I have worked closely with one those studies and have had the privilege of learning from nine motivated seniors who plan to graduate with distinction in May. In addition to maintaining at least the minimum GPA determined by their departments, these nine students are conducting research under the direction of a faculty member and writing honors theses based on that research.
In 2004, approximately 12% of Duke’s students graduated with distinction, and the university set out to double that number within the next several years. In 2009, nearly 23.6% of seniors graduated with distinction, closing in on the university-wide goal.
In order to support this university priority, the Libraries began offering special services to support honors researchers, ranging from increased borrowing privileges (honors researchers enjoy the same check-out periods as graduate students at all campus libraries) to a designated group study room (Bostock 112, for those of you who are interested).
Last spring, we decided to learn more about honors students’ research processes: Which tools do students use to find resources and organize their research? Do they tend to meet with a librarian at some point during their year of research? Where does the library fit into their research, both in terms of services and resources? We hoped that this information would help us improve our existing services and perhaps even add a few new support mechanisms.
After several discussions with the dean who supports honors researchers and the Directors of Undergraduate Studies in English, history, public policy, biology and program II, we recruited a total of nine students from these departments (our goal was to interview students from a range of disciplines to ensure that we learned about the research habits germane to humanists, social scientists and natural scientists).
Each student agreed to be interviewed at the beginning of his or her research, at the midpoint and then directly following completion. Using a script that we tested last spring, I have interviewed all nine students at least twice and have completed the study with the three public policy students who submitted their theses in December.
Chatting with these highly engaged students has been a joy, and I am indeed learning more about what the libraries can do for them. Some things that I’m hearing most frequently? Students would like more support in analyzing their data (and are thrilled to learn about Data Services); they really use Perkins Library as a space to write and would love for it to be open 24-7; and students are fairly low-tech (think binders, Word docs and stacks of PDFs rather than Evernote and RefWorks) in their approaches to organizing their research.
Stay tuned for more details as we conclude our interviews this spring and analyze our data this summer…