Library-related behavior and the First Year Seminar



Many of us hear anecdotally from students that they do did not learn “how to use the library” until late in their college careers. Wesleyan has an open curriculum, so the places where students might be asked to conduct library research are varied. Some students, but certainly not all, may learn about library-related tasks in their First Year Seminar (FYS), but to honest, we weren’t completely sure, so we decided to ask them.

We asked students who took an FYS in Fall 2017 and Fall 2019 to tell us if they had engaged in a wide variety of library-related work.


About half of the students we surveyed reported learning about the library in some way. At the top of the list: 48% in 2017 and 53% in 2019 reported that they learned “how to locate library resources.” Slightly smaller percentages (43% and 45%, respectively) reported learning “how to determine which library resources are most relevant for a specific project.”

FYSs are less likely to focus on other library-related tasks, with the least emphasis on issues related to citation. Only about 30% of students reported learning about the disciplinary context for different citation styles. Even lower percentages (17% in Fall 2017 and 11% in Fall 2019) reported learning about citation software.

When we asked students to tell us about what they wished they had learned in their FYS, many of them brought up wanting more research skills:

I want to continue to master thesis writing and argumentative writing in future courses as opposed to expository writing, and I think that having more papers to write that synthesized multiple sources or readings as opposed to just one would have helped improve my writing skills in my FYS.

Writing centered on one text alone. There was no integration or synthesis of more material into one paper. Perhaps more of this would be nice in the future of my academic career.

I wish there had been more opportunities for analysis, both with respect to original data gathered, and with respect to outside sources.


These findings leave us with some questions…

ONE: should we be worried about the fact that about half of the students who took an FYS reported that they were not learning anything about the library or conducting research in that class?

TWO: where else might students learn about the library and the process and tools for conducting library research prior to their capstone work? Should we make a more concerted effort to identify where these opportunities are in our curriculum? Should we be creating more such opportunities?

THREE: are these the right questions to be asking? Some of the items on the above list really may not represent what is most important about information seeking/using/producing behavior in the 21st century. For thoughts on this, see Barbara Fister’s piece on The Librarian War Against QAnon. In it, she writes:

What happens in classrooms under the banner of information literacy has to include an understanding of information systems: the architectures, infrastructures, and fundamental belief systems that shape our information environment, including the fact that these systems are social, influenced by the biases and assumptions of the humans who create and use them. Otherwise, educators and students will make no progress in healing our current crisis of faith.