Chinese College Students’ Health Information Seeking Behavior

My research collaborator, Dr. Yanxia Shi, from Shanxi University in China and I have been working on a project (funded by the National Social Science Fund of China) that looks at the role of libraries in contributing to the enhancement of the citizenry’s health information literacy. We recently published a paper in the Journal of Academic Librarianship that examined how Chinese college students seek health information and what the implications are for academic librarians. The impetus for us to study college students came from a tragic incident – in 2016, Zexi Wei, a 21-year old Chinese college student died after receiving experimental treatment for synovial sarcoma at the Second Hospital of the Beijing Armed Police Corps. He learned about this treatment from a promoted result on the Chinese search engine Baidu (the equivalent of Google in China), and ultimately discovered that the hospital had misled patients by providing fraudulent information about the treatment’s success rate. Wei’s death prompted Chinese regulators to investigate Baidu’s advertising practices, and drew widespread attention from the public about the ill-regulated practices of online dissemination of health information.

This tragedy has made us more vigilant about the ubiquity of questionable medical/health information in Chinese cyberspace, and caused us to wonder – how do Chinese college students seek health information? What are the criteria they use to evaluate the information? What can academic libraries do to help them become more information literate and health literate? Our findings were quite illuminating, and now that more and more Chinese students are coming to study in the US as international students, I think this study might yield insights for academic librarians here in the US to improve their programs and services for Chinese international students.

Elsevier (the publisher of JAL) is allowing free access to our article till Mar 14, 2019 – so feel free to check it out if interested. 🙂


Public Libraries and Health Literacy

A major research interest of mine is to look at public libraries’ role in promoting health literacy. Recently I published an article titled “Health information programming in public libraries: a content analysis” in Public Library Quarterly, examining the purpose, content, type and audience of health and wellness programs provided by a large urban public library system in California. To further my research along this line, I’m collaborating with a professor at Shanxi University in China to explore how public libraries are meeting older adults’ needs related to health and wellness. While everybody else was enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday, I flew to China to collect data for this project.

We conducted focus groups at Taiyuan City Library. In China, the way public libraries is set up is quite different from the US – in the US, for instance, in the city of San Jose with a population of 1 million, there are 24 branch libraries dispersed geographically and there’s not much difference in terms of the magnitude of collections/services/programs/facility; but in China, in the entire Taiyuan City with a population of 3.4 million, there are only two public libraries – the Taiyuan City Library and the Shanxi Provincial Library. Both libraries are magnificent six (or five) floor buildings equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and designs. Here are a few photos of Taiyuan City Library:

Spacious interior – the grandeur of the lobby is impressive.


Touch screens everywhere – for accessing the library catalog, for reading e-Magazines and eBooks, for reading library news and announcements, and for scanning QR code to access library resources on one’s mobile devices, etc.


Young visitors – we ran into a group of preschoolers visiting the library. From what I heard, the city library has become an popular site for school field trips!


The way Chinese libraries develop and provide library programs is also quite different from the US. For instance, in the US, there are many activity-based or instructional programs geared toward older adults (e.g. Taichi class, line dance/ ballroom dance class, instructional workshops on how use eBooks, etc.), which connect people with library resources through participatory experiences. But in Chinese public libraries, programs primarily take the form of lectures given by experts on topics of interest to older adults.

Although I did not get to take a break during the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s certainly worth it. Besides successful data collection, I learned a lot observing how libraries in these two countries operate. 🙂

Promoting Evidence Based Library and Information Practice – OK-ACRL Conference Trip

Last week I attended the 2018 OK-ACRL Annual Conference, and the conference theme was “Elementary, My Dear Data: Evidence-based Library Practice”,  seeking to promote evidence-based library and information practice (EBLIP) among OK academic librarians. I was invited to give a talk about the very first step in the EBLIP process – formulating the question or articulating the problem that needs to be answered/resolved through the application of evidence.

EBLIP advocate Denise Koufogiannakis defines EBLIP as a process that involves “methods for resolving daily problems in the profession through the integration of experience and research” and “asking questions, finding information to answer them (or conducting one’s own research) and applying that knowledge to our practice”. The evidence-based movement originates in medicine in the early 1990s. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) focuses on merging what is learned from the research literature with what is observed in daily practice, all to produce a better-informed outcome for patients. Over the years, the movement has migrated to librarianship and EBLIP.

Interestingly, librarians’ conceptualization of what constitutes “evidence” differs quite a bit from medical professionals. In EBM, evidence is strictly rooted in the published research literature, and methods such as meta-analysis or systematic reviews are conducted to appraise the evidence to determine its applicability in informing practice. Yet, my own research and reading about EBLIP has shown that librarians hold a more generous and inclusive view of what may be considered “evidence”. As indicated in the picture below, the sources of evidence in EBLIP span across a wide spectrum.


Still, I would strongly encourage librarians to give priority to research evidence in their evidence-based practice. It is worth noting that currently the quality and quantity of the published literature in librarianship have not reached a level where we can conduct meta-analysis or systematic reviews to meaningfully draw on the research evidence to support decision making. Thus, librarians may consider more actively engaging in producing original research evidence and publish it – on one hand, the original research generates the evidence needed to address practical problems; on the other hand, once the original research gets published, it helps grow and enrich the existing literature, and ultimately moving the profession toward a future where the literature can become a vast and reliable source of quality research evidence.

Anyways, I’m glad that OK-ACRL chose EBLIP as their conference theme – hopefully more academic librarians, and academic librarian organizations will take notice and embrace EBLIP. Although the conference trip was short, I had a wonderful time enjoying the warmth of OK librarians, the scrumptious food and the gorgeous views on the campus of University of Central Oklahoma (UCO). I met librarians who read and appreciated my articles, alum from our SJSU iSchool, and even an MLIS student who has family living in the small CA town where I live. What a memorable trip!

Here are a few photos of the beautiful UCO library:





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.

A few research methods resources from SAGE

SAGE is the well-known publisher about research methods. My institution, San Jose State University, subscribes to a great online resources from SAGE – SAGE Research Methods. It is a comprehensive resource containing articles, books, and video on various research methods topics. It has greatly aided the research methods instruction in our program.

SAGE Research Methods is a subscription database though. Still there are free SAGE resources online that can be of benefit to researchers and research methods instructors:

  • Methods Map. Aims to help researchers “Explore the research methods terrain, read definitions of key terminology, and discover content relevant to your research methods journey”.
  • Reading List. Provides reading lists of key research methods and statistics resources created by users.
  • Which Stats Test. Helps researchers choose the right statistical test to use.
  • Methodspace. An informative research methods blog hosted by SAGE Publishing.
  • SAGE LibGuides I know, how can librarians not love SAGE – they have LibGuides page! Here’s an excerpt from the page explaining its purpose “I’ve created this research guide to help you in your exploration of research methods in the social sciences. In this guide are tips to find resources on the SAGE Research Methods platform. It will also guide you in finding the best literature to enable you to choose a methodology and launch into your research project.  ”

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 community library in China

I love visiting local libraries when I travel. This summer, I came to Guiyang, China to see my aunt and uncle. They live in an area with a population of 300,000 and yet there’s only one public library in that area. The tiny community library is a 600 square-foot room containing a few shelves of magazines and books, a reading area, and two small staffed desks. Most readers there are senior citizens (the only young reader there is my daughter).

Even though the physical space is limited, the library provides a wide array of electronic resources, which are displayed on a big touch screen. The e-resources include eBooks, eJournals and videos. Each title has a QR code – people can scan it and then access it on their mobile devices. How convenient!

IRDL 2017 and Interview as a research method

Last week I went to the beautiful campus
of Loyola Marymount University for IRDL 2017. I’m glad that this wonderful
research methods training program received funding to continue for another
three years – more academic librarians will benefit from it and gain important
skills to become more competent and confident practitioner researchers. I had
great conversations with the participants this year. They were all working on
interesting projects – e.g. how ARL libraries design their fundraising page on
the library website, how students understand or misunderstand library jargon,
how students’ interpretation of research differs from faculty’s expectation and
observation of their research behavior, just to name a few. I can’t wait to
read more about these great projects in journal publications.

In the past week, I taught during the
day, and worked on other projects at night (yes, it’s a productive week for
me!). Particularly, I took full advantage of LMU library’s subscription to SAGE
Research Methods, and read a number of articles about the research method –
interview. There are different ways to use interview in gathering qualitative
data. Here’s a summary of them from the SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative

  • Convergent
    interviewing – a technique that aims to collect, analyze, and interpret
    people’s experiences, opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge that converge
    around a set of interviews. It was created primarily to address issues in under-researched
    areas. It permits in-depth interviewing by promoting a cyclical research
    process that requires ongoing analysis as part of the overall strategy. Interviewers
    engage in a constant comparative reflexive process that permits detailed rich
    content and theoretical sampling as researchers seek to continuously test
    emerging interpretations from early interviews in subsequent interviews.
  • Cognitive
    interviewing – it encompasses a variety of approaches for eliciting qualitative
    data on how participants interpret and respond to a wide variety of situations.
    Cognitive interviewing increasingly is used in the evaluation of technology
    interfaces such as websites and tools for informatics. It is used in education
    to understand how students think about content and respond to test items and in
    marketing to understand how to evaluate products better.
  • Conversational
    interviewing – an approach used by research interviewers to generate verbal data
    through talking about specified topics with research participants in an
    informal and conversational way. Interviewers and interviewees rely on
    taken-for-granted assumptions about how everyday talk occurs and how speakers
    make meaning of one another’s utterances. In emphasizing features of mundane conversation,
    conversational interviewers strive to facilitate a research environment in
    which participants feel free to participate in extended discussions of research
    topics in a less hierarchical environment than that convened in structured
    interview settings.
  • Narrative interview
    – an interview that is organized to facilitate the development of a text that can
    be interpreted through narrative analysis. Narrative analysis is guided by a
    theory of narrative, and these theories of narrative vary in the influence of
    the reader, the text, and the intent of the author on interpretation. For this
    reason, the content and structure of a narrative interview will depend both on
    the theory of narrative being used in the analysis and on the research
  • Interactive interviewing
    –  an interpretive practice for getting
    an in-depth and intimate understanding of people’s experiences with emotionally
    charged and sensitive topics such as childbirth, illness, loss, and eating
    disorders. Emphasizing the communicative and joint sense-making that occurs in
    interviewing, this approach involves the sharing of personal and social
    experiences of both respondents and researchers, who tell (and sometimes write)
    their stories in the context of a developing relationship.
  • The critical
    incident technique (CIT) – originally, it refers to a set of procedures to
    collect direct observations of human behaviors in a way that facilitates their
    use in solving practical problems and developing broad psychological
    principles. Over the years, it has been increasingly applied to studying psychological
    states or experiences, and emphasis has shifted from direct observation by
    experts to retrospective self-report in interviews.
  • Co-constructed
    narratives – this refers to stories jointly constructed by relational partners
    about epiphanies in their lives. This approach offers a way for participants to
    actively construct a version of a relational event that provides insight,
    understanding, and an in-depth and complex reflection on what occurred. As
    such, this mode of doing research provides an alternative to traditional interviewing,
    especially when the topic under consideration is emotionally charged, personal,
    and sensitive.