Trudi Jacobson


"The Effect of CD-ROM Instruction and Assistance on Search Operator Use," co-authored with Janice G. Newkirk. College & Research Libraries 57 (January 1996), pp.68-76.

Research Statement

Back in 1992 Janice Newkirk and I hypothesized that library patrons who had attended CD-ROM searching classes or who had been directly assisted by librarians would be far more sophisticated CD-ROM searchers. We wanted to know whether such assistance and instruction affects patrons' search skills, and whether the immense investment in patron assistance with CD-ROMs matters. The project involved a two-part collection of data. The first was a survey administered to library patrons using SilverPlatter CD-ROMs during selected periods. The second part involved saving each respondent's search strategy and coding it for the number of different Boolean operators, field searches, and referrals to previous search terms used. The research results indicate our hypothesis is correct, but because we found a weak positive association, additional research would need to be undertaken before we can state with resounding affirmation that CD-ROM classes and assistance help patrons.

Action Based on Results

The University at Albany continued to offer CD-ROM classes, but we changed the focus of what we were teaching in these and course-related classes, based on our scrutiny of 675 search strategies. We simplified what we taught about database searching, and in particular began to stress the importance of database selection, use of the Boolean operator "and" (rather than the frequently observed phrase searches) and the basic importance of correct spelling.


  • Benefits of working with a colleague on a project.
  • Possible to engage in research without being extremely knowledgeable about statistics.
  • Importance of seeking funding for the project.
  • Importance of managing the research project.
  • Importance of informal networking when analyzing results, to gain additional viewpoints, ideas, and expertise.
  • Need to be practical and realistic when developing a questionnaire.


Here is an example of how NOT to construct a questionnaire. There are far too many categories here to allow sufficient data in each category for statistical analysis. Consider what information you have to have, not what you might like to track (which was the problem in this case).


 14.  Before searching today have you attended any of the following
 SUNY Albany Library instructional classes or training sessions? 
 (check all that apply)
 This Semester  Earlier Semester    
 _____      _____       Yes, my class came in for a demonstration ONLY
 _____      _____       Yes, my class came in for a hands-on instruction taught
                        by a librarian
 _____      _____       Yes, I signed up for a demo or general intro class
 _____      _____       Yes, I signed up for a hands-on training class
 _____      _____       Yes, other  __________________________________________
 _____      _____       No
 15. Before searching have you attended any of the following at another
 library?  (check all that apply)
 This Semester  Earlier Semester
 _____      _____       Yes, demo class-specific
 _____      _____       Yes, hands-on taught by librarian class-specific
 _____      _____       Yes, general demo
 _____      _____       Yes, hand-on training not for a class
 _____      _____       Yes, other  __________________________________________
 _____      _____       No
 16. For this or previous searching did you:  (check all that apply)
 This Semester  Earlier Semester
 _____      _____       Read instruction sheets explaining how to use CD-ROM
 _____      _____       Have direct assistance from a librarian
 _____      _____       Use computer tutorial to learn how to search CD-ROMs
 _____      _____       Have direct assistance from a friend
 _____      _____       Have direct assistance from a teach/teaching assistant
 _____      _____       None of the above
 Thank you very much for your time.  We appreciate your assistance in
 our research.  If you have any further comments about your experience
 searching or about this survey, use the back of this paper.


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