Difficulties Faced by Graduate Students in the Search for Information in Academic Libraries


Information is a resource that is naturally needed in all human endeavors and that is very crucial to the development of a nation, without which there would be no society. Thus, it is now commonly observed that the material prosperity of a nation is linked almost directly to its information wealth.

The library is the most widely used source of information available to literate societies. Librarians must therefore be aware of the kind of information that their users seek and how it can be obtained. In the current information age, not only quality of service is important but also the ability to move forward and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of customers govern the survival of any library. The last two decades has seen the quality management approach gaining a foothold also in the service sector including academic libraries. In both the public and private sectors, libraries are service organizations and as such, they exist in dynamic environment where the demands of the users seem to become ever more difficult to meet.

University libraries functions should always be guided by the values and principles that have been the library’s bedrock for decades. These are the Ranganathan’s laws of library science which assert that a library should be measured by the extent to which it:

  1. selects resources on the basis of user needs;
  2. organizes resources so that they may be identified and accessed to meet efficiently user needs efficiently;
  3. promotes and exposes resources to potential users, engages its users in an ongoing dialogue regarding evolving users needs; and
  4. responds to social and technological treads affecting higher education

These Information resources are then organized using internationally accepted standards such as Library of Congress Classification Scheme to allow easy retrieval. The library has establishing and maintained wide range of services that will support the academic programs of the university and encourage optimum exploitation of the library resources. This includes adopting information dissemination and promotion strategies like current awareness services and selective dissemination of information to ensure optimum utilization of available resources.

The library has highly qualified, experienced and dedicated staff who are well versed in the area of library and information sciences. They provide high quality services to the users of the library by continuously building the information literacy skills of the users through conducting user education and instruction using a variety of methods. As Information literacy has become vital to effective functioning in today’s world, academic libraries have the responsibility of ensuring that the specific information and reference needs of their clients are adequately addressed. Clients require skilled assistance to locate information relevant to both their perceived and real needs.

The library has also intensively adopted information communication technologies that enable provision of effective and timely information services to the diverse users through the use of online services such as current awareness, document delivery and use of online journals and online reference services. This has made information resources accessible to the university community in an efficient and effective manner.

The library boasts of a wide range of up to date information resources in its collection both in print and in electronic format. It also has of a large reading space which is capable of holding a large number of readers at the same time. The library has a good number of high-tech computers and other electronics which enable clients to easily access on-line databases. The library personnel are also highly trained in all the areas of information management and a good number are professionals in their field.

The library serves various functions. To begin with, it acts as an enabling force for learning. The library supports learning in that it provides the right information resources to students and this enables them to complete term papers and research projects. It also provides lecturers with information materials from which they can base the lessons they give in class.

Secondly, the Library provides an environment in which creativity is fostered as it acts as a center for creation and recreation of academic activities. The library promotes the dissemination of information as well as enables networking between researchers and other information users.

Role of the library

Universities are seeking to play a key role in the research and development process. An important element in the research process is the accessibility of information resources and services provided by libraries. Postgraduate students are key producers of research in universities, and an important element in their research process is the access to information and therefore quality of the library system is key in determining the quality of the research output of any university.

The library function is therefore to serve as a base of operations for access to information and resources. This is more so for the graduate students who are pursuing masters and doctoral programmes. The library is key to successful life of leaning and research. Graduate students who successfully utilize library resources effectively find their learning life less stressful and vice versa for those that are not able to utilize library resources successfully Therefore it is important that any institution of higher learning should have well organized libraries that will enable the library user carry out their research with ease.

According to Kuh & Gonyea (2003), it is hard to imagine a university without a library, as this is core to student lives. Most universities are gauged by the size of their library, meaning that libraries are very important to a successful learning life of a student. Academic departments and faculty always assume that graduate students undertaking various progammes in their departments already have the necessary skills from previous training acquired during their undergraduate studies. This usually not the case and libraries have realized that regardless of their prior experience, these students have high level information needs for graduate study and research and often requires advanced instruction to build the sophisticated set of skills they need to be successful in their coursework and research. In ensuring that graduate students are adequately prepared for these demands is critically important that libraries intervene by ensuring that the time taken to achieving a degree, is short. This is achieved through ensuring that graduate students are well trained in the field of information literacy early enough as they start their academic work and introduction of high quality programs that ensure effective research and learning for the graduate students.

According to Convert-Vail (2012), graduate education programs at research universities, through the curricula, degrees, supporting services, and program offerings, are responding to challenges faced by graduate students. Research universities are increasingly concerned with building comprehensive programs for their graduate students that focus on quality of life, professional development opportunities, and alternatives to traditional career routes, in addition to curriculum and academic development. They are building communities of support, providing spaces that meet the demands of today’s curriculum and technologies, creating forums for students to present research, and developing opportunities that foster both independent and collaborative work. Universities are also working to help graduates compete in a global economy. Pressured to keep down costs, and facing competition from for-profit higher education, universities are developing new models for maintaining high quality services and high productivity.

Academic libraries must acknowledge that they now reside in an increasingly competitive marketplace and should react accordingly. One form of response is the adoption of a more patron-centric, rather than collections-centric, orientation for a library. Traditional measure of libraries, such as size of collections and circulation statistics, fail to articulate or demonstrate the impact and value that an academic library offers its host institution. Rasul and Singh (2010) suggested that university libraries play a significant role in supporting research.

University libraries do not just store books and journals and offer space for student learning, but they also provide systematically digitized information. University libraries, as they become more and more digitized, will play an important role in offering a greater support service for young professors and PhD students which will help in the development of their academic careers. In the present times research is taking on increasing importance in universities and colleges. This is more now because universities are making larger allocations for research and the fact that ranking of university is based on their research outputs. In order to satisfy the stakeholders of academic libraries, the role of academic libraries in facilitating research have to be reexamined. In doing so, academic libraries could provide more effective services and supports to their users.

Libraries and librarians play a crucial role in the academic life of a graduate student. They assist graduate students in determining how to begin and proceed through the literature research process, alleviating the associated anxiety many students experience along the way. Embedding librarians in the graduate programs serves to achieve their goals for teaching information literacy, lessened student anxiety, and improved relations with academic departments. Librarians are also placed with the role of to teaching graduate students information literacy so as to increased their skill level and create confidence associated with using the library. They should assist graduate students in determining how to begin and proceed through the literature research process, alleviating the associated anxiety that many students experience along the way. In doing this, librarians establish meaningful relationships with those they serve and become a trusted partner, consequently fulfilling the students’ affective needs that are commonly overlooked.

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As Stated by O’Clair (2013), the benefits of a research librarian who supports subject-specific, graduate level information literacy and the plethora of services available and supported by a research library needs to be clearly articulated and actively established within the user community”. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, including orientations, workshops, and a physical presence in the department. Librarians have the best chance of being successful in their efforts if they meet graduate students at their greatest points of need , which usually occurs early, often during the first year of study Moreover, targeted and tailored services have the highest likelihood of being well-received and ultimately successful.

Information literacy programs efforts will come in handy to address issues and the many challenges faced by graduate students in that it will not only increase their information searching skills but also increase their confidence in research work, such programs should always target the unique needs of graduate students in order to increase proficiency and help students feel more effective and efficient in their information seeking

Information seeking behaviour of graduate students

Information behavior will be considered as it applies to graduate students as they seek, search for, and use information to support their scholarly endeavors, focusing primarily on those who visit Kenyatta university library in the course of their study during the period of the study.

Graduate students often begin their scholarly works by meeting with academic advisors. This is the people who provide them with the directions towards achieving their goals through general guidelines. The academic advisors also recommend to them that they should visit the library for more information. Graduate students also gather a lot of the needed information from other students. The library staff is the most resourceful sources of information when it comes to undertaking any research works. The Internet also play a major role in the life of the graduate student although students continue to use print resources for Convenience and for lack of sophisticated skills required in carrying out online searches

Factors that influence the way graduate user search for information includes convenience, speed and time restrictions; knowledge of services and sources; and course requirements. Wilson ( 1999) defined information behavior as “Those activities a person may engage in when identifying their own need for information, searching for information and using or transferring that information.

Each of the steps that one uses while going through the information seeking behavior process is called search strategy. This may include asking a friend, visiting the library or using one’s personal library or other resources. Some information seeking behavior may require only one strategy while others may require many strategies depending on the complexity of the issue at hand. For a strategy to be successful it must end with the finding of all the needed information, resulting in satisfaction of the user’s information need. Some information seeking behavior may require many strategies with the user calling upon a variety of information sources because the information need is not thoroughly satisfied.

Graduate students have information needs that are often very different from those of undergraduates. These needs can be more sophisticated and complex and are usually dependent on discipline of study and level. Lack of awareness of library resources and services available also determines the level of information access; and the ability to use information retrieval tools in the library can greatly determines the use of resources and services.

Graduate students are usually faced with many challenges in seeking for the required information in library because they simply shy off from asking for what they need from librarians or simply the librarians assume that they are already familiar with library resource from their experience as undergraduate. Understanding the information seeking behaviors of graduate students may better equip librarians, faculty, doctoral supervisors and administration to help shape those behaviors by offering appropriate and needed services and instruction. They should know their disciplines and how to engage in the research process far more adeptly than undergraduate students.

Information needs of graduate students

Graduate users information-seeking behavior results from the recognition of some need, perceived by the user. Users fulfill their identified needs by adopting several forms of behaviour, i.e. the user may decide to use formal systems like libraries or alternatively, the user may seek information from other people, rather than from information systems. In any of the above cases of information-seeking behavior, failure may be experienced therefore user needs must be well defined in order to facilitate effective interaction of the user with the exact resources that will help them satisfy the expressed needs.

According to a survey conducted by Critz et al. (2012) on a series of focus groups among PhD students recounts that Graduate students struggle with their identity as scholars: while they have progressed beyond their undergraduate studies, they have not yet reached the level of scholarship that is expected of faculty. The graduate students interviewed showed a lack of information literacy, as well as overestimating their information skills. They were also hesitant to ask librarians for help even if they felt they needed it. Hence the survey determined that librarians need to reach out to graduate students in order to develop a trusting relationship. Working through faculty advisors may be helpful, but it is not always fruitful, so direct contact is also recommended.

The survey further examined how the need for information literacy training has evolved with the emergence of electronic access. After 15 years, this point has become even more valid considering the facts that graduate user needs usually vary from Judging the quality of information, Learning the available resources, Understanding how to search effectively and Using information responsibly through proper citing and referencing and avoiding plagiarizing published works

Graduate users therefore require the sophisticated use of specialized information sources, and involve synthesis of information from various stages of the scholarly communication process, that is, from primary, secondary, and tertiary sources. Library instruction for graduate students must address this complexity. When developing library instruction programs for graduate students, it is important to keep in mind that students will have varying levels of expertise with library research, that they need to develop specialized skills and abilities, and that they may not be aware of what they need to learn.

The information needs of graduate students are often overlooked. Academic departments and faculty assume they already have the skills or they will acquire them on their own, librarians on the other hand assume that they learn this skills in class or through the faculties but as stated by Rempel (2010), faculty may not have the expertise required to teach the advanced information research skills that most graduate students need. Libraries also may overlook the needs of graduate students, because their attention is often focused on teaching undergraduates basic research skills.

Graduates Students undertake a more complex nature of research and hence have a higher-level of information needs and must therefore possess an advanced set of skills, including the ability to comprehensively search the literature, and this requires more advanced instruction than what is provided and necessary at the undergraduate level. Consequently, it is unrealistic to assume that students entering graduate-level programs have the preparation and experience that is required to be successful.

Challenges of meeting graduate users’ needs

There are many problems faced by graduate students this includes problem in finding authentic information, slow speed of internet, subscription of latest journal is expensive on the internet, unavailability of Internet in the department and load shedding problem .They face problem due to lack of searching skills, lack of time, required information is not accessible to some extent. University libraries must play a key role in ensuring that these problems are overcome at whatever cost. Furthermore the number of graduate students has continued to increase and the mode of learning has changed a lot with introduction of open and distance learning. Al these present challenges and opportunities for university libraries to think about graduate students in a new way and also present a very good opportunities for university libraries to reconsider their approach to graduate student services. Libraries must therefore think of introduction of specialized services, spaces, and instructional programming for graduate students with immediate effects for them to be able to remain relevant.

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Graduate students are more interested with how fast they can be able to access the much needed information as opposed to where or from whom they can get it. Graduate students will attach more importance to locating and obtaining information, and less importance to where the information originated. Library services need to accommodate the actual abilities of scholars to locate and retrieve library material. Sometimes many graduate students take too long to complete their thesis. This is because they find it too difficult to formulate clear topics and to establish appropriate scope of their study. In fact graduate students lack of needed information literacy skills and lack of knowledge of available resources is a major barrier to the success of the graduate students. This would be very easy if only they could know how to utilize library resources effectively but unfortunately this is not the case because as stated by Clair & Clair (2013), many graduate students are unsure of how to conduct the extensive library research that is required, and consequently feel isolated in the process of working on their theses and in addition, they fail to recognize when they should seek input from librarians. Students who have an understanding of the literature review and who are aware of the literature research resources and tools will be better equipped to proceed through the literature review process efficiently and effectively. Librarians are optimally positioned to facilitate this understanding. They become reliable guides in this process by promoting the library’s resources and providing assistance and direction to students along the way.

In order for librarians to design new programs , to justify existing ones and meet expected demands, they ought to know what target groups require from the library, They need to know how the library can help them, and what obstacles prevent them from successful exploitation of library resources considering that: information needs depend on discipline of study and level; lack of awareness of library resources and services available could be a barrier to information access; and use of resources and services depends on ability to use information access tools.

Many graduate students find it very difficult to attend regular classes because of luck of time, this has led to the introduction of distance learning mode of study. However there seems to be little or no correlation between how innovatively an institution delivers distance sources and the way in which it provides library services to distance students and although many consider the library to be the heart of the university, the use of the library is often not in corporate into courses being prepared for distance learning.

The situation on the grounds is that the introductions of distance learning for the graduate students in most institutions do not factor in how the information needs of the students will be addressed. This has been a great challenge to the students who are not able to access the library services as they desire.

In regard to this libraries should liaise with management and university department to ensure proper measure have been put in place to cater for the distance learning graduate users. This can be done through the development of programs that can be incorporated in the distance learning modules that ensures that graduate distance learners are well equipped with skills on use of e-resources, Alternative document delivery services and that communication networks are well placed to facilitate the above.

Libraries are now engaged more in subscribing for on line resources as opposed to the traditional book which the users were more familiar with, this does not completely solve the problem because up to today may users find it easier to read books than it is to read on computer screens and as suggested by Shaffer (2011) Perhaps someday, electronic journals (e-journals) will be as easy to read as their paper antecedents. Advances in display technology could make monitors nearly as pleasing to the eyes as print and paper. Until that happens, however, many have already begun to realize and accept that, if there are indeed large differences in the ways in which paper based information and computer displayed information are used, e-journals may never be directly comparable to their print counterparts. Each serves unique functions for multiple audiences. While reading e-journals is not the same as reading a print copy, many are beginning to acknowledge the possibility of these electronic documents (e-documents) offering users advanced features and novel forms of functionality beyond what is possible in print.

As discussed earlier regardless of their prior experience, graduate students have high level information needs for helping them undertake graduate study and research. This often requires advanced instruction to build the sophisticated set of skills they need to be successful in their coursework and research. Ensuring that graduate students are adequately prepared for these demands is critically important, influencing both retention and the time to achieving a degree, Graduate students often are poorly prepared for the rigors of graduate-level research and study Underprepared graduate students who lack effective information research skills are quite disadvantage, because they may not be able to complete the requirements for their degrees, including the thesis. According to Clair (2012) Universities often invest enormous amounts of money, time and energy in their graduate students. Providing graduate students with adequate resources and support, including the library, is required for protecting and increasing return on these investments and involving a librarian can help to reduce graduate student attrition and improve degree completion rates.

This then means that the first year of graduate study is the best time to establish contact with graduate students to help them become proficient in their information seeking activities. Therefore libraries and academic departments should work hand in hands to develop these essential skills in their graduate students as early as possible.

Many studies done on graduate students have revealed that they lacked the information literacy skills required for graduate-level study, They seek and acquire information in a somewhat random fashion, they recognize that their advisors and instructors feel it is important to search the literature comprehensively and cite all relevant articles, yet some of these same students do not find it important themselves and despite the fact that students feel comfortable with the library’s physical space, most are apprehensive about seeking assistance from library professionals and prefer to ask for help from other sources e.g. the more experienced peers In addition, graduate students are often unaware of the library’s resources and services from which they would benefit. Other challenges faced by graduate students are they lack a clearly defined topic of research, they do not know how to Establish an appropriate scope for their topic.

Graduate students often do not fully understand the nature and purpose of the literature review, a major component of the thesis. Many graduate students are unsure of how to conduct the extensive library research that is required, and consequently feel isolated in the process of working on their theses, according to Rempel (2010), librarians are optimally positioned to facilitate this understanding and with time they become reliable guides in this process by promoting the library’s resources and providing assistance and direction to students along the way as they conduct their researches during literature review.

Solutions to challenges of meeting user needs

Libraries should embark on aggressive user education programmes which will ensure that graduate users are well equipped with relevant skill on how to effectively and responsibly utilise library resources. At the postgraduate level, detailed instruction in methods of searching and formulation of clear requests is necessary. At this level user education should be organized at different information levels to ensure that the needs of all users are met. This implies that training should be organized around levels of difficulty and/or user’s educational background.

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Join and Council (2003) defined information literate persons as: able to recognize when information is needed and having the ability to locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information. Ultimately literate people are those who have learned how to learn. They know how to learn because they know how knowledge is organized, how to get information and how to use information in such a way that others can learn from them. They are people prepared for lifelong learning because they can always find the information needed for any task or decision at hand

Research libraries should put emphasis on planning user-oriented programmes which provide a more responsive, accountable service. This calls for thorough knowledge and understanding of the user group to be served. In order for librarians to design new programmes, justify existing ones and meet expected demands, they ought to know what target groups require from the library, how the library can help them, and what challenges prevent them from successfully exploiting library resources. This is based on the facts that information needs depend on discipline of study and level lack of awareness of library resources and services available could be a barrier to information access; and use of resources and services depends on ability to use information access tools

Graduate students are important members of the university, and can be attracted to an institution by the quality of subject collections. As mentioned by Clair (2012) in Academic Collections in a Changing Environment, graduate students are heavy users of library resources that cover the important core areas of their field, the influential works, and the theory of the discipline. The currency and level of specialty of materials will depend upon the subject and nature of the graduate degree. Graduate students are better equipped to find their way around the technological maze of today’s libraries, but still require assistance from librarians.

It is important then that librarians must find out the information needs of graduate students, investigate the main sources of literature they consult, and establish whether students have had any instruction in library use. Most graduate students lack basic skills on how to use Kenyatta University library services and resources due to lack of adequate training in the use of the library and that some of the students are not aware of the services the library can offer them. Marketing library services could make more students aware of available services and how they could be of benefit to them. Several methods can be adopted to provide graduate user oriented services and many research libraries have assigned or hired an individual librarian to create and guide programs designed for graduate students. These are people whose core business are dealing with their issues and seek to create broad-based services. In many circumstances these people may work in partnership with subject specialists, as a way of ensuring that services provided are in line with specific subjects needs for a given user group. Covert-Vail (2012) has highlighted the following approaches for achieving graduate user oriented services

Research Library Services for Graduate Students

Graduate user program managers usually seek to create a broad based user services for the customers. As they do this they should work in partnership with subject specialists so as to provide a set of services and insights that will help aids better service delivery to the users. In organizations with a dedicated graduate student librarian role, the position is usually located in public services or instructional services, rather than the subject specialist unit. In some instances, graduate librarians exist as a department of one. Regardless of where the position is situated in the organization, one benefit of identifying a specific role is that of coordination—the position provides a point person who can work directly with academic departments and other centralized university services that support graduate students, and they can serve as a bridge between the graduate student population and subject librarians. These individuals initially take on much of the lead role themselves and can be responsible for outreach as well as the creation of elective courses or library modules for other campus partners. The position is “as much about developing services as developing colleagues’ awareness and skills.” In other cases, they extend themselves to librarian colleagues and provide training and development on skills that are then useful to the graduate population. Some graduate student librarians come with an experienced instructional background and parlay that into creating instructional modules that subject librarians can insert into their own teaching and outreach.

Graduate Student Services Committee

Some organizations have created graduate student working groups empowered to further assess graduate student needs and develop programming and even spaces in response. Some libraries have intentionally chosen not to create a specific position, based on the philosophy that graduate student services need to be woven throughout the organizational structure, especially within the subject selector/liaison construct. This model usually results in the creation of a graduate student working group (or committee) with broad membership, consisting of both subject and domain specialists. It often oversees graduate student assessment, develops new graduate-based instructional and informational programming, standardizes communication and outreach tools and messages, and integrates graduate student services within the subject specialist environment.

Subject Librarian Redefined and Support Infrastructure Another approach is to broaden the role of the subject librarian or create a new layer of support infrastructure. Meeting the full spectrum of graduate student needs requires both subject specialists and programmatic or domain specialists, including instructional services, scholarly communication, IT, data specialists, and even basic information literacy. At one institution, for example, the scholarly communication librarian and the subject specialist work together to develop authors’ rights and publishing workshops for graduate students. Other organizations are building new skills directly into the subject librarian role, with expectations of technology and information management skills, scholarly communications expertise, and a stronger focus on outreach to users.

Develop instruction programs to meet these needs

Graduate students have unique needs with respect to library research, and it can be challenging for librarians to develop instruction programs to meet these needs. Graduate students typically take fewer courses than undergraduates, which mean fewer opportunities to integrate instruction into graduate-level courses. One solution is for librarians to develop non-course-based, non-mandatory instruction programs, in an attempt to meet the information literacy needs of as many graduate students as possible


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Convert-Vail, L. (2012). New Roles for New Times : Research Library Services for Graduate Students. Association of Research Libraries, (December).

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Shaffer, B. A. (2011). Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning Graduate Student Library Research Skills : Is Online Instruction Effective ? Graduate Student Library Research Skills : Is Online Instruction Effective ? Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 5(October 2014), 37–41. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2011.570546

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