“Researchers of tomorrow” ignoring archives in future?

The UK’s largest study to date on the research behaviour of Generation Y doctoral students (born between 1982 and 1994) was commissioned jointly by JISC and the British Library in 2009.  17,000 doctoral students from 70 universities and numerous disciplines were involved at various stages in the project.

One of its key findings is a marked dependency on published secondary sources as the basis of students’ own original research,  rather than on primary sources (eg. archives, datasets).  This marks a significant change in the nature of doctoral research from only a decade ago, with potentially significant implications for doctoral students’ experience of finding and using primary research sources.

The good news for archives is that the study found that “Generation Y doctoral students are sophisticated information-seekers and users of complex information sources. They are not dazzled by technology and are acutely aware of critical issues such as authority and authenticity in research and evidence gathering.”  Unlike the Google Generation covered by a previous study [another blog-post to come!].

There are some big, inter-related questions for archive services – and not just those in Universities – raised here.  Including

  • how can archive services develop and encourage academic research into the vast numbers of unexplored collections we hold?
    there continue to be regular stories about scholars “finding” hidden gems in the archives (an example reported yesterday: 4 previously unknown short stories by Katharine Mansfield)
  • how can services train and support researchers in archival research techniques, from framing queries and search strategies to palaeography?
  • how can services develop and implement technology-based tools in archival products and services that are increasingly used to augment offerings elsewhere (eg. relevancy rankings) ?
    As an example, compare some of the functionality in the University of Huddersfield library catalogue with its ratings, suggestions, loan stats as well as borrower functions (reserve etc) with a typical online archives catalogue.
  • where e-journals predominate, will the vicious/virtuous circle of use of published and cited archival records become even tighter at the expense of the unpublished and uncited (aka the treasures/gems phenomenon)?
  • how can digitised materials, let alone catalogues and metadata, be better exposed to view?
  • how can staff handling enquiries either at the front-line or remotely best serve the enquirer and what does this mean for service provision?
    [look out for a forthcoming blog post on training and development in this area!].
    “In the cohort study, research help and support from library staff, not only in their own library but also in external library and archival services, emerged as very important in particular to arts and humanities and social science students.  Most of the students valued the knowledge, experience and helpfulness of the library staff to whom they turned for help.” (Researchers of Tomorrow – Using Library Staff Support)
  • what are the longer-term strategic implications of this high dependency on secondary sources or published research for collecting institutions?

The full report is well worth a read [I recommend download, as the internal links don’t seem to work for on-screen reading], and also contains links to the raw data in the UK Data Archive.  As an aside, Annex 3 contains a very useful summary of the socio-economic and policy background (both UK and EU) for HE in the last decade.

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