Supporting Generation Y researchers

Results of BL/JISC research suggests there are significant opportunities for librarians to provide support to doctoral students.

The information behaviours of Gen Y and others

A three year study (commissioned by the British Library and JISC) has reviewed the information seeking and research behaviour of doctoral students in the UK.  Over 13,000 fully completed responses were analysed.  45% of them were Generation Y (born between 1982 and 1994) and the remaining 55% were older meaning that the behaviours of different 'generations' could be compared. 

Finding information

Respondents were asked about their most recent critical information seeking activity. What material they were looking for; how did they go about finding it; and what did they discover?

The majority were looking for relevant or specific bibliographic references, or any published writing on the topic in question.  The results showed:

  • 30% used Google or Google Scholar as their main source
    • Google sources strongly favoured by arts, humanities, social science, engineering and computing students
    • Citation databases and e-journal search interfaces as popular as Google with biomedical science researchers
    • Arts and humanities students used a wider spread of online/offline sources than other disciplines
  • Most find research information in more than one type of resource - but e-journals dominate
  • Text-based, secondary research sources are predominant across all students and subject disciplines
  • If they can't get hold of an e-journal article, nearly 50% of Gen Y researchers will make do with an abstract (fewer older students will do this)
  • Lack of awareness of or interest in the publisher of an information resource - they rely on Google or library interfaces
  • Widespread lack of understanding about open access

Using technology to assist with research

The report also explores the students' use and understanding of technology, apps, social media, collaboration and publishing tools and explores how their institutions provide support and training to help them in their research.  Overall, the respondents are not as well connected as might be assumed.

  • Gen Y more likely than older doctoral students to use technology tools in their research; but
  • The take-up of institutionally-provided/ open web tools and applications is low overall
  • Tools to help retrieve and manage research information are becoming steadily more popular with Gen Y; but
  • Collaboration tools are the least used (only 13% take active part in forum discussions; only 9% maintain a blog. Many do not consider social tools as appropriate for work)
  • Peers are main source of influence and help when it comes to technology

Some thoughts for librarians

  • Complicated and restrictive e-journal licenses are creating constraints to the research process.
  • There is ongoing confusion about open access
  • Researchers are unclear about the quality of OA resources
  • There are gaps in the skills development and training of researchers

There are significant opportunities for libraries to make a real impact on doctoral students by helping them

  • Refine their information seeking skills
  • Improve their information evaluation skills
  • Understand the application of innovative technology and tools to the research and publishing processes
  • Understand OA publishing models
  • Work collaboratively
  • Share results and publish

Researchers of Tomorrow is available to download from the JISC website.

Image courtesy of Marco Bellucci via Flickr.