Academic Librarians and PhD Students

For my LIS Reference course, I had an assignment to read, summarize and comment on an article about information seeking behavior of a specific group of people. I searched for the information seeking behavior of students and I found this great article.

Rachel Fleming-May and Lisa Yuro (2009). From Student to Scholar: The Academic Library and Social Sciences PhD Students’ Transformation. Volume 9, Number 2, April 2009.
Fleming-May and Yuro wrote this article about a study that’s purpose was to investigate the information seeking behavior of PhD students and provide academic librarians with an insight so that they can provide better service. PhD students qualify as a specific study group due to their differences from other students; as the authors say, “During the PhD program students not only gain subject knowledge and improve their ability to perform research but also undergo a transformation from student to scholar, a process that includes initiation into faculty and larger academic culture.” The article further explained that because PhD students are future faculty in the universities and colleges, creating a good connection with students is a great to ensure a future good connection with faculty.

The study was done in the 2006-2007academic year, at Research Universities. 178 students were included in the study, all were doctoral students working to receive a PhD in one of the social sciences. The students were asked several questions including how they do research, what their guidance in the library is, whether they request help from the librarians and how the library might provide assistance better suited to their needs.

The conclusion of the article discussed the needs that the PhD students specified. A need for “time effective and relevant services and resources” was mentioned. Students expressed a lot of interest in virtual access to librarians through chat and online library programs. It is important for academic librarians to have a good relationship with the faculty as well as the students. The endorsement of a librarian by a faculty member is a major factor that will convince students to ask a librarian for help. However, it is importunes for the librarians to not rely solely on the faculty to inform students about the library, they must instead communicate directly with students. Another concern of students was that the library programs available to them are not relevant for PhD students. They also do not have a lot of time so rather than attending the program at the library the students were very interested in attending the programs online at their leisure.

The main barrier for the PhD students was the lack of knowledge about the services offered in the library, what the librarians can do and the qualifications of the librarians. Students requested an introduction to the librarian and the available service in the library, possibly at orientation. Students also said that the librarians should be assertive, sending out emails and newsletters to students, explaining their credentials and the services that they offer.

A few of the more pointed comments are: “I wouldn’t actually know what to ask the librarian, even if I had constant access. I wouldn’t know what the person could offer.” One of the students said that the librarians should “come in one day and even teach a workshop and incorporate them into the department.” “In the psych department, [it] is how well known that person is within the department, [and] we all know who to go to for specific things, like statistics…[and] autism. We trust them, and they have to have a good reputation within the department. But if they are just a person sitting in an office, then, no, I wouldn’t go.” Another student suggested, “I think the librarian should be introduced during student orientation, ‘Hi, my name is, here is my office. …’ Occasionally send out e-mails, ‘Here’s some cool stuff.’ [They] have to remind people that they are there.”  “If I know that a workshop is going to be offered, and I have a paper due using that resource, then that would be helpful. If I don’t, then I don’t think I would be very likely to attend.”  “Having a workshop is helpful, but finding the time to attend would be hard, so having a link with technology, so I could watch it in my room at two in the morning when I can’t sleep would work.”

Comments: I think this was a very interesting article and study. The article was very well written and the points made were very helpful. I think it’s interesting that academic librarians need to connect well with both students and faculty. They need to serve a dual purpose both as guides and instructors. The PhD student population requires a different level of service than any other student population. I personally find that fascinating. I learned quite a lot from this article and am very happy that I found and read it.

–I spoke about this article with my father who has a PhD in Psychology and works as a school psychologist and also has a private practice.

Comments by Dr. in Psychology: PhD students as a group are extremely intelligent. They do not have patience with people they think are not as smart as them, and cannot help them. They need a librarian who understands the questions they will be asking, someone who will not only point the student in the right direction but can also give advice ‘this journal tends to have better articles…’ ‘this source is best used if you do this…’ etc. PhD students would rather find the information themselves than be bogged down by someone who has to look up their terminology, does not understand their questions, and needs to ask for help from another librarian. They do not have time or interest in dealing with someone like that.


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