Information Literate

What 10,000 students and 1,200 librarians told us about research skills. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Emily Gover and Michele Kirschenbaum

CREDIT Imagine Easy SolutionsThe education landscape is constantly changing. Understanding the inner-workings of a student’s mind is a challenge, and is vitally important for educators to improve their pedagogy. At our company, we are constantly finding ways we can help students, librarians and educators. One of the most effective methods to figure out what’s going on in the minds of our users is to simply, well, ask them.

Earlier this year, we acquired 1,200 responses through an email survey from librarians around the world, and from all types of institutions: primarily high schools and universities, as also middle schools, elementary schools, and public libraries. The goal of this survey was to find out how librarians are teaching key research and writing skills—such as website evaluation and paraphrasing—to students, and which areas students struggle with the most.

Understanding the inner-workings of a student’s mind is a challenge, and is vitally important for educators to improve their pedagogy.

We wanted to see what students thought about research, too. As we wrote last year in EdTech Digest, our products bring in an audience of over 42 million students every year. This provides us with a unique opportunity to survey students and pick their brains about how they conduct research. Through placing a survey on, we collected over 10,000 anonymous student responses pertaining to website credibility, using the Open Web in research, and synthesizing information.

So, what did we learn from our surveys? The answers may surprise you.

Agree to Disagree: Conflicting Viewpoints Between Students and Librarians

ParaphrasingChartAs many educators know, students are overly confident with their research skills. These “digital natives,” while unequivocally skilled at using mobile devices in mere seconds, are arguably not adept at using technology in research-related contexts. Finding a BuzzFeed post, or selecting that perfect Instagram filter? Sure. But finding, using, and synthesizing information for a school or job assignment? Not so much, at least according to a recent article in The Chronicle for Higher Education by Project Information Literacy head investigator, Alison Head.

Effectively paraphrasing information is a required skill for many learning standards, including the Common Core. Of the almost 7,900 student responses, more than half (56.5%) said that they absolutely know how to paraphrase information and use direct quotes in their research. Only 571 (7.2%) said they did not know how to properly paraphrase.

Responses from librarians differed drastically. Only 3% of librarians and educators felt their students rarely struggle with paraphrasing, while 44% said their students struggle with it, and often.

Another area where students and librarians did not see eye-to-eye was with website credibility evaluation. More than one-third (36.1%) of the 8,217 students who responded said that they have a thorough understanding of website credibility, while a mere 14.2% admitted to their lack of evaluation skills.

WebsiteCredibilityChartWhen librarians were asked to evaluate their students’ understanding of website evaluation, most (51%) said that their students had a rudimentary knowledge (a sharp increase from our 2012 survey response of 21.7% to the same question). Only 2% of the librarians surveyed felt their students had an advanced understanding of website credibility.

These statistics imply that, in some areas of information literacy, students are exceedingly confident with their evaluation skills. What’s more, the educators who understand the intricacies of scholarly research feel that their pupils are not adequately prepared to discern the differences between authoritative and inaccurate information.

On the Same Page: Where Librarian & Student Responses Line Up

While many of the responses from the two groups drew vastly different opinions, there was one area where librarians and students saw eye-to-eye. Most of us can agree that the Open Web can be a viable place to start research, but rarely is it appropriate to use solely for assignments. Regardless, studies show that the majority of students use Google and other Open Web search engines in class.

OpenWebInResearchChartWhen asked how often they use the Open Web for research instead of library resources, over 58% of the 10,472 student responses said that it’s their first choice, every time. Approximately 38% said they use a mix of Open Web and library resources, while 3.5% said they only use information found through the library’s website.

Compared with what librarians had to say, the findings are strikingly similar. About 60% of librarians said they notice their students only using the Open Web for research, while 37% reported a combination of Open Web and library resources.

What Else?

For more information, read the full report for free on the EasyBib blog. We are currently devising a second, deeper iteration to see how the information literacy landscape differs across institutions. Stay tuned for more insights to how librarians are approaching research instruction.


Emily Gover and Michele Kirschenbaum are the in-house information literacy librarians for Imagine Easy Solutions, the parent company of EasyBib and ResearchReady. Emily has prior experience in academic libraries and continues to work as a public librarian. Michele previously worked as a school librarian for seven years and served as her school’s technology coordinator. You can reach them on Twitter, @Emily_EasyBib and @Michele_EasyBib, or on YouTube as the Lively Librarians.

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