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(Last updated 12/12/03)



COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers at Ohio State University are part of a new study to find out how and why students and faculty members use electronic information sources to do research and solve problems.

Brenda Dervin

The $1 million project is a collaboration between Ohio State and the Online Computer Library Center, Inc. (OCLC). The project will be partially funded with a $480,543 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The remainder of the funding will come from Ohio State and OCLC.

The project is important because, while researchers know a lot about people’s use of electronic resources, many of the important questions remain unanswered, said Brenda Dervin, a professor of communication at Ohio State and principal investigator for the project.

“We know a lot about who is using these electronic resources, when they are using it and where,” she said. “But there is just a dabbling of research on the hows and whys. We want to know how people are choosing their electronic resources, why they are choosing some resources over others, and how they are fitting it into their personal and professional lives.”

“We’re trying to get the bigger picture of how college and university users view their information needs, how they try to meet those needs, and what can be done to help them,” Dervin said.

In the long-run, this project can help answer questions that will benefit all users of electronic research resources, such as the Internet and e-books.

“This is another step in a long-run journey of designing systems that serve people better,” Dervin said.

Dervin’s lead co-investigator at OCLC will be Lynn Silipigni Connaway, OCLC Research Scientist. Chandra Prabha also at OCLC also serves as a co-investigator.

The researchers will start the study with 400 undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members at 44 central Ohio colleges and universities. All participants will be first interviewed online and by phone. In another phase, 192 of these participants will take part in focus groups. Finally, 32 of the participants will be observed while they use electronic resources.

Dervin said the researchers are interested in finding out how students and faculty use information sources not only for university-related reasons – such as writing a paper or preparing for class – but also for personal reasons.

The interviews, focus groups and field observations will aim to find answers for a variety of questions, such as how people viewed their information needs for a particular problem, what they were trying to accomplish, how they tried to meet their goals, and how system features helped and hindered their ability to meet their information needs.

“We’re trying to get the bigger picture of how college and university users view their information needs, how they try to meet those needs, and what can be done to help them,” Dervin said. “In addition, a major focus of the project is the ways in which researchers and practitioners in different fields interpret research on users differently.

Evidence suggests that these differences mostly slow down our progress toward designing genuinely user-oriented systems but we will be using our project as a vehicle for developing and testing bridges between these differences.”


Contact: Brenda Dervin, (614) 292-3192; Dervin.1@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu