articles throughout all classes and course level. Preference for other formats (e.g., web sites, reference sources) varied a great deal and in many cases could be attributed to the nature of the assignments.

In order to determine whether the FGCU findings were typical of the undergraduate experience, the citation analyses were compared to five other institutions across the U.S. Results show that the FGCU findings were similar in some aspects; two other institutions also displayed a preference for books, but usage of journal articles in upper-level courses was either the same or lower at FGCU compared to other institutions.

Conclusion – For many academic liaison librarians, instruction is an important and time-consuming part of their job. The nature of many library instruction sessions – frequently one-time classes at the beginning of a semester – means instruction is often given without much attention to the impact of the session on the quality of students’ work. This study addresses this issue in order to determine whether library instructions sessions should continue at FGCU in their present format. The findings broadly indicate that library instruction has a large impact on the number of books used and the overall number of resources cited, and a very small impact on the number of scholarly sources cited. It appears that the increased reliance on books by students comes at the expense of journal articles, which were much more frequently used by students who had not received instruction. The study also found that as students progress in their studies, they cite more material and use more scholarly material. This finding is seen in a number of other citation analysis studies located through a literature search. Ultimately, the authors believe that this study demonstrates the usefulness of the library sessions to students, as it causes them to cite more sources, to cite a wider variety of sources, and to cite more books. It is possible that some of the negative findings of the study, specifically related to low journal usage, may be used to alter the structure or content of future library sessions offered by FGCU librarians.

Keywords


citation analysis; information literacy; academic librarianship

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