A Proposal to Investigate the Information-Seeking Behaviors of Chinese Students at Canadian Academic Libraries


Data Collection

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Data Collection

This study uses in-depth qualitative interviews to explore the information-seeking behaviors of 20 Chinese students at the University of Alberta. Restricting the research to one university is helpful for collecting accurate data because the participants share common informational resources and services, and have similar academic requirements.

Presently there are approximately 1,200 Chinese students studying at 21 University of Alberta faculties and schools (statistics from International Students Union). To ensure that there is an even distribution of participants, one representative from each faculty or school will be selected, where applicable. Library School is excluded from the research because library school students have priorities over other students in using library resources. The data derived from library school students is not transferable to other context. Interviewees will be selected using maximum variation sampling to achieve a broad representation of gender, age, academic discipline, employment status, and previous education. Ideally, the 20 participants will include 10 undergraduates and 10 graduates, 10 male students and 10 female students. The Interviewees will also involve married students, mature students, and students with employment experiences. Participants will be contacted through an open invitation at a Chinese Student Union’s orientation session, with advertisements (see Appendix D) posted across campus, and using a snowball technique.

The interviews will be conducted in the fall of 2005 and each last approximately one hour. The data collection process is three weeks. The researcher’s office is always available for interviews. Participants can also choose places where they feel quite and comfortable. The interviews will be audio taped and the researcher will take field notes. A research assistant and a professional transcriber will work together with the researcher during interview and data transcription process.

Semi-structured interview is chosen for the research because it is more flexible and likely to yield more information than the researcher has expected. Because the purpose of the study is to get some insights into the way Chinese students search, locate and evaluate information resources for their academic studies, semi-structured interviews with open-ended questions can stimulate informative conversations and allow participants to recount their past experiences in using universities libraries. Participants are the key of the interviews.

The interview questions (see appendix C) are created by the researcher from the scratch because no current literature accounts for Chinese students’ information-seeking behaviors in Canadian academic universities. There is not a similar interview guide to follow. On the other hand, this research aims to examine whether some research findings in American settings are applicable to Canadian context. Therefore, the researcher designs the interview questions partly based on previous literature review. The interview questions are divided into three categories: use of library services, impact of cultural and communication differences, and the influence of language.

There are four criteria to evaluate a qualitative research: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. To achieve credible data, the researcher recruits representatives from all the departmental affiliations which have Chinese students so as to get multiple and varying perspectives on the issues. Moreover, each interview lasts one hour and the whole research process will last six months. It is a great effort and long engagement. Because the participants are from various backgrounds, the findings of the study may be inconsistent. However, this does not mean the data is undependable. The dependability is not looking for invariance, but for traceable variance. As long as the researcher can track the reason of the difference, the data is dependable. Even though a researcher cannot ensure the data is completely free from the influences of external environments, a researcher should maintain natural and objective, which is the key for confirmablility. The research questions should not have bias and the researcher should be regarded as an instrument in the research. In general, the research findings are transferable to other Canadian university context because Canadian universities are public universities and have similar organizations and missions. The academic context is similar. In addition, the participants are selected using maximum variation sampling to achieve a broad representation of Chinese students in Canadian universities.

However, the research still has its limitations. 20 participants all got their high school or university degrees in China before they started to study at the University of Alberta. However, there might be Chinese international students who get their previous education in an English speaking country and continue to study at a Canadian university. These studentsí information-seeking behaviors may be different from those of the participants. Further research is needed to compare these studentsí information behaviors with those of the participants.

The research has boundaries. The participants are Chinese international students, not Chinese immigrants, nor Canadian born Chinese because their cultures and language are different. In addition, the study focuses on information-seeking behaviors on academic study, not deals with profession or everyday life related information-seeking behaviors.

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The site was created by Aiyang Ma for LIS 600 Capping Exercise.  Last Updated:  February 2006

School of Library and Information Studies | University of Alberta