Librarians tend to assume that using the library is a good thing for students to do. With all those scholarly resources, how could it not be helpful?
But there hasn't been a lot of research over the years to back up that claim. I recently attended a library conference where one of the presentations looked at exactly that:
How does library usage impact student success?
At the University of Minnesota they recently looked at 13 different ways students use the library, from attending a workshop to accessing a journal article online. Then they were able to tie that to student retention and GPA.
It turns out that using the library to either learn more about searching or to do actual searches for resources has a positive impact on students. They are more likely to stay enrolled, and they have higher GPAs.
This is great news for librarians and libraries, but it's also great news for students! Now you know that the time you spend in the library can really be in your own best interest.
For more information about their study, I recommend looking at their blog: Library Data and Student Success
Their study looks at a correlation, but it's made me think a bit about why that correlation might exist.
Certainly, really conscientious students are probably using the library (as well as the Internet) because that's just what conscientious students do. I imagine that there are other factors at play as well:
The Internet doesn't have everything for free: The vast majority of scholarly research is still pay-for-access. Even if you are using a free tool like Google Scholar to discover what exists, you probably need to move into a library to get the full text. Limiting your intellectual life to just what's free is probably not enough to get the highest grade possible, and it isn't enough to make you a truly knowledgeable person in your field.
Library Databases make evaluating resources easier: The Internet includes both scholarly and non-scholarly resources. So do the library databases. The big difference comes in the way that the databases are designed to help you sift and winnow what you find. Thanks to limits within the databases you can quickly get current, peer-reviewed research. Some databases also let you set limits for methodology, evidence-based research, and other important factors. This makes getting high-quality research results faster than if you are trying to evaluate and check every single item you find on the open Internet.
Libraries teach important research skills: Many of the skills that librarians teach in our instruction sessions and guides work both in the library and outside it. These skills--which we refer to as Information Literacy--cover everything from identifying a research need, to building a search, to evaluating what you find. Whether you are in a library database or out on a website, these skills can lead you to better resources. They can also make you a faster searcher.
Learning search skills now will save you time in the future. Sure, it can be a bit daunting to learn how to search, but mastering a few skills now will have a great payoff later on. Need a couple peer-reviewed articles for a discussion post? A student who has built some search skills can accomplish that in just a few minutes, and they'll have confidence that they're using good resources. If you never learn to search, and always rely on serendipity with Google, you'll frequently encounter search topics that suck precious time away from reading, thinking, and writing.
If you are starting from scratch with your library search skills, here are a couple resources that can get you started:
- Searching and Finding Information in the Library Databases
- Introduction to the Walden Library (webinar)
If you have a question, you can also Ask a Librarian. We work to build your search skills, so you, too, can be a successful student!