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Learning the Ropes: How Freshmen Conduct Course Research Once They Enter College

4 December 2013


This paper presents findings about the challenges today’s college freshmen face, and the information-seeking strategies they develop, use, and adapt as they make the transition from high school to college and begin to complete college-level research assignments. Included are data from a comparative analysis of library resources in 30 US high school and 6 college and university libraries; interviews with 35 first-term freshmen from 6 US colleges and universities; and an online survey with 1,941 US high school and college student respondents. Findings indicate a majority of freshmen find it difficult to effectively search academic library portals. To a lesser extent, they struggle with reading and comprehending scholarly materials once they are able to find them and have trouble figuring out faculty expectations for course research assignments. Taken together, our findings suggest the Google-centric search skills that freshmen bring from high school only get them so far with finding and using trusted sources they need for fulfilling college research assignments. Moreover, many freshmen appeared to be unfamiliar with how academic libraries—and the vast array of digital resources they provide—can best meet their needs. Included are recommendations for how campus-wide stakeholders—librarians, faculty, and administrators—can work together when instructing freshmen to be better researchers.