Dangerous Liaisons - UW Libraries

March 4, 2016

Measuring the Effects of Virtual Librarian Intervention on Student Online Search

Neal Parker

Each year, academic librarians confront a daunting challenge: acclimating freshmen to the research expectations of college level coursework. In order to help these students, it is first necessary to learn more about the search habits they develop while in high school. Chris Leeder and Chirag Shah shed some light on the search strategies of high school students in a recently published case study: Measuring the Effect of Virtual Librarian Intervention on Student Online Search. In this paper, the authors describe results from a case study investigating online search behavior of high school students. The study took place over a two week period at a New York high school. Participants included 36 junior and senior students in AP (advanced placement) American History, Environmental Science, and Physics classes. Leeder and Chirag used Coagmento (browser plugin for Firefox) to create a log of participant search terms, preferred sources, and strategies.

While the results of the librarian’s intervention are interesting, I found the raw data Chirag and Leeder published to be the most compelling part of their study. The pair published detailed results from the initial experiment studying how students searched independently. This data could be helpful to practitioners working with freshmen.

There are limitations with their data in terms of applicability to a general population, especially given the skill disparity between students enrolled in AP coursework versus regular high school classes. Nonetheless, it does provide some useful insights applicable to our own practice. As reference professionals, an important part of any interview is to understand what sources and strategies a user has already tried. This new study provides some insight into the information strategies of high school students, some of whom will eventually become a key demographic of the undergraduate community we serve.