Information seeking behaviours in children and how it impacts access to our catalogue

At HPL, we have a children’s catalogue which overlays the adult catalogue. This catalogue is image based rather than text based. An image based catalogue provides non-readers and beginning readers with additional options to find the library materials they desire. Transparent classification structures and reading lists represented by images are the most prominant features. This type of catalogue provides children with a portal to information based on their specific information-seeking behaviour in a children’s context, rather than searching a text-based catalogue in an adult context.

Having said that, since the inception of the children’s catalogue three years ago, there has not been a formal evaluation, report or analysis done on the successes or shortcomings of the catalogue. This is one of the projects which I decided to undertake earlier this year. To properly evaluate if the catalogue is meeting our young users ACCESS needs as they pertain to our collection, I felt it important to first investigate how children search and fulfill their information needs.The report consists of several parts, including a literature review that introduces the existing studies available on how children go about fulfilling their information needs. These studies include aspects such as thought processes, levels of understanding classification structure and word/image recognition. The second part of the report will deal with how our children’s catalogue measures up to the research and the conclusions made therein. This will give us a preliminary idea of how successful our catalogue is in meeting our young users’ needs. The third step in this report is review of an internal staff survey. The results of this survey will provide me with a good idea of how staff view the kids’ catalogue, how they have observed parents and children using the catalogue and general feedback about the catalogue. This will enable me to provide a well-researched summary on the usefulness of the existing children’s catalogue, improvements we can make today and suggestions for future improvements or software.

The issue of the survey is why I am writing today. It’s important to have staff buy-in. As a cataloguer, it is a bit isolating so it’s important we work as a team with front-line staff. As a result, I have been seeking input from well-respected librarians and staff who have a lot to offer as far as suggestions for this survey. Not only do they have past survey experience, they are knowledgeable in the area of youth services. I am not and have been incredibly grateful for their input and suggestions. I have learned quite a bit during this process. However (isn’t there always a however), I have experienced a few “why do we need a catalogue” opinions. Here I have to point out that the majority of librarians and staff have been terrific. I am frequently offered assistance and the goodwill and support that has been generated over this project has been great.

Okay, back to point. The negative sentiments are sometimes difficult to accept and the staff that have expressed this position are quick to point out “it’s nothing personal”. However, many have strong feelings that information on a children’s website can easily replace the need for a children’s catalogue. In fact, they have gone so far as to suggest that getting rid of the catalogue should be an option provided on the survey.

Having come across these sentiments, I have been quick to point out to several of my colleagues that getting rid of the catalogue is not an option. Once I pointed out that this survey was not about getting rid of the catalogue but improving access, I’ve had some staff “cash-out”. Now there are sentiments such as, “do we really need this survey?”, “is this a waste of time?”, “is the survey even necessary?”. This is unfortunate because the results of this report may help the entire library enhance the children’s services in their branches. The literature review and survey results may give us ideas on how to improve our existing catalogue and recommendations for the future. The main issue is whether or not we are successful in providing access to young users. How do they think? Search? Categorize? And, how can we use this information to enhance our services. I see this report as something that can be carried over to our children’s webpage and even in-library displays in the children’s section.

If any of you have conducted any research on how children search, or if you have any helpful hints on survey questions for staff, I am eager to hear them!

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