Student readers’ use of library documents (O’Hara et al)

O’Hara, K., Smith, F., Newman, W., and Sellen, A. (1998). Student readers’ use of library documents: Implications for library technologies. SIGCHI98, 233-240. Retrieved from

Eureka! This research seems to confirm my own impression:

With the odd exception [e.g. 11,131] user-centred approaches have concentrated primarily on how users search for and retrieve information. As such, much of the design effort in the field has been aimed at providing support for these activities. As we will show in this paper, however, there is a great deal more document-related work that occurs once library users have retrieved their documents, and these activities have received far less attention in’ the literature (233).

These researchers have chosen to point out ways in which students reading (or information recording) is highly significant, and how, observed as part of the larger context of their total work, should be considered when developing library technologies and services. They have paid particular attention to students’ notes and annotations as an indicator of how they are digesting the material they read. PhD student participants kept a diary outlining different aspects of their library use over the course of a day, and subjected to an interview. The researchers then analyzed the nature of the information accessed and methods for acquiring them, as well as the format and content of the notes taken by the students.

The researchers determined that students displayed a range of purposes in how and why they take notes and annotate (some to be used immediately, some at a known future time, some at an uncertain time). Individual purposes noted include: information recording to focus attention and facilitate encoding, information recording for clarification and interpretation, information recording for mapping out directions for literature review, information review and re-use, and to create a portable resource.

As for recommendations to those providing support to students’ use of information resources, they recommended studying the impact of new technologies (such as annotation software) on other areas of the students’ work, not just on the immediate activity (for enlightening examples see p.239).


One response to “Student readers’ use of library documents (O’Hara et al)

  1. Yes, this is a good article.
    The authors argue that the kind of notes researchers take is an indication of their level of engagement and comprehension. From this point of view, this kind of engaged reading, is more like what communications teachers call active listening, where one engages in a dialogue with a person. In essence, paraphrasing something from a text is a way of saying, “I think what you are saying is … “. So, real reading is not a passive action.

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