The Convenience Conundrum

It’s a new semester!  It’s REALLY cold!  The Library is warm and we’re glad everyone is back.  Over the break I read an article that has been distracting me.  “If It’s Too Inconvenient I’m Not Going After It” is a fascinating research article about the role of time, gratification theory, and rational choice theory in the research habits of university faculty and students. The researchers looked at how information seeking habits like using databases and at choices for getting help.

Spoiler Alert!!  The researchers found that ” . . . on some situations information seekers will readily sacrifice content for convenience.” (p.27).  Now I know that this does not describe any student or faculty member here at St. Mary’s.  Convenience was defined as choice (print or online), satisfaction with the source, and time needed to access and use.  For me, this is one of those “doh” moments. We all behave this way at some point or another.

The researchers conclude that we should purchase services and resources that “replicate” the Web and which are perceived as “convenient and easy to use.”  The “library experience” should be more like Google, Amazon, or iTunes.

Over the same break I also read a blog post from Barbara Fister which reminds us that “The order libraries create must invite disorder. This is something that is particularly important when it comes to helping students learn how to use libraries. Our systems, which were made that way, are broken by definition.  . . . If we truly thought knowledge could be nailed down in a system, there would be little use for libraries.”

So which is it?  Convenience or disorder?  Perhaps it’s both.  Over this past weekend I spent about an hour and a lot of email trying to untangle a problem a student was having accessing the full-text of an article and she was on campus while I was at home.  I finally got her the link, but discovered another glitch in the process.  The ability of our systems to talk to one another has improved but not enough.  The convenience researchers are right.  Our systems need work together better so that we don’t spend so much time trying to get “stuff” and not enough on whether it’s the right stuff.

How will that happen?  Slowly.  But what [should] happen BEFORE and AFTER we go information seeking is the same slow, intense, thought process it has always been.  Is it fun?  It can be (OK – that might just be the librarian nerd in me).  Is it challenging, sometimes frustrating, energizing? It can be.  And the information seeking itself is sometimes messy.

So I’m all for convenience as long as we don’t confuse our desire for  efficient and effective tools with an intellectual and creative journey that should always leave room for uncertainty, some messiness, and the possibility of discovery,

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2 thoughts on “The Convenience Conundrum

  1. That result is consistent with some research on the audit process for accountants. Initially it was assumed that digitizing all the documents would make audits easier and more accurate. The researchers found that electronic document were subjected to fewer checks before being certified as complete. The reason was that the (early) systems were harder to use than the paper trail. I need to check with my accounting friends to see if that is still the case but I know that I edit better with hard copy in hand than online.

  2. Interestingly, my comment is logged at 3:43pm not 10:44am….hmmmm…I could research what time zone wordpress thinks we’re in if I didn’t have an Econometrics class to prep!

    *Barbara Beliveau*

    Associate Professor of Economics St. Mary’s College of Maryland 240-895-4431

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