March 1 , 2004  Vol. 7 No. 9 


The Ohio State University and OCLC researchers to study how people use electronic information resources

Researchers at The Ohio State University and OCLC are conducting a new study to find out how and why students and faculty members use electronic information sources to do research and solve problems.

The $1 million project is a collaboration between Ohio State and OCLC. The two-year study will run through Dec. 31, 2005. The project is partially funded with a $480,543 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The remainder of the funding will come from Ohio State and OCLC.

The project is important because, while researchers know a lot about people's use of electronic resources, many important questions remain unanswered, said Brenda Dervin, a Professor of Communication at Ohio State and principal investigator for the project.

“We know a lot about who is using these electronic resources, when they are using them and where,” she said. “But there is just a dabbling of research on the hows and whys. We want to know how people are choosing their electronic resources, why they are choosing some resources over others, and how they are fitting them into their personal and professional lives.”

Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC Consulting Research Scientist, and Chandra Prabha, OCLC Senior Research Scientist, are serving as co-investigators.

In the long-run, this project can help answer questions that will benefit all users of electronic research resources, such as the Internet and e-books.

“Our investigations will create a more complete and descriptive portrait of college and university information users, one which we think will help us design useful information services to better meet user needs,” said Dr. Connaway.

The researchers will start the study with 400 undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members at 44 central Ohio colleges and universities. All participants will be first interviewed online and by phone. In another phase, 192 of these participants will take part in focus groups. Finally, 32 of the participants will be observed while they use electronic resources.

Dr. Dervin said the researchers are interested in finding out how students and faculty use information sources not only for university-related reasons—such as writing a paper or preparing for class—but also for personal reasons.

The interviews, focus groups and field observations will aim to find answers for a variety of questions, such as how people viewed their information needs for a particular problem, what they were trying to accomplish, how they tried to meet their goals, and how system features helped and hindered their ability to meet their information needs.

For more on the project, visit the OCLC Research Web site.