As you may recall from previous blog posts, I led a user study of nine undergraduates who spent the 2009-2010 academic year researching and writing honors theses in order to graduate with distinction in May.  I am pleased to report that all nine students did indeed complete their theses and earn distinction and that these nine students helped Duke University meet its goal of doubling the number of students earning this honor (an impressive 25% of May 2010 graduates earned distinction, up from 12% in 2004).

I really enjoyed interviewing and getting to know the nine subjects of this study — students in biology, history, public policy and program II — and I spent the late summer analyzing my findings and producing some recommendations for serving honors researchers for the university and the library.  I’ve shared my detailed report to university administration, directors of undergraduate studies in the participating programs and the library community, but I wanted to share a few highlights here, as well: 

  •  Nine of the 19 human and physical resources honors researchers deemed “critical” to the success of their research were related to the Libraries — students mentioned subject librarians, data services staff, ILL, Search TRLN and the Ask a Librarian chat service, among others 
  • Three students used citation management software to format their citations (two used EndNote, one began using RefWorks and then switched to Zotero) — other students either started to use a tool and then abandoned it due to its complexity or decided from the start to format citations manually 
  • Six students said that the library was most critical to their work as they located print and e-resources locally and through ILL
  • Four students relied heavily on the libraries’ physical spaces; others tended to work in their dorm rooms or apartments
  • Four students explicitly stated that the Libraries could stand to do a better job of marketing their services and clarifying the role of the subject librarian in supporting honors researchers    

Bottom line:  Researchers’ habits are as individualized and unique as the questions that drive their theses — while we can draw some conclusions about best practices for supporting these undergraduates, we can’t draw clear lines based only on their disciplines, genders or ages (i.e. “Science students don’t go to the library to work — they do all of their work in the lab” or “This generation of students doesn’t use notecards or paper/pen for taking notes or drafting their papers — they do everything online.”).

And that’s precisely what made this user study so interesting — it also happens to make our jobs as librarians particularly challenging.  We offer a suite of services in hopes of reaching as many students — and their particular learning styles and study habits — as possible, but when it comes down to it, we must continue to get to know our users and their unique perspectives.

Want to know more about this study?  Feel free to get in touch.  Interested in meeting the students who intend to graduate with distinction in May 2011?  Attend a reception for honors researchers, librarians and faculty scheduled from 3:30-4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov 2 in the Rare Book Room.

One Response to Lessons learned from honors researchers user study

  1. [...] Diane and I have mentioned in previous posts, Duke University Libraries staff are committed to improving our users’ experiences, and we [...]

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