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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

With advances in information technologies, a wide variety of sources and channels have been made available to provide access to information. As different sources offer information with varying qualities, evaluating and selecting quality information sources is crucial and has become a key element in bibliographic instruction and information literacy training. Despite efforts in helping them to select optimal sources, individuals choose to use sources that are not necessarily accurate or reliable. Users often turn to information sources that are not suitable to their tasks. This study aims at understanding the relationship between the perception and selection of information sources.

Surveying undergraduate students, this study examines three aspects related to their source selection behavior: (1) perceived characteristics of different sources; (2) source characteristics considered to be important for the source selection; and (3) frequently selected/used sources. The study will help understand how users view sources differently and how such perception is related to the source selection behavior. Based on the study findings, suggestions will be made to improve information literacy programs that can support the selection of the best sources.


Background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

With respect to the selection of information sources, it has been found that users do not always choose to use the optimal ones. Perceived characteristics that are not directly related to the source itself (e.g., familiarity, accessibility) often influence the user's source selection behavior.

For academic librarians, information literacy instructors and educators, the selection and use of information sources by college students has become a key issue. This issue is particularly pressing in this age when students have access to a wide variety of information sources housing information with varying quality. Studies have revealed that undergraduate students make quite frequent, or even exclusive, use of Web resources. Davis (2002) found a significant increase in the use of newspapers and Web resources, and a decrease in book use for college student papers. The increasing use of Web resources has raised concerns because they tend to be used excessively without proper evaluation. In a survey study, Metzger and her colleagues (2003) found that students usually do not verify the quality of Web information. The students were also found to rate open Web resources as moderately credible (Tomaiuolo, 2005).

Research Questions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

To better understand the source selection behavior, the study investigated students' perception of different sources; and if and how it is related to the source selection behavior. Research questions will focus on three aspects: (1) how do students perceive different sources?, (2) what kind of source characteristics do students consider important when selecting information sources?, and (3) what information sources do students use more frequently? Their relationships will be examined through regression and correspondence analyses.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

Participants

Participants were undergraduate students from two public universities. Over seven hundred students participated in the study. Their participation was voluntary.

Data collection

The survey method was used for collecting data. Semantic differential rating scale was used to measure students' perception of source characteristics.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

Perceived Source Characteristics

Findings suggest that Web search engines were perceived positively in most dimensions except ‘accuracy,’ ‘objectivity’ and level of ‘organization.’ Participants tended to perceive that Web resources were highly accessible and easy to use. However, their perception of library electronic resources is less positive. Interestingly, an institutional difference was observed. Students from a smaller, teaching-oriented college, tended to overate Web sources than those from a larger, research-oriented college.

Frequently Selected/used Sources

Findings suggest that Web search engines were the most frequently used source. In general, books were also often used. Librarians were the least frequently used source.

Important Source Characteristics Used as Selection Criteria

Participants were asked about the source characteristics they considered important as criteria when selecting sources for their academic work. They were asked to select five important characteristics as selection criteria and rank them based on their perceived importance. Findings indicate that ‘accuracy/ trustworthiness’ received the highest score, followed by ‘accessibility’ and ‘ease of use.’ No difference between institutions was found.

Their Relationship

The relationship between the perceived characteristics and actual selection of sources was analyzed. A difference between institutions was found. The sources frequently used by students from a smaller college were the ones perceived as ‘interesting’ and ‘familiar.’ Those frequently used by students from a larger college tended to be ‘accessible’ and ‘comprehensive’ ones. To map out the relationship among the perceived source characteristics, perceived importance of the characteristics as the selection criteria, and the actual selection/use of sources, a correspondence analysis was used. Findings suggest that books should the source that students would use if they selected a source based on the criteria they view important. The maps also revealed an institutional difference in the relationship between the perceived characteristics and selection of sources.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References

The study findings seem to suggest that undergraduate students have a general consensus on what criteria to use when selecting sources. Due to many different factors, however, they do not necessarily use the criteria they view important, when selecting information sources. Apparently, there exists a difference between institutions. Such differences could be resulted from the structural differences (including different levels of access to information sources, instructional services) and/or individual differences. A follow-up study using multiple regressions will be conducted to identify the variables (e.g., demographics, cognitive and affective propensities, library services) that significantly contribute to differences in perception and selection of sources. Understanding variables affecting users' perception and selection of information sources would help us develop sources equipped with features more appealing to users so that such sources would be more widely used.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Research Questions
  5. Methods
  6. Results
  7. Discussion
  8. References
  • Davis, P. M. (2002). The effect of the web on undergraduate citation behavior: a 2000 update. College & Research Libraries, 63 (1), 5360.
  • Dilevko, J., & Gottlieb, L. (2002). Print sources in an electronic age: a vital part of the research process for undergraduate students. The Journal of Academic Libraianship, 28 (6), 381392.
  • Metzger, M. J., Flanagin, A. J., & Zwarun, L. (2003). College student Web use, perceptions of information credibility, and verification behavior. Computers and Education, 41 (3), 271290.
  • Tomaiuolo, N. G. (2005). Faculty views of open web resource use by college students. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 31 (6), 559566.