Undergraduate Use of Library Databases Decreases as Level of Study Progresses


  • Kimberly Miller Albert S. Cook Library Towson University




A Review of:
Mbabu, L.G., Bertram, A. B., & Varnum, K. (2013). Patterns of undergraduates’ use of scholarly databases in a large research university. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39(2), 189-193. http://dx.doi.org/10.10.1016/j.acalib.2012.10.004


Objective – To investigate undergraduate students’ patterns of electronic database use to discover whether database use increases as undergraduate students progress into later stages of study with increasingly sophisticated information needs and demands.

Design – User database authentication log analysis.

Setting – A large research university in the Midwestern United States of America.

Subjects – A total of 26,208 undergraduate students enrolled during the Fall 2009 academic semester.

Methods – The researchers obtained logs of user-authenticated activity from the university’s databases. Logged data for each user included: the user’s action and details of that action (including database searches), the time of action, the user’s relationship to the university, the individual school in which the user was enrolled, and the user’s class standing. The data were analyzed to determine which proportion of undergraduate students accessed the library’s electronic databases. The study reports that the logged data accounted for 61% of all database activity, and the authors suggest the other 39% of use is likely from “non-undergraduate members of the research community within the [university’s] campus IP range” (192).

Main Results – The study found that 10,897 (42%) of the subject population of undergraduate students accessed the library’s electronic databases. The study also compared database access by class standing, and found that freshman undergraduates had the highest proportion of database use, with 56% of enrolled freshman accessing the library’s databases. Sophomores had the second highest proportion of students accessing the databases at 40%; juniors and seniors had the lowest percentage of use, with 38% of enrolled students at each level accessing the library’s databases. The study also found that November was the peak of database search activity, accounting for 37% of database searches for the Fall 2009 semester. Database use varied by the schools or colleges in which students were enrolled, with the School of Nursing having the highest percentage of enrolled undergraduates using library databases (54%). The authors also report that the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts had the fourth highest proportion of users at 46%, representing 7,523 unique students, more than double the combined number of undergraduate users from all other programs. Since the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts accounts for more than 60% of the total undergraduate enrollment, the authors suggest that information literacy instruction targeted to these programs would have the greatest campus-wide impact.

Conclusion – Although the library conducts a number of library instruction sessions with freshman students each Fall semester, the authors conclude that database use patterns suggest that the proportion of students who continue to use library databases decreases as level of study progresses. This finding does not support the study’s hypothesis that database use increases as students advance through their undergraduate studies.


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Author Biography

Kimberly Miller, Albert S. Cook Library Towson University

Research & Instruction Librarian for Emerging Technologies




How to Cite

Miller, K. (2014). Undergraduate Use of Library Databases Decreases as Level of Study Progresses. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 9(3), 98–100. https://doi.org/10.18438/B86K74



Evidence Summaries