Many academic librarians hold the assumption that undergraduate students in

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portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2008), pp. 187–196.

Copyright © 2008 by The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD 21218.

Who Is Not Using the

Library? A Comparison of Undergraduate Academic Disciplines and Library Use

Laurie M. Bridges

abstract: This study examines the differences in undergraduate library use by academic discipline at Oregon State University (OSU). In the winter of 2006, an online questionnaire about physical and virtual library use was distributed to 3,227 OSU undergraduates; 949 responses were received.

Chi-square tests were used to distinguish differences between user groups. The results indicate that students in the Agricultural Sciences College use the physical library less than students in the Liberal Arts College, Health and Human Sciences College, and the Sciences College; students from the Engineering College use the virtual library less than students from the Liberal Arts College.

Introduction

Many academic librarians hold the assumption that undergraduate students in certain academic disciplines, like liberal arts and education, are more likely to use the library compared to other dis-

ciplines such as science and engineering. How did librarians come to these conclusions? Perhaps they developed their opinions over time through personal observation, conversations with other colleagues, or even internal tracking of library use. Upon closer examination, it turns out that little research has been published that explores the relationship between undergraduate academic disciplines and library use.

This study represents an attempt to collect data to better understand this relationship.

Upon closer examination, it turns out that little re- search has been published that explores the relation- ship between undergradu- ate academic disciplines and library use.

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Review of the Literature

A review of library and information science literature revealed only one study comparing library use and information-seeking behavior across all academic disciplines for under- graduates.1 Ethelene Whitmire’s study was based on results from the “College Student Experiences Questionnaire” (CSEQ), which was administered in 1996 and predated the widespread use of online article databases and Google. The CSEQ contained 10 ques- tions about libraries that asked students about their library use, but it did not include questions about virtual library use. Results were compiled from 5,175 undergraduate students attending 38 four-year institutions. An analysis of the results revealed that students majoring in the social sciences were engaged in information-seeking behaviors at a higher rate than students majoring in engineering.

At the 2005 ALA Annual Conference, the Association of College and Research Li- braries (ACRL) Undergraduate Librarians Discussion Group approved guidelines for university library services to undergraduate students.2 The report states, “The changing nature of the primary clientele and the curriculum necessitates continuous evaluation and assessment of undergraduate services.”3 The report goes on to say, “Assessment should include a sampling of undergraduates who use library services and those who do not. …Undergraduate subject coverage encompasses a broad range of disciplines to offer the information needed for papers, essays, presentations, and projects required in the wide variety of courses taken by undergraduates.”4

Some additional, but limited, research looks at undergraduates and their library use by different variables, including background characteristics;5 college experiences;6 class standing;7 cultural diversity;8 race;9 and sex, native language, number of library courses taken, study habits, library anxiety, and living distance from the library.10

Some researchers have compared the library use of graduate students and faculty by academic discipline. In 1999, Patricia Maughan studied graduate students and faculty in seven academic disciplines at the University of California, Berkeley.11 Predictably, 91 percent of all faculty reported using the libraries daily or weekly.12 Of those who reported using electronic abstracts and indexes, the majority of respondents in business, chem- istry, Latin American studies, and political science said they used them “sometimes”

or “often,” whereas students and faculty in archeology, chemical engineering, and the classics reported using them less frequently.13

Steve Hiller reported on a survey conducted at the University of Washington about library use. Although the survey polled a sample of undergraduate students, graduate students, and all members of the faculty in 1998 and 2001, it is interesting to note that in the introduction to the article, Hiller writes, “Because this paper compares survey data from those in different subject areas, it includes results from faculty and graduate student surveys, but not the undergraduate ones. The connection between undergradu- ates and specific fields of study are not as well delineated.”14 Results from the surveys found that sciences-engineering and health sciences were more likely to use the virtual library than the physical library.15

A third graduate student study by Tina Chrzastowski and Lura Joseph surveyed students at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign for their perspectives on library services and found variations by academic discipline. In their study, students in

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the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering visited the libraries less often than students in other academic disciplines. Students in the arts and humanities used the library more often than other disciplines. Humanities students were the heaviest users of the virtual library from home.16

The research comparing library use by faculty and graduate students provides seemingly contradictory findings. For example, Maughan found that faculty and gradu- ate students in chemical engineering used virtual library resources less often than their peers in business, chemistry, Latin American studies, and political science.17 However, in 2006, Chrzastowski and Joseph found that graduate students in the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering used the virtual library more often than their peers in other academic disciplines.18

Methodology

In the winter term of 2006, researchers Laurie Bridges and Ruth Vondracek began a three-phased research project exploring undergraduate library use and non-use at the Valley Library of Oregon State University (OSU). The first phase was designed to de- termine basic differences in library use between academic disciplines and year of study by administering a pre-screening survey for focus groups; however, once the surveys were collected and analyzed, it was determined that the data was rich enough to study separately. This statistical analysis is the main focus of this article. The following ques- tions guided data collection and interpretation:

Q1. How often do undergraduates visit the Valley Library?

Q2. How often do undergraduates use virtual library resources from a remote location?

Q3. Is there a relationship between class standing and frequency of library visits?

Q4. Is there a relationship between class standing and frequency of virtual library use?Q5. Is there a relationship between academic college and frequency of library visits?

Q6. Is there a relationship between academic college and frequency of virtual library use?

A four-item, multiple-choice online survey was developed to answer these ques- tions. The study population for the online survey consisted of the entire undergraduate student body (n = 14,443) 18 years old or older and enrolled at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, during winter term 2006; distance education students and students from two OSU branch campuses were not included. A random sample of approximately 22 percent (n = 3,227) of the undergraduate population was drawn by the registrar’s office. Students in the sample population received an e-mailed invitation to participate in the study; the e-mail also provided an informed consent document and a link to the survey. A total of 949 usable survey responses were received, representing 29 percent of the sampled population, which is the expected response rate for an online survey; but a possibility of response bias exists since those who responded may not be representa- tive of the entire population of undergraduates. In addition, because participants were aware that the survey was administered by two librarians, it is possible that subjects reported using the library and resources more than they actually do.

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The Pearson chi-square test was used to determine goodness of fit to see if there were dependence between class standing and library visits, class standing and virtual library use, academic college and library visits, and academic college and virtual library use (X2 = 0.05). When significant dependence was present, paired comparisons of each population (for example, academic college and class standing) were made to determine significant differences in the degree of library use for different sets of the population (X2

= 0.05 with a Bonferroni correction for number of comparisons made). As an example, for the question, “How often do you visit the Valley Library, if at all?” comparisons were made between class standing—freshman to sophomore (1 comparison), sophomore to junior (1 comparison), and so on.

The second phase of the study was designed to gather qualitative information from infrequent and non-users of the physical and virtual library. Although 275 participants from the initial survey were identified as infrequent and non-users, only 95 of those stu- dents indicated a willingness to be contacted for further study. The researchers contacted the 95 students and requested their participation in focus groups; however, only five students participated. Due to a lower than expected participation rate, the author was unable to extrapolate comparisons between phase one and phase two of the study.

After concluding phase two of the study, the researchers developed an online survey that consisted of 36 open-ended questions. This survey was delivered to the 95 students who self-identified as infrequent and non-users of the physical and virtual library and who had agreed to be contacted for further study. Thirty-eight students (40 percent) replied to the survey. Only results from the third phase of the study that relate directly to the significant findings in phase one will be discussed. To view the remaining findings from phase two and three, please consult Vondracek’s article “Comfort and Convenience? Why Students Choose Alternatives to the Library.”19

Results

This section analyzes the quantitative results from the first phase of the three-part study. In the sample population, 18.3 percent of respondents self-identified as fresh- men (n = 173), 18.4 percent as sophomores (n = 174), 24.7 percent as juniors (n = 234), and 38.7 percent as seniors (n = 367). Subjects who selected “other,” less than 1 percent, were placed into the freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior categories, based on their fill-in-the blank answers. Next, the responses were compared with the undergraduate population at OSU during winter term 2006; the percentages are similar: 19.9 percent of OSU undergraduates were freshmen, 21.5 percent sophomores, 23 percent juniors, and 35.6 percent seniors. The comparison between the study sample and undergraduate population shows that the sample provides a reasonable comparison for this variable.

OSU has eight colleges: agricultural sciences, business, education, engineering, forestry, health and human sciences, liberal arts, and science. In the sample population, the College of Engineering had the highest response rate (21.6 percent, n = 205), followed by the College of Science (21 percent, n = 199), College of Liberal Arts (18 percent, n = 171), College of Health and Human Sciences (15.2 percent, n = 144), College of Business (11.5 percent, n = 108), College of Agricultural Sciences (4.9 percent, n = 47), other (4.6 percent, n = 44), Forestry (1.7 percent, n = 16), and the College of Education had the

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lowest response rate (1.5 percent, n = 14). Participants’ academic colleges were com- pared with the undergraduate population at OSU during winter term 2006; and, again, comparison between the study sample and undergraduate population showed that the sample provided a reasonable comparison for this variable: College of Engineering 19.38 percent, College of Science 17.84 percent, College of Liberal Arts 16.75 percent, College of Health and Human Sciences 14.9 percent, College of Business 12.84 percent, College of Agricultural Sciences 7.93 percent, other 4.59 percent, College of Forestry 3.45 percent, and College of Education 2.32 percent.

Findings for the Six Questions

Q.1 How often do undergraduates visit the library?

Of the 948 responses to the question, “How often do you visit the Valley Library, if at all?” 24.6 percent (n = 233) visited the Valley Library several times a year, 29.6 per- cent (n = 281) visited several times a month, 34 percent (n = 323) visited several times a week, 7.7 percent (n = 73) visited once or more a day, 4 percent (n = 38) said they did not visit the Valley Library.

Q2. How often do undergraduates use virtual library resources from a remote location?

Of the 948 responses to the question, “How often do you use the OSU Libraries online resources or Web site from a remote location (not from within the library), if at all?” 37.7 percent (n = 357) used the virtual library resources several times a year, 32.8 percent (n = 11) used virtual library resources several times a month, 12 percent (n = 144) used them several times a week, 1.3 percent (n = 12) used them once or more a day, 16.2 percent (n = 154) said they did not use virtual library resources.

Q3. Is there a relationship between class standing and frequency of Valley Library visits?

Categories were tested for independence to see if frequencies were related using a chi-square test. No significant relationships were found between class standing and Valley library visits (p = 0.068).

Q4. Is there a relationship between class standing and frequency of virtual library use?

Categories were tested for independence to see if frequencies were related using a chi-square test. No significant relationship was found between class standing and virtual library use (p = 0.067).

Q5. Is there a relationship between academic college and frequency of Valley Library visits?

There was dependence of the academic colleges and library use (p = 0.003) accord- ing to the chi-square test. Odds ratios of the various academic college populations were

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compared, and 95 percent confidence intervals were constructed to determine if there were differences in library use (Bonferroni correction for 36 comparisons, each college compared to each college separately).20 When the College of Agriculture students were compared with students from each of the other colleges, three comparisons were signifi- cant, as illustrated in table 1. Students in the College of Agriculture were significantly less likely to visit the library when compared with students from the Colleges of Health and Human Sciences (HHS), Liberal Arts, and Science. There were no other significant findings when comparing academic colleges and frequency of library visits.

Q6. Is there a relationship between academic college and virtual library use?

There was dependence of the academic colleges and virtual library use (p = 0.008) according to the chi-square test. Odds ratios of the various academic college populations were compared, and 95 percent confidence intervals were constructed to determine if there were differences in library use (Bonferroni correction for 36 comparisons, each college compared to each college separately).21 Subjects in the College of Engineering were significantly less likely to use virtual library resources when compared to students in the College of Liberal Arts. There were no other significant findings when comparing colleges with each other.

Discussion

The statistical analysis included 36 comparisons for two variables (library visits and virtual library use) for a total of 72 comparisons. Only four of the comparisons were significant: engineering students used the virtual library resources less than liberal arts students; and agricultural science students visited the library less than health and human sciences, sciences, and liberal arts students. At Oregon State University the following majors for undergraduate students are in the College of Engineering: bioengineering, chemical engineering, civil engineering/forest engineering, computer engineering, computer science, construction engineering management, electrical and electronics engineering, engineering physics, environmental engineering, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, and radia- tion health physics.

This study showed engineering students were less likely to use the virtual library resources when compared with students from liberal arts. No other studies were found in the literature review that compared undergraduate virtual library use across all disciplines, so comparable findings are not available. However, in Whitmire’s study of physical library use and information seeking behavior, she found that undergraduate engineering majors were engaged in information-seeking behaviors at a lower rate than students majoring in the social sciences.22 Unlike Whitmire’s findings the results of this study did not show a statistically significant difference between the frequencies with which engineering students visited the physical library when compared with other academic disciplines.

To gain more insight into the reasons why engineering students use virtual library resources less than their peers in liberal arts at OSU, the author reviewed the qualitative results from the third phase of the three-part study. Please note that the co-researcher,

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Vondracek, wrote an extensive article about phases two and three of this study, but she did not examine or discuss findings about different academic disciplines.23

Out of the 38 students who participated in phase three of the study, four were engineering students. Three of the four engi- neering students indicated they spent most of their time studying at home, and the final student indi- cated a department computer lab.

When asked where they conduct online research for assignments, two students said Google, one stu- dent said the library, and another said a department building on

campus. All four of the engineering students indicated they owned laptops, and three of them said they bring it with them to campus. Three of the students also indicated they usually do their printing in an engineering department building because printing is “free,” unlike at the Valley Library where printing is $.07 per copy. In addition, engi- neering students are not able to log on to their individual engineering student accounts at the Valley Library; the College of Engineering provides undergraduate students with online accounts that allow them to submit course assignments to engineering professors and check their disk quotas, printer quotas, and incoming mail.

Other studies have looked specifically at undergraduate engineering students’

information seeking behaviors. Shaheen Majid and Ai Tee Tan found that students majoring in computer engineering preferred print materials to electronic materials.24 Tammy Seibenberg, Betty Galbraith, and Eileen Brady found the use of print journals in the Washington State University Engineering Library actually increased after the library made online journal articles available.25 These findings raise provocative ques- tions about engineering students and their possible preferences for print material over online documents.

The results of a quantitative and qualitative study of science and engineering faculty at two universities in Canada revealed faculty members were the least likely to discuss Internet information resources with their students when compared to other library resources.26 Perhaps the year of the study, 1999, played into this finding since several departments at the two universities had banned the use of Internet resources, something that would be very unlikely to happen today.27

Agricultural sciences undergraduate students at OSU were less likely to visit the library when compared with their peers from the College of Health and Human Sci- ences, College of Science, and College of Liberal Arts. At Oregon State University, the following majors for undergraduate students are in the College of Agricultural Sciences:

agricultural business management; animal sciences; crop science and soil science; en- vironmental economics, policy, and management; fisheries and wildlife science; food science and technology; general agriculture; horticulture; and rangeland ecology and management. A review of information science literature revealed no studies that focused

This study showed engineering students were less likely to use the virtual library resources when compared with students from liberal arts. No other studies were found in the literature review that com- pared undergraduate virtual library use across all disciplines.

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on undergraduate agricultural science students; however, some work has been done with faculty and graduate students in this area.

At Iowa State University, a qualitative study of faculty and graduate students in the College of Agriculture revealed potential reasons why faculty and staff do not visit their physical library.28 According to the results, “scholars enjoy the physical space of the library, but rarely visit the building for a variety of reasons.”29 Graduate students and faculty indicated they preferred the virtual library for its speed and convenience;

but, if they could not access an article online, they would visit the library. When asked about their experiences with library services, most faculty and staff were not aware of the services and did not know that library faculty would visit their classroom to teach information literacy skills. In the words of one faculty member, “I may be a particularly poorly informed faculty member about what kinds of, you know, information retrieval is available through the library, I may be a bad example. But it seems to me that [sigh]

perhaps that says the library is not doing a good enough job making it clear to faculty members what kinds of resources are available.”30

To gain more insight about the reasons why agricultural science students at OSU visited the Valley Library less than their peers in the College of Health and Human Sciences, College of Science, and College of Liberal Arts, the researcher again reviewed the qualitative results for the third phase of the three-part study. Out of the 38 students who participated in the third phase of the study, five of them were students in the Col- lege of Agricultural Sciences. All five indicated they spent most of their time studying at home. When looking for help with research, three students indicated they would ask their friends or peers, one indicated a professor, and the fifth student did not reply to the question. The author speculates that since the distance from the library to most agricultural science classes is farther than the distance to most liberal arts, science, and health and human sciences classes, proximity to the library may contribute to lower use of the physical library.

Conclusion

The results of this study offered interesting insights about the comparisons of under- graduate students by department and their library use. Although engineering students did not statistically differ from their peers in their use of the physical library, they were significantly less likely to use the online library resources when compared with students from liberal arts. Since no previous research was found comparing undergraduate online library use by academic discipline, in the future, quantitative and qualitative research on undergraduate student use of online library resources would help in understanding why engineering students are less likely to use online library resources when compared with some of their peers. It is possible that engineering students do not receive as many assignments that require virtual library use of journals and databases when compared with liberal arts students, who are often engaged in extensive researching and subse- quent writing of papers.

This study also revealed that agricultural science students were significantly less likely to use the physical library when compared with their peers in science, health and human science, and liberal arts. Since no previous research was found that investigated

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the library use or information seeking behavior of undergraduate agricultural science students it is suggested that qualitative and quantitative studies be undertaken in the future to explore this population’s use of library resources.

We were able to focus on the unique needs and research practices of undergraduate students in differing academic disciplines. In 2007, extensive Web usability studies were done with OSU students, faculty, and staff, in an attempt to make the libraries’ Web site more user-centered and accessible. The OSU Libraries’ future plans include an increase in marketing and outreach to undergraduates, developing streamlined subject research guides and course assignment pages to increase undergraduate use, and increasing the visibility of virtual reference services.

Acknowledgement

The author would like to thank Ruth Vondracek, head of reference at Oregon State University, for her guidance and input, and Annette Fritsch, PhD candidate at Oregon State University, for her assistance with the statistical analysis.

Laurie M. Bridges is business and economics librarian, the Valley Library, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR; she may be contacted via e-mail at: Laurie.Bridges@oregonstate.

edu.

Notes

1. Ethelene Whitmire, “Disciplinary Differences and Undergraduates’ Information-Seeking Behavior,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 53, 8 (2002):

631–8.

2. Association of College and Research Libraries, “Guidelines for University Library Services to Undergraduate Students,” American Library Association, http://www.ala.org/ala/

acrl/acrlstandards/ulsundergraduate.htm (accessed January 11, 2008).

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Whitmire, “The Relationship between Undergraduates’ Background Characteristics and College Experiences and Their Academic Library Use,” College & Research Libraries 62, 6 (2001): 528–40.

6. Ibid.

7. Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie and Jiao G. Qun, “Prevalence and Reasons for University Library Usage,” Library Review 46, 6 (1997): 411–20.

8. Whitmire, “Cultural Diversity and Undergraduates’ Academic Library Use,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 29, 3 (2003): 148–61.

9. Whitmire, “Racial Differences in the Academic Library Experiences of Undergraduates,”

Journal of Academic Librarianship 25, 1 (1999): 33–7.

10. Onwuegbuzie and Qun.

11. Patricia D. Maughan, “Library Resources and Services: A Cross-Disciplinary Survey of Faculty and Graduate Student Use and Satisfaction,” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 25, 5 (1999): 354–66.

12. Ibid., 356.

13. Ibid.

14. Steve Hiller, “How Different Are They? A Comparison by Academic Area of Library Use, Priorities, and Information Needs at the University of Washington,” Issues in Science and

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Technology Librarianship 33 (Winter 2002), http://www.istl.org/02-winter/article1.html (accessed January 11, 2008).

15. Ibid.

16. Tina E. Chrzastowski and Lura Joseph, “Surveying Graduate and Professional Students’

Perspectives on Library Services, Facilities and Collections at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign: Does Subject Discipline Continue to Influence Library Use?” Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 45 (Winter 2006), http://www.istl.org/06-winter/

refereed3.html (accessed January 11, 2008).

17. Maughan, 358.

18. Chrzastowski and Joseph.

19. Ruth Vondracek. “Comfort and Convenience? Why Students Choose Alternatives to the Library,” portal: Libraries and the Academy 7, 3 (2007): 277–93.

20. Fred L. Ramsey and Daniel L. Schafer, The Statistical Sleuth: A Course in Methods of Data Analysis, 2nd ed. (Pacific Grove: Duxbury/Thomson Learning, 2002).

21. Ibid.

22. Whitmire, “Disciplinary Differences,” 637.

23. Vondracek.

24. Shaheen Majid and Ai Tee Tan, “Usage of Information Resources by Computer Engineering Students: A Case Study of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore,”

Online Information Review 26, 5 (2002): 318, 321–2.

25. Tammy R. Siebenberg, Betty Galbraith, and Eileen E. Brady, “Print Versus Electronic Journal Use in Three Sci/Tech Disciplines: What’s Going on Here?” College & Research Libraries 65, 5 (2004): 427, 436–37.

26. Gloria J. Leckie and Anne Fullerton, “Information Literacy in Science and Engineering Undergraduate Education: Faculty Attitudes and Pedagogical Practices,” College and Research Libraries 60, 1 (1999):18–9.

27. Ibid., 28.

28. Pali U. Kuruppa and Anne Marie Gruber, “Understanding the Information Needs of Academic Scholars in Agricultural and Biological Sciences,” Journal of Academic Librarianship 32, 6 (2006): 609–23.

29. Ibid., 613.

30. Ibid., 616.

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