Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Chinese College Students’ Information Behavior and Library Needs

Last year, my research collaborators and I conducted a study to examine how the pandemic had impacted Chinese college students’ use of the library. The study took place in April and May 2020. At that time, Chinese college campus had been shut off and all the teaching and learning had been moved online for two months. We collected data using a combination of journaling and in-depth interviews, focusing on the library use and library needs of Chinese college students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our findings indicate that students generally lack awareness and understanding of the library’s online resources and would like the library to provide support in ways that could help them enhance productivity and lessen anxiety in the new reality of learning. Libraries should consider making more outreach efforts and offering programs and events to ameliorate isolation and improve students’ sense of community. We hope that our study can provide academic libraries with a nuanced view of user needs and thus help them make informed decisions to serve their campus communities during the unprecedented health crisis. Through the exploration and documentation of college students’ library use and needs, we also hope to document this critical historical event for the library community.

Now our study has been published in the Library Quarterly. Here’s the citation:

Shi, Y., Li, C. & Luo, L. (2021). Impact of the covid-19 pandemic on Chinese college students’ information behavior and library needs: A qualitative study. Library Quarterly, 91(2), 150-171.

I’m really glad that we were able to contribute to the library and information science (LIS) literature with regards to the pandemic. When years later, the pandemic is finally behind us, I think it will be quite interesting to conduct a content analysis of all the pandemic-related studies/articles in peer reviewed LIS journals to capture and document LIS researchers’ collection contributions.


Ideas for the COVID-19 Pandemic Related Research in Librarianship

Earlier this week I had an opportunity to talk to librarians at the University Library at the University of California at San Diego about the trends and methods of research in academic librarianship. They asked wonderful questions, and one of them was about the kinds of research that librarians may consider doing during the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly disrupted our lives in significant ways, but there may also be new research opportunities arising from it. Conducting research related to the pandemic can help library professionals better understand our user needs and provide more meaningful and effective responses to this public health crisis.

A few months ago when the pandemic just broke out, the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology published a commentary titled “Global health crises are also information crises: A call to action” (Xie et al ,2020)“. In this article, a group of information researchers discussed specific things that information scientists can do to “help individuals and society as a whole survive global health crises like COVID‐19, deal with the aftermath, and be better prepared for the next crisis”. They recommended the following research directions:

  • Misinformation/disinformation particularly during global health crises
  • Health literacy—including eHealth literacy
  • Information behavior during lock downs
  • Vulnerable populations—a case for accessible and usable solutions
  • Information dissemination, sharing, and integration among multiple forms of digital data
  • eHealth tools
  • Predictive methods
  • Digital archiving
  • Ethical considerations

I think it would be helpful for library researchers to put out a similar “call to action”, encouraging librarians to investigate research topics related to the pandemic as well. Some of the potential topics may include:

  • Usage of library services during the pandemic, how it changes from before – especially the use of online library resources and services
  • Library needs of users during the pandemic – e.g. for academic libraries, how do their students and faculty would like the library to provide support to assist them as they study from home? for special user populations, especially those suffering from the digital divide, what can libraries to ensure equity when providing services during the closure of physical library locations?
  • Librarians’ well-being – what are librarians’ health and safety concerns with regards to working during the pandemic if they have to return to work?
  • How librarians can help address misinformation related to the pandemic – what can the library do to better help library users become more critical consumers of information and avoid being victimized by misinformation?
  • Libraries’ response to the pandemic – did the library have a crisis management/communication plan, how did the library make decisions on their responses to this crisis?

Information behavior during the “Infodemic” – Ideas for academic librarians

This COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed an information crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the society not only needs to fight the pandemic, but also the “infodemic,” which it defined as “an overabundance of information—some accurate and some not—that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it“. This “infodemic” could add another layer of challenge as college students strive to navigate the turbulent time.

College students are likely to fall prey to the spiraling misinformation during the infodemic. Standford researcher Sam Wineburg and his team have repeatedly found that college students were not well-equipped with the ability to critically evaluate online information, and they struggled to effectively evaluate online claims, sources, and evidence. Their research indicated that college students could be deceived by easily manipulated features of websites, such as official-looking logos and domain names, and they tend to read a webpage vertically, staying within a website to evaluate its reliability. In the meantime, high production values, links to reputable news organizations and polished “About” pages were likely to sway students into trusting the contents of the site without much skepticism.

Academic libraries have been increasingly involved in helping college students battle misinformation. Here are a couple of recent articles that explored academic librarians’ efforts on this front: “Academic library guides for tackling fake news: A content analysis” by Sook Lim; and “News Credibility: Adapting and Testing a Source Evaluation Assessment in Journalism” by Piotr S. Bobkowski and Karna Younger.

Yesterday, I read about the following study on TIME magazine, and thought this might be something that academic librarians may find useful as they guide students’ information behavior during the “infodemic”.

A new paper in Psychological Science explores not only why people believe Internet falsehoods but also how to help them become more discerning about what they share. One of the leading reasons misinformation about COVID-19 gains traction is that it’s a topic that scares the daylights out of us. The more emotional valence something we read online has, the likelier we are to pass it on.

That’s in keeping with earlier research out of MIT, published in 2018, showing that fake news spreads faster on Twitter than does the truth. The reason, the researchers in that study wrote, was that lies are “more novel than true news … [eliciting] fear, disgust and surprise,” just the things that give sharing its zing.

Political leanings also influence sharing. A 2019 Science study, from researchers at Northeastern and elsewhere, showed that neither the left nor the right has a monopoly on sharing fake news; mostly people are just choosing content that fits their ideologies.

To dig deeper still into sharing decisions, Rand and colleagues developed a two-part study. In the first, they assembled a sample group of 853 adults and first asked them to take a pair of tests. One, known as the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT), measures basic reasoning processes. The other measured basic science knowledge. The sample pool was then divided in half. Both halves were shown the same series of 30 headlines—15 false and 15 true—about COVID-19, but they were instructed to do two different things. One group was asked to determine the accuracy of the headlines. The other was asked if they would be inclined to share the headlines.

The results were striking. The first group correctly identified the truth or falsehood of two-thirds of the headlines. The second group—freed from having to consider accuracy—reported that they would share half the headlines, equally divided between true ones and false ones.

The study did find that people who scored higher on the CRT and basic science tests were a little less indiscriminate. The solution, clearly, is not to force people to pass a reasoning test before they’re admitted online. The second part of the study provided a better answer.

For that portion, a different sample group of 856 adults was again divided in two and again shown the same set of headlines. This time, neither group was asked to determine the accuracy of the headlines; instead, both were asked only if they would share them. But there was still a difference: one group was first shown one of four non- COVID-19-related headlines and asked to determine whether it was true or false. That priming—asking the subjects to engage their critical faculties—made a big difference: the primed group was one-third as likely as the unprimed one to share a false headline.

Thinking critically—especially about the truth of a headline—reduces the spread of fake news.”

Assessing Scholarly Communication Services: A National Forum in May 2020

I’m a member of a great project team that’s working to put together the National Forum of the Assessment of Scholarly Communications Programs. The project is funded by IMLS and led by wonderful librarians from Sacramento State University and San Jose State University.

The forum will be held online via Zoom on May 4th and 5th. Attendees of the forum will include experts from library assessment that will present and lead discussions on how existing assessment techniques can be implemented for scholarly communication services. The forum will result in a report with recommendations for standards and a comprehensive set of best practices in assessing the range of services that comprise scholarly communication program.

My role in this grant project is to provide methodological expertise in the data gathering and analysis. I have been closely involved in designing and implementing the data collection instruments to gather input from librarians and campus stakeholders that will inform the project goal. We used the Research Lifecycle from the University of Central Florida to frame our data collection instruments, and the data has truly opened my eyes to the wide variety of practices in scholarly communication programs and their role in the campus research enterprise. Can’t wait to hear more from librarians and campus stakeholders at the Forum!

Image result for research lifecycle at university of central florida

Information literacy and critical thinking

Recently I read a book titled “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age ” by Daniel J. Levitin. It has some really practical implications for information literacy instruction. I particularly enjoyed how the author illustrated the deceptive ways that statistics can be manipulated and how he advocated “Bayesian thinking” to circumvent common cognitive pitfalls and exercise critical thinking more effectively. Librarians can definitely draw upon this book for examples to use in their information literacy classes.

Another relevant resource is this TED talk “Fake videos of real people – and how to spot them“, in which computer scientist Supasorn Suwajanakorn shows how he used AI and 3D modeling to create photorealistic fake videos of people synced to audio. It’s jaw dropping – those fake videos look incredibly authentic and I couldn’t tell the difference at all. This technology further complicates the information landscape what’s already littered with counter knowledge, false information and fake news. Maybe librarians can use this video to show their students what a dire situation we are in when it comes to online information, and critical thinking is thus indispensable in order to survive/thrive in such an information climate.

Time magazine published a thoughtful article on this topic as well – “A real fake news crisis“. This article equates the widespread misinformation online to “a public health crisis” and recommends the approaches that professional fact checkers use to sift through the internet, such as lateral reading and click restraint. When librarians devise their information literacy lesson plans, this article can be a valuable reference.

Recent trip to ACEID 2018 Conference

I attended the 2018 Asian Conference on Education and International Development (ACEID) last week, and it was my first time attending a conference outside of LIS. The majority of the conference participants (from over 40 countries) were from education, and their presentations covered a wide range of education related topics. My presentation was about how librarians and faculty collaborate in higher education, and it was scheduled in a session along with two other presentations focusing on higher ed. Unfortunately, not many people showed up in the audience – the concurrent sessions on K-12 issues outcompeted us. Still, I had a nice discussion with the small audience – before I presented my study, I showed them slides of librarian stereotypes and their true images (e.g. portraits of the book “This is What a Librarian Looks Like”, the New Zealand librarians cosplaying the Kardasians, and examples of the cool things that librarians made happen in the library), and the audience was quite impressed. They agreed that my presentation gave them good ideas of how to reach out to their librarians for help now that they know libraries are such an important component of the learning ecology in higher ed.

I had much fun interacting with education researchers at the conference and learned a lot myself. There’s a even research about how PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) affects middle school girls’ academic performance in school. How interesting.

The conference took place in Kobe Japan during the beautiful cherry blossoms, and there were lines of cherry trees right outside of the conference venue, so I got to witness the fleeting and delicate beauty that has such significant cultural symbolism in Japan. It was indeed quite a sight!

A recent research/library trip to China

Last week I went to Shanxi Province, China for a research trip.

I’m collaborating with a Chinese professor from Shanxi University to study the role of libraries in helping the public fulfill their consumer health information needs. On this research trip, we conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews to gather data on people’s consumer health information seeking behavior and librarians’ preparedness in providing consumer health information service. It was a fruitful trip.

I visited three libraries – I wanted to post the photos here but couldn’t (maybe there were too many; hmm…maybe I should switch to a different blog platform?). So I ended up posting them on a separate webpage. We have students taking the international librarianship course in our program and maybe they will enjoy my post. 🙂

My new book – “Enhancing Library and Information Research Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians”

My two wonderful colleagues, Kris
Brancolini and Marie Kennedy, and I wrote a book together based on our
experience with the Institute for Research
Design in Librarianship
(IRDL), an IMLS-funded program that provides
professional development opportunities for academic librarians to improve their
research skills. The book is titled “Enhancing Library and Information Research
Skills: A Guide for Academic Librarians
”, in which we covered the whole
spectrum of being a practitioner-researcher in the academic library setting.

It was a great experience working with
Kris and Marie on this book. They both are strong advocates for academic
librarians’ engagement in research and use of research evidence to inform
decision making. We truly hope that this book will help academic librarians
around the nation to become more aware of the value of research to academic
librarianship, develop a solid understanding of the research process, and ultimately
improve their confidence and competency in conducting and applying research in
their professional practice.

A recent international research collaboration

International collaboration is always a refreshing and even
enlightening experience to me. I have worked with two librarians from Tsinghua
University Library in China on a couple of projects and absolutely enjoyed it. I
have known them for more than 10 years so we have a very efficient and pleasant
relationship. Last year when I was at IFLA,
I met a librarian from Ghana and we had good conversations about library
research. This spring we worked on a project together to evaluate the reference
services at University of Education, Winneba (UEW) in Ghana. We decided to
approach the evaluation from the user perspective, and identified the Key
Performance Indicators (KPIs) based on the RUSA Guidelines
for Behavioral Performance
. A user survey was conducted to measure the KPIs
and to examine how users use and perceive library reference services. The
findings were illuminating. For example, regarding how the reference service
should be improved, some users recommended that librarians be better trained.
It’s interesting that these users realized that the service inadequacies were a
result of insufficient personnel training. It is also interesting to note that
personal interests is the second most popular motivation for users to use the
reference service, which is auspicious and shows that students and faculty
trust reference librarians with their personal information needs. And yet, some
of the things we take for granted such as electricity and computers/copiers,
were still a concern for some library users at UEW in Ghana – they felt there
weren’t enough of them to meet their needs.

Overall the study was a great learning experience for me. I’m
glad that our findings will help UEW library determine the service areas where
improvements are most needed and develop necessary training programs to address
them. On a personal note, the study opened my eyes to how reference services
work at an academic library in Ghana, and how library users are experiencing the
services. It will be published in Library Review soon, so keep an eye on it if
you are interested.

QQML 2014

I just got back from the 6th QQML conference in Istanbul. As always, it’s a fruitful trip. What I particularly liked this year was Cornell University Librarian Anne Kenney’s keynote talk “Defining 21st Century Research Libraries to Implementing 21st Century Research Universities”, where she talked about the paradigm shift among academic libraries that are focusing less on measuring what libraries are doing and more on developing metrics that measure how well they are enabling research universities to thrive in the 21st century. Her talk gave me a lot to think about, particularly for the research methods course I intend to develop that focuses on academic librarianship.

I also enjoyed the LibQUAL-related presentations at the conference, which not only included presentations sharing results of LibQUAL surveys in libraries in different countries, but also one interesting presentation that described translating LibQUAL in other languages ( the historical context, the functionality of the current web interface in handling different languages and a reliability and validity analysis for selected language versions). LibQUAL is a great example of conducting survey research in LIS, and in the fall I will be teaching a course about survey research. So these presentations were timely and beneficial.

During the conference I spent quite a bit of time talking to a group of scholars from Taiwan. Two of them got their master’s in LIS and PhD in education. Their students are school teachers, and they are developing information literacy standards and instruction strategies at K-12 level. In Taiwan, teachers are responsible for information literacy instruction in addition to subject teaching, and now the increasing workload has made it necessary to have special teacher positions that exclusively focus on information literacy. This is quite different from the US, there the trend is reversed and school librarian positions are getting cut everywhere because of budget problems. Another Taiwanese Professor comes from National Chengchi University and they have the only online LIS master’s program in Taiwan. We talked a lot about online education and I invited her to share the experience of their online program at the Library 2.014 conference. It’s always nice to learn about online education from the international perspective.

Finally, another highlight of this conference was seeing my old friends Songphan and Cristina. I saw them last year in Rome but didn’t get to talk much because of our different schedules. It’s just wonderful to see them again and catch up with them.