Screenagers Focus on Info Seeking
I’ve been wanting to follow-up on my previous post about “screenagers.” I am a Co-Principal Investigator (with Lynn Sillipigni of OCLC) of an IMLS grant “Seeking Synchronicity” designed to study virtual reference services (VRS) from user, non-user, and librarian viewpoints. Now in Phase I of the grant, we’re in the midst of a series of focus groups, so far having completed 6 focus groups: 4 with non-users of VRS (3 with teens from 12-18 years old, 1 with college students); and 2 with VRS librarians. Soon to come are 2 groups of VRS users.
The series of 3 focus groups with teens just concluded on May 15th at Elizabeth Public Library, NJ where the Library Garden’s own Kimberly Paone directs both YA and adult reference services. The other teen groups were held in a rural public library (Denton, Maryland) and a suburban high school (Springfield Township, PA). I want to share some preliminary impressions from these focus groups (stay tuned for a formal paper).
We asked the teens about their information seeking behaviors (“Where do you go for help when you are stuck in an assignment?”) For 2 of the 3 groups, not surprisingly, their #1 choice is Google. Few bothered to check any info found on Google, it was assumed to be correct unless their “intuition” urged them to fact check. They also frequently ask classmates for homework help (but usually only the “smart ones,” they said, of course).
The other group, from the high school, was more likely to go to their Springfield Township Virtual Library website to use databases or to ask their stellar librarian, Joyce Valenza for help. They regarded Google as convenient, but not as credible as articles found in databases. At Elizabeth PL, the students preferred face-to-face interactions with Kimberly Paone to any other form of communication with a librarian (e.g., phone, email, or chat). Some preferred to find information on their own through flailing around on Google or other search engines or in the library’s online catalog. Most carry cell phones but most were unaware that the library had a phone reference service (!) One admitted to being unaware that the library had a web page.
Across all three focus groups, most teens were regular library users and all but a few were Instant Messenger users. When asked why they did not try live chat with librarians, most said that they were unaware that these services existed. All groups were also extremely wary of chat situations as being potentially unsafe. These unknown and unfamiliar chat librarians were seen as potential “psycho killers” (yes, that’s a quote!).
Many teens expressed the concern that the librarians in chat would not be interested in them or in their questions and might not have the right information for their school assignments. They clearly treasured the one-on-one personal relationships they had developed with their librarians and most were unwilling to give chat a try. When told that live chat reference was 24/7 in Maryland and NJ (PA is starting a statewide chat service in the near future) some eyebrows shot up as they liked this idea since some prefer to do homework late at night.
Interesting stuff? These focus groups are collecting preliminary information to help design online surveys and telephone interviews that will be conducted with large national samples, so more generalizable results are to come!
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