Blogging Online Northwest: Image-seeking undergrads

Image-seeking preferences & behavior of undergraduates:  A study to understand what they want, how they do it, and how we can help
Laurie Bridges & Tiah Edmunson-Morton, Oregon State Universities

Bridges & Edmunson-Morton did a study on image-seeking preferences of undergrads at OSU.  Noticed undergrads using their phones a lot, heard from students that they tried to start research, didn’t find anything, assumed nothing was there.  Anecdotally:  Google is main starting point, and students expect library websites to work like Google.  Archives/libraries start wondering: how are students using mobiles or even laptops with Google going to find anything?

Assumption:  students blindly accepting what they’re given.  Not true; they’re smart about searching, use Google, but have good sense of what they’re getting.  Problem is ability to establish context; they’re cherry-picking.  Doesn’t work in archival research.

2009, OSU Archives started using Flickr account to show public programming images with digital images.  Wanted to walk people through using microfilm machines (most people don’t like using them, including many librarians.)

Started using Flickr Commons: project started by Library of Congress and Flickr for copyright-free image sharing from LoC.  Multiple institutions applied to join.  OSU was first university in Flickr Commons.

Since then, Yahoo bought Flickr, layoffs everywhere.  High hopes for Flickr/Commons as research tool and interaction with users as well as fun image-sharing tool.  Not necessarily borne out.  People are using OSU images on Flickr Commons (especially after a recent post on Etsy about them) but it’s not ‘academicy’.  Not really meeting users where they are, because they’re not using Flickr Commons for research.  They are using Google, though, and Google gets them to Flickr.

women dancing with veils

Women dancing with veils at the May Day Pageant, from the OSU Flickr Commons collection.

OSU images in Flickr do get hit a lot more than images only in OSU digital collections, though…

Adobe recently commissioned The Visual Literacy White Paper, which discusses visual literacy as seeing in your mind, merging language with the visual, interpreting what’s in images.  Discussing visual literacy with undergrads can be easier than “information literacy,” bibliographies, finding aids, etc.

Are faculty assigning work to students that requires visual literacy?  Talked to faculty:  one faculty member said even if he didn’t tell students to use images, they would.  There is very little research on digital image use or visual literacy in instruction.  Anecdotally, class syllibi didn’t tell students where to get images or how to cite them, etc.  Students tending to use them as “add-on” to the assignment.

Tiah and Laura hired OSU survey research center to help conduct statistical survey.  One substantive question:  students were asked to imagine being asked to find images of people logging in Oregon in the 1930s or 1940s, and explain their search process for finding a picture.

women with garden hoes from osu archives

Coeds with hoes, from the OSU Flickr Commons collection


Audience at Online Northwest session was given the same survey, asked to fill it out, and discuss:  how much information about images do you want/need?  where do you find images?  were you ever taught to read images?  if so, where/when/how?

Of 61 student respondents to the survey:

  • 21 students only mentioned Google (nothing else)
  • 6 went to books (after Google)
  • one student went to a friend, then to the library (after Google)
  • one person went to a stock photo site (after Google)
  • 11 went to library/librarian (after Google)  Of these, 7 specified they’d go to the library to get a book.
  • 5 went to books/library first (before Google)
  • 1 person would ask photographer (before Google)
  • 1 person would ask his grandfather (before Google)
  • 1 person would look in own photos (before Google)
  • 1 person would look in book, then archives, then online
  • 1 person would start in PV (forestry building on OSU campus) then Internet, then library
  • 1 person said no idea how to look

Students were told that the survey came from the library:  some book-centric/library-centric responses may be “pleaser” responses.  However, may also be sense of validity to images in books.  Student texts etc. are image-heavy, students are used to this.  Some students may think that archives are bound in books, essentially = books.  (Conjecture.)

Books were usually the last step of a multi-step process.  So were librarians.

So…most students used Google, and many stopped there.  No student mentioned any concern about copyright.  No students discussed how they would evaluate the image (except for 2 who specified “a credible picture.”)  Over half of students said they’d used Wikipedia for an assignment in the past, but none mentioned Wikipedia in this response.  Most students didn’t know what archives were.  Many students think that archival holdings are all/mostly online.


japanese american woman image from osu archives

Portrait of a Japanese American woman from the OSU Flickr Commons collection.


So…librarians should consider adding visual literacy instruction to info lit instruction.  Finding images, citing images, copyright, etc.

Computer programmers and analysts should work to raise the rankings of library collection images in Google and Google Images.  One method is to put them into Flickr; these rank higher than contentDM images in Google.





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