Students are Confident Using Federated Search Tools as much as Single Databases
Keywords:meta search engines, user satisfaction, students, university libraries
AbstractObjective – To measure students’ perceptions of the ease-of-use and efficacy of a federated search tool versus a single multidisciplinary database.
Design – An evaluation worksheet, employing a combination of quantitative and qualitative questions.
Setting – A required, first-year English composition course taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
Subjects – Thirty-one undergraduate students completed and submitted the worksheet.
Methods – Students attended two library instruction sessions. The first session introduced participants to basic Boolean searching (using AND only), selecting appropriate keywords and searching for books in the library catalogue. In the second library session, students were handed an evaluation worksheet and, with no introduction to the process of searching article databases, were asked to find relevant articles on a research topic of their own choosing using both a federated search tool and a single multidisciplinary database.
The evaluation worksheet was divided into four sections: step-by-step instructions for accessing the single multidisciplinary database and the federated search tool; space to record search strings in both resources; space to record the titles of up to five relevant articles; and a series of quantitative and qualitative questions regarding ease-of-use, relevancy of results, overall preference (if any) between the two resources, likeliness of future use and other preferred research tools. Half of the participants received a worksheet with instructions to search the federated search tool before the single database; the order was reversed for the other half of the students. The evaluation worksheet was designed to be completed in one hour.
Participant responses to qualitative questions were analyzed, codified and grouped into thematic categories. If a student mentioned more than one factor in responding to a question, their response was recorded in multiple categories.
Main Results – Participants indicated a slight preference for using a federated search tool over a single multidisciplinary database. Of the 31 students who completed the evaluation worksheet, 16 (51.6%) found that their search results were more relevant in the federated search tool; 10 (32.3%) students reported that the articles they found were more relevant in the single database. Three students stated that both search tools produced equally relevant results and two students responded that neither resource produced relevant results on their topic.
When asked to state which resource they would be likely to use in the future, 22 students (71%) indicated that they would use the federated search tool and 21 (67.7%) students answered that they would use the single multidisciplinary database. Of the participants who expressed potential use of the single database to look for articles in the future, 43% referred to the ease of use or efficiency of the search tool in their responses. Similarly, more than half of the students who stated that they would use the federated search tool in the future (54.5%) also cited ease of use or efficiency in their answers.
In total, 11 students (35.5%) stated that they would be unlikely to use the federated search tool for future research. In their responses, students referred to the inefficiency or complexity of the research tool. Of the 12 participants (38.7%) who stated that they would be unlikely to use the single multidisciplinary database, 50% cited a lack of relevant results and 42% referred to the overall complexity and inefficiency of the database.
Conclusions – The results of this study do not support a significant preference among undergraduate students for either search tool. Though some participants struggled with terminology or various features of each resource, more students expressed confidence and satisfaction with the search process no matter which tool they opted to use.
Given student confidence and comfort level in both research environments, the author suggests that librarians should place equal weight on both types of resources in library instruction.
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