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Insider Article [March 2014] [03/04/14] (Attuning to Their Differences)
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Attuning to Their Differences: Implications of Demographics and Prior Library Experiences on Student Confidence

Confidence, which may be dependent upon previous experiences and achievements, can be an important contributor to student success.  A major goal for many academic libraries is to develop students’ information literacy (IL) skills and consequently their confidence in performing IL tasks.  However, libraries of all types can play a role in developing students’ IL abilities.  The goal of this study was to observe if there were connections between race/ethnicity, gender, first generation college student status, and previous library experiences, including public and school library use, to college students’ confidence in performing research-related functions.  Understanding the role that demographics and prior experiences with libraries, regardless of type, may have on the maintenance, progress, and growth in IL is significant, as it encourages librarians to consider how their particular program contributes to their various populations’ continuing IL development. 

In this study, undergraduate students enrolled in HPRF 100W, a mandatory writing class specific to health care professions, were asked to identify the types of library experiences that they had prior to the session.  Student demographics were collected in addition to students’ confidence in performing the following four items: differentiating between popular and scholarly materials, distinguishing between primary and secondary sources, revising a database search, and identifying the particular resources for the discipline.  These four tasks are significant to being successful in the health care realm; health care disciplines require practitioners to effectively and efficiently navigate the specialized literature for clinical practices that are based on evidence.  Lastly, students were asked content questions to gauge proficiency of the four IL concepts.

During the Fall 2012 semester, the authors taught 13 one-shot IL sessions among the 15 HPRF 100W sections.  Student demographics, confidence levels, and mastery of IL content questions were collected through the Qualtrics online software.  Two hundred and thirty-nine students completed the survey.  Of the total, 184 were female and 55 were male. 

The results indicate that females are generally more confident in their IL skills than their male counterparts.  The females consistently marked their confidence levels higher than the male students across all four of the tasks. 

Viewing student confidence through the lens of race/ethnicity, those with a European background were the least confident, followed by Asian/Pacific Islanders, and Latino/as.  Other racial and ethnic groups had too few representatives to draw conclusions.

Interestingly enough, those without prior, formal library experiences were more confident than their counterparts who had had previous library experiences in either public or school libraries.

Finally, first generation college students were more confident in their IL skills than their counterparts who were not first generation.

Further research is needed to ensure that these results are not specific to this cohort.  Also, additional analysis connecting student demographics, prior library experiences, and confidence levels to actual IL content mastery would widen the scope of this study.  Lastly, the authors would like to investigate if overconfidence could be a relevant factor to the observed values.


Valeria E. Molteni
Academic Liaison Librarian, MLK Library, San José State University

Emily K. Chan
Academic Liaison Librarian, MLK Library, San José State University