Individual differences in source selection behavior: Profile analyses via multidimensional scaling



The study aims to understand how undergraduate students perceive and use different information sources. The study will examine: (1) how students perceive and use different sources, (2) how the perception and the use of information sources are related, and (3) how the user characteristics and source use behaviors are related. Their relationships will be examined through correlations and profile analyses via multidimensional scaling.


Today, users can acquire information not only through the traditional, printed information sources, but also a wide variety of new sources. One of the major challenges libraries are facing is that more users are relying on sources other than library resources. As sources, especially those from outside libraries, offer information with varying qualities, evaluating and selecting quality information sources is crucial and has become a key element in information literacy training.

Selection of information sources has been one of the core components of information behavior, as it influences the user's search behavior and satisfaction of information needs. Interestingly, research findings on the selection/use of information sources suggest that users do not necessarily choose the optimal sources (Dervin, 1976; Chatman, 2000). Furthermore, accuracy of information sources does not seem to be one of the crucial criteria when users select information sources. It is argued that a principle of ‘least effort’ often comes into play and influences the source selection. That is, users tend to choose information sources that require less effort/cost than others, in an economical, physical, social, and/or psychological sense (Allen, 1977; O'Reilley, 1982). Since users do not always strive for optimal or accurate sources, the principal questions that must be addressed are “What sources are selected for information?” and “Why?” (Krikelas, 1983).

In recent years, there has been a rapid increase in the number of information sources directly available to the public (OCLC, 2004). As the library community works diligently to meet the challenges and opportunities brought about by the digital revolution, we need up-to-date research that surveys and compares users' perception of a vast array of information sources and services. While studies on the use of specific sources exist, we need more comprehensive research studying how different information sources are compared and used from the user's perspective. This study aims to understand the undergraduates' source selection behavior and its relationship with user characteristics.


Despite efforts in helping them to select optimal sources, individuals choose to use sources that are not necessarily accurate or reliable. Studies have revealed that undergraduate students make excessive use of Web resources regardless of their quality. The increasing use of Web resources has raised concerns because they are used often without proper evaluation. Research on the frequently used sources and their characteristics perceived by users will help understand how source characteristics affect the selection behavior.

Previous research suggests that information seeking behavior is affected by user characteristics (Kim & Allen, 2002; Vakkari, 2001; Wang et al., 2000). Self-efficacy is defined as people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes, including selection process (Bandura,1986). Locus of control refers to an individual's generalized expectations concerning where control over subsequent events resides (Rotter, 1966). It also influences individuals' behavior including selection. Research on how such user characteristics are affecting source perception and use will shed light on user factors influencing source selection behavior.


The study examines how undergraduate students perceive and use different information sources. It also investigates how user characteristics are related to the selection and use of information sources. Research questions will focus on three aspects: (1) how do students perceive and use different sources?, (2) how are the perception and the use of information sources related?, and (3) how are the user characteristics and source use behavior related? Their relationships will be examined through correlations and profile analyses via multidimensional scaling (PAMS).



Over a thousand of undergraduate students participated in the study. The participants were recruited from three public universities, and their participation was voluntary.

Data collection

To collect data, a survey method was used. The survey questionnaire included questions on the participants' demographic information, and their perception and use of information sources (e.g., books (print), online databases, Web sites/search engines, friends/family).

Data analysis

Profile Analysis via Multidimensional Scaling (PAMS) is one of the methods that can help identify ‘major’ or ‘prototypical’ profiles, which represent a smaller number of normative profile types that reflect the most commonly occurring profiles in a given data set. It is a method of profile analysis that extends the use of simple multidimensional scaling (MDS) methods (Davison, Kuang, & Kim, 1999; Kim, Frisby & Davison, 2004). To identify the predominant profile pattern of source perception and use, the PAMS method will be applied in the study. To compare source characteristics deemed important as selection criteria and characteristics of frequently used sources, Spearman's correlation will be used.


Source selection/use The frequency of using different information sources is counted to identify the most and the least popular sources. Results indicate that Web search engines are the most popular and often used source. Librarians are the least used source.

Source perception

Findings suggest that Web search engines are perceived positively in most dimensions, except accuracy and level of organization. In general, Web resources are viewed as highly accessible and easy to use. However, library electronic resources tend to be perceived less positively.

Relationship between source perception and use

To investigate the relationship between the source perception and use, the collected data are recoded. First, different dimensions/characteristics (e.g., accurate; comprehensive; familiar) for each source are ranked based on semantic differential rating scores. Then, the ranked dimensions for the three most frequently used sources are compared with a set of dimensions that participants ranked based on the importance as source selection criteria. Spearman's correlation will be used to determine whether participants actually used the selection criteria they view important when selecting information sources. The perceived characteristics of the most frequently used sources will also be analyzed and identified, which will help understand the discrepancy between a set of characteristics users deem important and the characteristics they actually use when selecting sources.

Users and their source use

To identify the prototypical profiles of sources perceived by individuals with different characteristics (e.g., high-low self-efficacy, high-low locus of control), PAMS will be used. Prototypical profiles will be presented in graphs.