UK: Students shun expensive library services

Students prefer to use Google and YouTube rather than expensive electronic resource library systems for information searches, a study has revealed. Researchers at Middlesex University told the 17th annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology at the University of Nottingham last week that students find many university and college systems too complex, time-consuming and cumbersome for their research.

Such problems create barriers to access and distract them from critically analysing and evaluating resources, so they resort to more familiar approaches.

Seb Schmoller, Chief Executive of ALT, said: "This demonstrates the need for institutions to think carefully - as many are undoubtedly doing - about their users' needs, recognising the growing gulf between traditionally organised library resources and resources available on the world wide web. Though the former provide a more solid base for research than the latter, without ease of use and openness of access users will take the line of least resistance and rely instead on what they can find on the web."

The authors of the Middlesex University report comment: "People expect library resources to work in the same way as those available on the internet, that is, simple and user friendly. Unless changes are made within library-subscribed [services], users will continue utilising internet resources missing the opportunity of accessing high quality scholarly materials."

Universities in the UK spend more than £112 million (US$172 million) on electronic resources including e-books, full text databases and back copies of e-journals; nearly £80 million was spent on licences for e-journals alone. Yet few students ask librarians to help them access such resources.

"Many had never met their subject librarian, nor were they aware that the library provides subject support in finding information," the researchers say.

Students found services such as Google fast, universally available, not subject to 'time-outs', intuitive and fault-tolerant; whereas college systems were often clumsy, with poor usability. They were even disappointed that electronic resource discovery systems did not have spell checks.

"Having experience of using Google, where the system provides its users with alternative options, participants expected the same," the researchers comment.

Users got easily exasperated if the results took them down the wrong path, saying: "It irritates me"; "it wasted my time"; and "I don't like it". In a number of cases, participants expressed annoyance, frustration and surprise when there were no relevant results yielded after a search on a subscribed database.

The report, Electronic Resource Discovery Systems: Do they help or hinder in searching for academic material?, makes a series of recommendations for better support, training and access to information retrieval systems that are designed using common criteria and are easier to access.
Information literacy sessions should be an integral part of students' academic programmes of study, concludes the report.

The conference attracted some 500 delegates and speakers from the UK, Norway and Germany. Topics for debate included evidence of how institutions could raise standards of learning by using online peer assessment, how mobiles and smart technology have become essential instruments for learning, and the power of blogging as a research tool.