When making use of information retrieval systems (IRSs), specifically proprietary databases,
individual users often do not know or have limited knowledge about the value-added features and
services provided, and how these can support successful academic task completion. Members of
the academic staff influence the attitude and information practices of their students. An
exploratory study was thus conducted in September - October 2015 with academic staff from
three departments at a South African university to determine their awareness and use of features
of IRSs. The IRSs were relevant to their disciplines and all were selected from IRSs to which the
academic library subscribes. The three participating departments were Computer Science,
Informatics and Information Science.
The research question was: How are academics exploiting the features and services offered by
databases in their academic task completion? The research was approached as an exploratory
study. The empirical component focused on the awareness and usage of the value-added
features and services provided by IRSs, specifically databases. A selection of features and
services provided by the databases (as IRSs) and the database service providers were presented
to participants. These included among others RSS news feeds, exporting citations to reference
management software, limiting results to full-text publications or peer-reviewed publications,
checking for conferences and events, ResearcherID profiles, affiliation searches and history
searches. Respondents could also comment on other features and services they found useful.
The study followed a mixed methods approach. Quantitative data was collected by means of a
self-administered electronic questionnaire. It covered the use of databases as IRSs and the use
of the features and additional services offered by databases. Since it was an exploratory study
the focus was, however, stronger on qualitative data that was collected by means of 12 individual
and one focus group interview with five participants (thus 17 participants in total). Thirty-seven
completed questionnaires were analysed. Participants included full professors, extraordinary
professors, associate professors, research fellows, extraordinary senior researchers, senior
lecturers, lecturers, junior research officers and assistant lecturers.
Findings from the exploratory study revealed the following: Many academic staff members had
some knowledge about the value-added features and services, but were not making full use of them. Some of the staff members were unaware of them, stating that they would like to explore
these value-added features and services to help refine and narrow down their searches. Their
motivations included finding relevant documents, saving on search time, avoiding irrelevant
information and finding information matching the daily tasks they needed to complete more
precisely. Such tasks included preparing for a lecture, teaching (e.g. methods, evaluation,
testing), post-graduate supervision, publication and conference presentations, increasing their
knowledge base and sharing information with others.
Recommendations included designing a tutorial booklet or online “How to guideline” or game to
showcase the value-added features and services of databases (as examples of IRSs). Exploring
Kuhlthau’s concept of zones of intervention in creating spaces for academic staff to explore the
use of value-added features and services offered by proprietary databases and services in
relation to academic tasks could be useful as well. The latter approach should explore fun ways
of learning and incentives such as the badge system that might appeal to younger staff.
Mini Dissertation (MIT)--University of Pretoria, 2016.