Students' Attitudes Toward Library Instruction:
a Case Study at Jacksonville State University

Hanrong Wang
Law/Technology Librarian
Houston Cole Library
Jacksonville State University
700 Pelham Road North
Jacksonville, AL 36265-1602
Hwang@jsucc.jsu.edu

I. Introduction

Library Instruction (LI) or Bibliographic Instruction (BI) classes have been taught at the Houston Cole Library in Jacksonville State University (JSU) for more than 50 years. The present instructional mission of the Houston Cole Library is to initiate and support opportunities for faculty and students to develop technological, evaluative, and critical thinking skills in pursuit of lifelong information literacy. Various teaching techniques and equipment have been used to introduce students to the tools, resources and research skills necessary to complete course assignments and to become critical thinkers and competent users of information.

Library instruction is a very important part of library services in Jacksonville State University. During the period of October - December 2000, 1,634 students attended 70 library instruction classes. They (both undergraduate & graduate) came from various departments.

The research on users' opinions to library instruction has been emphasized in late 80's and early 90's, and many positive results were obtained. Since mid-90's, information has been created at a rapid pace. Electronic information such as online catalog, electronic databases, and useful Internet sites became a very important part of library resources, especially in academic libraries. Academic librarians have undertaken a lot of research on planning and developing effective library instruction classes catering to the Internet environment. But in recent years, less attention has been directed at the users' attitudes toward library instruction. The purpose of this study is to identify students' attitudes toward library instruction classes with a view to improving library instruction in future and to advocating for an integration of library instruction into the general education process.

II. Library Instruction at JSU

Jacksonville State University is a four-year public university that emphasizes on cultivating in its students an ability to effectively use library information resources. As early as 1963, JSU required all its freshmen to take a one-credit-hour course called "Use of Books and Library Materials" (later called "Instructional Media"). It was a preliminary course on the intelligent use of library tools, books and other materials. (Bulletin of Jacksonville State College, 1963). Since 1985, library instruction has been provided as typical one-shot LI for specific subjects and classes. Usually, an LI class will be set up once library instruction coordinator or subject reference librarians have received from an instructor or professor a request for library instruction. Most classes will teach how to locate a book in the library by using the online catalog and how to search for an article in electronic databases or indexes. How to search the Internet, and how to evaluate the information on the Internet are also taught in some classes. The LI class usually lasts no more than three hours. The students will be given a one-to-two-page assignment for after-class practice. In addition, a program named "Library Instruction Services for International Students" was launched in Spring 2001, providing specially designed LI classes and services for the international students.

The Library Instruction Committee utilizes the Library Homepage to provide relevant information and tools, such as an online form for group or individual library instruction request, phone numbers and email addresses of subject reference librarians and the instructional coordinator, a web version of how to search for a book or a journal article in the Library, electronic pathfinders, and lists of sources on specific topics.

III. Literature Review

Surveys on library instructional programs at various institutions have been gaining attention. In his research, Haws (1987) found that over half of the students felt that library instruction course made them more confident users of the library when it came to finding materials for a term paper. However, one third surveyed disagreed with that statement. Not a large percentage of students in the sampling would consider a longer or more advanced library course.

Leighton and Markman (1987) discovered from their survey that 72% of the students felt that they had a positive experience, learning "some," "quite a lot," or "a great deal," and 27% felt that they had learned "a little" or "nothing" following their bibliographic instruction. Highly positive results were achieved from Ojo-Igbinoba's (1991) research on the usefulness of library instruction classes.

Damko (1990) found that 58.64% of surveyed students taught themselves how to use the library and they believed that a library instruction course was valuable for other students.

Bryn Geffert and Robert Bruce (1997) did a survey on the bibliographic instruction in St. Olaf College and found that the students felt "comfortable" in learning the following ten skills in library instruction classes: online catalog, evaluating relevance of sources, choosing relevant tools, locally mounted electronic indexes, evaluating authority of sources, scholarly subject encyclopedias and dictionaries, subject bibliographies, interlibrary loan, thesauri, journal indexes (print), and journal indexes (electronic).

Barbar Bren, Beth Hillemann, & Victoria Topp (1998) found that students receiving guided hands-on instruction retained more information than those attending a lecture or demonstration.

The literature review shows that students' attitudes toward library instruction are mixed, some postive and some negative. Two completely opposite opinions, LI-less and LI-more, are co-existing.

This study will canvass the opinions of participants on the necessity and usefulness of library instruction.

IV. Research Methodology

The literature review revealed that most of library instruction studies have used surveys as an instrumental tool. For this study, the questionnaire survey was selected because it was specifically developed to reach many people at the same time. This made it ideal for a study of library instruction in an academic setting.

The survey includes 12 statements that elicit information under two aspects: your attitudes toward library instruction, and the usefulness of library instruction. The questionnaire was pre-tested for semantic clarity. The survey questionnaires were distributed to 130 students from the Biology, English, Criminal Justice, Political Science, and Education departments who attended library instruction classes during Spring 2001-Spring 2002 academic year. 128 questionnaires were turned in at the end of the classes.

Questionnaires were accompanied by a cover letter assuring confidentiality. The first section of the questionnaire contained questions about the necessity and helpfulness of library instruction. The second section of the survey requested demographic information including age, gender, educational levels, and former experience. When these dimensions were combined, a measure of overall attitudes was constituted. The definitions of these dimensions were as follows:

Each dimension in the questionnaire survey was operationalized through one to two statements. Eleven statements were worded positively. Only one statement (Statement 5)was worded negatively. The survey uses a Likert-type rating scale with 5 agree-or-disagree response choices: Strongly Agree (SA), Agree (A), Neutral (N), Disagree (D), Strongly Disagree (SD). These choices are scored 5-1, respectively for the statements (excluding Statement 5, which is scored 1-5). A high score indicates a positive attitude/a high effectiveness whereas a low score indicates a negative attitude/a low effectiveness. The mean for each subscale is at their midpoints. Questionnaires with more than one missing item in a subscale were not used in the calculations of that particular subscale or in the calculations of overall scores.

The interest in examining the context of demographic characteristics was investigated through questions representing the areas discussed in the literature review. The variables were operationally defined as follows:

The questionnaire also included a non-required open-ended question to ask for suggestions.

V. Data Analysis

The questionnaires were coded and the data analyzed by using the percentage and the means. The demographic characteristics of the 128 respondents were as follows:

The data was examined both by person and by category in order to show the acceptability and valuableness of library instruction.

The means and the percentage of the agree or disagree response for all the five subscales are shown in Table 1 along with the mean for the overall scale. The participants in this study have attained a relatively high level with the overall mean of 4.21 out of 5. This is higher than the midpoint 3. The overall percentage of "agree" (includes Strong Agree & Agree) is 80.14%. This is comparatively higher than the percentage of "disagree" (includes Strong Disagree & Disagree), which is 6.83%, and neutral, which is 13.02%. Although the participants reported a relatively high level of overall positive attitude to distance education, they reported a low level of positive attitude to the necessity of library instructions because of the Web version of the instruction. This part attains the lowest score (3.63).

Scores by demographic groups present some interesting patterns. For instance, female reported higher scores in the areas of the necessity of LI and the instructional helpfulness on electronic database searching. However, males reported slightly higher scores in the need of hands-on instruction and the instructional helpfulness on catalog searching. There are few differences between these groups with respect to the instructional outcomes. The overall mean of "agree" from female students is 4.22 while from male students is 4.23. The means by gender are shown in Table 2.

Table 3 shows that students who pursuit graduate degrees scored higher than those who pursuit undergraduate degrees. The overall mean from graduate students is 4.52 while from undergraduate is 4.00. Graduate students attained higher scores on every statement.

Table 4 shows that the students without former experience scored higher than the students with former experience. The former attained a higher overall mean (4.29) than that of the latter (4.18).

As Table 5 shows, students aged "41 & up" scored highest in all the subscales. They also attained the highest overall mean (4.79). Those in the age group of "Less than 20" scored the lowest (4.08). And those in the 20-40 group (4.21) scored slightly higher than "Less than 20" age group.

Students' Attitudes to Library Instruction
Overall Survey Number of Answers (No.), Means and Percentage (%) (Table 1
)
Subscale Question
Number
No. & %
of SA
No. & %
of A
No. & %
of N
No. & %
of DA
No. & %
of SD
Means
Necessity 1 81    63.3 43    33.6 4      3.1 0      0 0      0 4.60
2 60    46.7 56    43.8 9      7.03 3      2.34 0      0 4.35
4 71    55.5 49    38.3 8      6.25 0      0 0      0 4.49
5 9      7.03 13    10.2 25    19.5 51    39.8 30    23.4 3.63
Usefulness/
Helpfulness
6 55    42.9 59    46.1 12    9.38 1      0.78 1      0.78 4.26
7 65    50.8 56    43.8 5      3.90 2      1.56 0      0 4.44
8 44    34.4 56    43.8 21    16.4 6      4.69 1      0.78 4.06
9 51    39.8 54    42.2 22    17.2 1      0.78 0      0 4.05
10 45    35.2 57    44.5 22    17.2 4      3.12 0      0 4.12
Methods 11 53    41.4 46    35.9 27    21.1 2      1.56 0      0 4.17
Results 12 51    39.8 58    45.3 17    13.3 1      0.78 1      0.78 4.23
Recommend-
ation
3 50    39.1 49    38.3 28    21.9 1      0.78 0      0 4.16
Overall %
& Means

41.33% 38.81% 13.02% 4.68% 2.15% 4.21

Students' Attitudes to Library Instruction
Survey Number of Answer and Means by Gender (Table 2
)
Subscale Question
Number
SA No.
F    M
A No.
F    M
N No.
F    M
DA No.
F    M
SD No.
F    M
Means
F    M
Necessity 1 48    33 23    20 3      1 0      0 0      0 4.61    4.60
2 35    25 33    23 6      3 1      2 0      0 4.42    4.35
4 43    28 25    24 6      2 0      0 0      0 4.50    4.48
5 3      6 8      5 14    11 31    20 18    12 3.72    3.50
Usefulness/
Helpfulness
6 25    30 38    21 11    1 0      1 0      1 4.19    4.44
7 33    32 39    17 2      3 0      2 0      0 4.42    4.24
8 25    19 31    25 16    5 2      4 0      1 4.07    4.06
9 26    25 31    23 18    5 0      1 0      0 4.16    4.33
10 27    18 28    29 16    6 3      1 0      0 4.11    4.19
Methods 11 26    27 28    18 19    8 1      1 0      0 4.00    4.31
Results 12 32    19 31    27 10    7 0      1 1      0 4.26    4.19
Recommend-
ation
3 33    19 26    21 15    13 0      1 0      0 4.24    4.23
Overall Means





4.22    4.23

The Effectiveness of Distance Instruction
Survey Number of Answers and Means by Educational Level (Table 3
)
Subscale Question
Number
SA No.
Gr    Un
A No.
Gr    Un
N No.
Gr    Un
DA No.
Gr    Un
SD No.
Gr    Un
Means
Gr    Un
Necessity 1 24    57  4    39 0      4 0      0 0      0 4.86    4.53
2 19    41 8     48 1      8 0      0 0      0 4.64    4.21
4 22    49 6     43 0      8 0      0 0      0 4.79    3.32
5 3      6 1     12 3     22 12    39 9     21 3.82    2.97
Usefulness/
Helpfulness
6 17    38 9     50 1     11 0      1 1      0 4.46    4.25
7 20    45 8     48 0      5 0      2 0      0 4.71    4.36
8 14    30 7     49 6     15 1      5 0      0 4.21    4.01
9 19    32 9     45 0     22 0      1 0      0 4.68    4.08
10 17    28 9     48 2     20 0      4 0      0 4.53    4.00
Methods 11 18    35 8     38 2     25 0      2 0      0 4.57    4.06
Results 12 13    38 13    45 2     15 0      1 1      0 4.39    4.17
Recommend-
ation
3 16    34 10    39 2     26 0      1 0      0 4.50    4.06
Overall Means





4.52    4.00

Students' Attitudes to Library Instruction
Survey Number of Answers and Means by Former Experience (Table 4
)
Subscale Question
Number
SA No.
Y    N
A No.
Y    N
N No.
Y    N
DA No.
Y    N
SD No.
Y    N
Mean
Y    N
Necessity 1 50    31 33    10 2      2 0      0 0      0 4.56    4.67
2 40    20 35    21 8      1 2      1 0      0 4.33    4.40
4 46    25 32    17 7      1 0      0 0      0 4.46    4.59
5 0      9 8      5 17    8 33    18 27    3 3.92    3.02
Usefulness/
Helpfulness
6 32    23 40    18 11    2 1      0 1      0 4.19    4.49
7 43    22 37    19 3      2 2      0 0      0 4.45    4.47
8 25    19 35    21 10     1 4      2 1      0 3.52    4.33
9 29    22 37    17 18     4 1      0 0      0 4.11    4.42
10 30    15 38    19 13     9 4      0 0      0 4.11    4.14
Methods 11 30    23 32    14 21     6 2      0 0      0 4.06    4.40
Results 12 38    13 34    24 12     5 0      1 1      0 4.27    4.37
Recommend-
ation
3 36    14 27    22 22     6 0      1 0      0 4.16    4.14
Overall Means





4.18    4.29

The Effectiveness of Distance Instruction
Survey Number of Answers and Means by Age (Table 5
)
Subscale Question
Number
SA No.
1   2   3
A No.
1   2   3
N No.
1   2   3
DA No.
1   2   3
SD No.
1   2   3
Means
1   2   3
Necessity 1 8     65   8 10   32   1 2   2     0 0   0     0 0   0     0 3.80   4.63   4.89
2 10   42   8 6     49   1 2   7     0 2   1     0 0   0     0 4.20   4.33   4.89
4 13   50   8 5     43   1 2   6     0 0   0     0 0   0     0 4.55   4.44   4.89
5 4     3     1 1     12   0 5   18   0 8   40   1 2   26   7 3.15   3.75   4.44
Usefulness/
Helpfulness
6 10   37   8 6     52   1 3   9     0 1   0     0 0   1     0 4.55   4.25   4.89
7 9     48   8 7     48   1 2   3     0 1   1     0 0   0     0 4.25   4.47   4.89
8 10   27   7 5     49   2 3   18   0 1   5     0 1   0     0 4.10   3.99   4.78
9 10   34   7 6     46   2 3   19   0 1   0     0 0   0     0 4.25   4.15   4.78
10 10   28   7 3     52   2 6   16   0 1   3     0 0   0     0 4.10   4.06   4.78
Methods 11 10   36   7 6     39   1 2   24   1 2   0     0 0   0     0 4.20   4.12   4.67
Results 12 8     38   5 7     47   4 4   13   0 1   0     0 0   1     0 4.10   4.22   4.56
Recommend-
ation
3 8     34   8 5     43   1 5   23   0 1   0     0 0   0     0 3.70   4.15   4.89
Overall %
& Means






4.08   4.21   4.79

VI. Conclusion

Students' attitudes toward library instruction concern many things. There are many students who are not involved in this program for one reason or another. This study shows that the students in Jacksonville State University feel library instruction is necessary and valuable. A lot of students wrote " Excellent instructor", "Excellent job", "Extremely helpful", "Very informative" as their comments.

From a practical and more immediate perspective, the negative attitudes should be of concern to the administrator. The comments provided by some of the participants are useful in illustrating the extent of the problems: "I was wondering if we can have hands-on instruction."

Problems also include: slow speed of computers in the library, and less instruction on how to search and evaluate information on the Internet. It is unclear, however, whether these views have been shaped out of the contents of instruction, students personal needs, or their individual experience. Additional research would be required to isolate the underlying factor or combination of factors.

The views expressed by these respondents are also important from a theoretical perspective, because the means of positive attitude to library instruction is much higher than those in the literature.

Michael Gorman (1991) suggests that instead of teaching "strategies" of online databases, we should just let the users use the online systems, and instead of using LI to teach the use of "user hostile" systems, to replace these with systems that are truly "user friendly". His words caution librarians and information vendors of what future services should be.

Since the survey, there have been some changes in library instruction at JSU. A Smart-Lab offering hands-on instruction and practice was built in 2002 in Houston Cole Library. Library instruction has become a very important support to students in their academic studies.


Bibliography

Bren, B., Hillemann, B., & Topp, V. (1998). "Effectiveness of hands-on instruction of electronic resources." Research Strategies, 16(1), 41-51.

Damko, E. E. (1990). "Student attitudes toward bibliographic instruction." International Dissertations/Theses, 20(2), 105-127.

Doan, M. (1991). "Distance learning by satellite." Satellite Education, 6(3), 8-11.

Geffert, B., & Bruce, R. (1997). "Whither LI? Assessing perceptions of research skills over an undergraduate career." RQ, 36(3), 409-421.

Fleming, T., & Toutant, T. (1995, Spring). "'A modern box of magic': School road in British Colubia 1927-1984." Journal of Distance Education, X(I), 53-73.

Gorman, M. (1991). "Send for a child of four! Or the LI-less library." Library Trends, 39(3), 354-362.

Haws, R. (1987). "An attitudinal study of students toward a required library instruction course." Research Strategies, 5(4), 172-179.

Hoyt, D. P., & Frye, D. W. M. (1972). "The effectiveness of telecommunication as an educational delivery system (Project No. 2G 035)." Final Report to the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education, Washington, DC. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 070 318)

Jacksonville State College. (1963). Bulletin of Jacksonville State College. Jacksonville, AL.

John-Stone, S. (1991). "Research on telecommunicated learning: past, present, and future." The Annals of the American Academy of Political Science. Leighton, G. B., & Markman, M. C. (Jan.1991). "Attitudes of college freshmen toward bibliographic instruction." College and Research Libraries News, 1, 36-38.

Ojo-Igbinoba (Mar. 1991). "Attitudes of students towards the use of library course in Bendel State University, Ekpoma." International Library Review, 23, 21-29.


Appendix: Students' Attitudes to Library Instruction

The statements on the following pages represent opinions dealing with distance instruction. Please fill in the space preceding each item with one of the following:
   a. Strongly Agree    b. Agree    c. Neutral    d. Disagree    e. Strongly Disagree

  1. __________ Information searching skills are important and needed for my academic career and life-long learning.
  2. __________ Library Instruction is necessary during my academic career.
  3. __________ I will recommend that others to participate library instruction class.
  4. __________ Continuous faculty-library support for students' research is important.
  5. __________ Library instruction is not necessary since it has already been put on library's web site.
  6. __________ Library Instruction is helpful in searching library catalog.
  7. __________ Library instruction is helpful in searching electronic databases.
  8. __________ Library instruction is helpful in searching the Internet.
  9. __________ Library instruction is helpful in evaluating information resources.
  10. __________ Course-related instructional exercises are useful.
  11. __________ Hands-on instruction will retain more information than the lecture demonstration method.
  12. __________ After the instruction session, I can successfully use the library resources.

Your personal information:

  1. Your age:
    a. Less than 20      
    b. 20-40      c. 40 & up

  2. Gender:
    a. Male      b. Female

  3. Your are:
    a. Undergraduate student      b. Graduate student      c. Non-degree student

  4. Have you ever taken library instruction class before?
    a. Yes.      b. No.

  5. If you have more comments, please write them down.
    
    
    
    


Copyright 2002 Hanrong Wang.
Submitted to CLIEJ on 20 September 2002.