Why can’t students find full-text? New study from C&RL has answers

Revealing study by Bonnie Imler and Michelle Eichelberger in this month’s issue of College and Research Libraries: 

Commercial Database Design vs. Library Terminology Comprehension: Why Do Students Print Abstracts Instead of Full-Text Articles?  

The study looks at why students so often fail to locate the full-text of an article.  Is it because they don’t understand terms like “abstract” “PDF” or “full-text,” or because they are often redirected to poorly designed commercial databases?

From the study:

“While SFX enables students to link to the full text of articles in other database platforms, it does not always open the full text of the article.  Instead, the link resolver often leads the researcher to the citation/abstract page rather than to the full text of the article.”

“Study participants were asked to find and print the full text of five preselected articles (one per database) from the citation/abstract page in the following five databases subscribed to by Penn State University: JAMA, SpringerLink, Oxford Journals, Cambridge, and Pediatrics.”

“The study included a survey …[that] asked the participants to define, in their own words, the terms “abstract,” “full-text,” and “pdf.””

“Out of the 40 students, only ten (25%) successfully printed the full text of all five articles from the five different databases.”

The researchers found that “database design was more of a deterrent to task completion than student misunderstanding of library terminology.”   The following web design flaws were identified:

  • Inconsistent terminology (“full text,” “html,” “pdf,” etc.)
  • Inconsistent location of full-text link on page
  • Font size and link placement
  • Image of full-text first page did not link to entire article (SpringerLink)

Too often libraries are focused solely on testing the usability of their library website or discovery interface.  This study reminds us that we need to analyze the entire path of resource acquisition – it is not enough to assume that if we’ve gotten our students to a publisher’s site that they will be able to acquire full-text. Despite our best efforts, libraries still present users with far too many silos: link resolvers take our students to dozens of disparate publishers sites, where too many get hopelessly lost.

One thought on “Why can’t students find full-text? New study from C&RL has answers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *