Facet Use in Search Tools is Influenced by the Interface but Remains Difficult to Predict
A Review of:
Dahlen, S. P. C., Haeger, H., Hanson, K., & Montellano, M. (2020). Almost in the wild: Student search behaviors when librarians aren’t looking. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 46(1), 102096. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2019.102096
Objective – To examine the relationship between student search behaviours and the quality of scholarly sources chosen from among library search tools.
Design – Unmonitored search sessions in a facilitated library setting.
Setting – A mid-sized public university in the United States of America.
Subjects – 50 upper-level undergraduate students in the social and behavioural sciences.
Methods – Recruited participants were given one of two search prompts and asked to use EBSCO’s Social Science Abstracts and two configurations of ProQuest’s Summon, with one being pre-scoped to exclude newspapers and include subject areas within the social sciences. The search tools were assigned in random order. In each case, the participant was asked to find two of the “best quality” articles (p. 3). A librarian was present in the room but did not observe participants; instead, all sessions were recorded using Camtasia Relay. Afterwards, participants were interviewed about the process they used and their impressions of the search tools. They also completed a survey collecting information on their GPA and whether they had previously had library instruction.
Main Results – Facet use differed significantly between the EBSCO database and Summon, though not between the two different configurations of Summon. There was a significant relationship between high use of facets in one platform being connected to high use in the other platforms. In contrast to some previous studies, a non-trivial proportion of participants went beyond the first page of search results. In support of most previous studies, participants infrequently searched on the subject field or changed the default sort order. Summon’s article suggestion feature was noted as being especially helpful, and clicking on suggested articles was significantly correlated with the number of article records viewed.
Conclusion – The choice of search tool has a large influence on students’ subsequent search behaviour. Many of the advanced features are still missed by students, although in this study the majority of sources picked were of high quality. The authors note the importance of configuring the interface so that facets and other features deemed worthwhile by librarians are higher up on the page. The researchers reason that the prominent display of facets leads to greater uptake. Despite finding no association between library instruction and facet use, teaching students how to use facets remains an advisable strategy.
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