Over the last couple of decades, there has been a consistent increase in the proportions of the aging population in industrialized countries. With this observation, the older adults in these countries have been assured of a long and fulfilling life. The improvements in life expectancy observed can be explained by a number of developments in the health and social sector, with some being the improved health schemes, technological innovation, and reduction in fertility among other favorable factors (Walker 2006, p. 32). According to Estes, Biggs, and Phillipson, (2003), the gaps between the rich and the poor are frequently changing in most nations, and older people are experiencing the need to secure their future. The populations under-represented in higher education have increased in the recent past. The 80s were significant in the changes in the number of mature students in higher institutions. Some of the courses that saw an increase in their number were managerial and professional classes. Because of the above issues and the desire to be competitive in later life, there has been an increase in the number of mature and elderly students in learning institutions around the world.
The Andragogy principle developed by Malcolm Knowles contains important information and draws a clear distinction between child and mature learners (Estes, Biggs & Phillipson 2003). In common use, the term ‘mature learner, is used to refers to students enrolling in the learning institutions or any other form of learning while at or above the age of 18 years (Estes, Biggs & Phillipson 2003). The term is commonly used in the UK and in parts of Europe. It is interchangeable with the term ‘adult learner’ in North America. Though the terms are interchangeable in both of these regions, there exists a discrepancy in the age at which the one is considered a mature student in the various countries. In the UK, for example, one is considered a mature student if they join an institution of higher learning for their undergraduate degree being at the age of 25 and above years. This strategy is almost similar to the description used in Ireland, with the only difference being that the age is considered at the beginning of the calendar year (1st of January) and not the academic year. For the purpose of this study, the description that will be adopted is the one applied in the United Kingdom. Most institutions have support services assisting the mature students in their population. Examples of these services include the Mature Student Directory, accessible on Qualifax, the National Learners’ Database. There also exist societies and organizations focused on mature students in major institutions.
There has been an increase in the number of these students in higher institutions over the last decade, and their number is slowly approaching that of the traditional learners. Some of the reasons behind the increase in the number include the higher number of people returning to school to complete their studies and some of the students starting their study late. Apart from the age differences that exist between the mature students and the traditional students, there are a host of other differences between the two groups. As compared to the traditional students requiring more external motivation to learn, the mature students have been observed to utilize both external and internal motivators for learning. Depending on the age of the mature patients, another difference is in the physiological differences as relates to sight, audition, and health in general. Mature students often have psychological problems, which may be accompanied by other psychosocial stressors.
Based on the above-listed differences, these two groups of students have different information-seeking behaviors at respective levels of study. One of the areas where the differences in information-seeking are displayed is in the library systems in the institutions of study. A good number of institutions have developed systems to aid in information acquisition skills in the libraries. Formulation of policies has also been done in almost all the libraries to assist these patients. It is worth noting that most of the mature students belong to the generation branded generation ‘y’. The information-seeking behaviors are a characteristic of this generation. They have displayed special methods of utilizing the library systems in institutions of higher learning as discussed in the dissertation.
In this dissertation, a critical evaluation of the information-seeking behavior of mature students is carried out. To achieve this goal, a group of students in the Social Care Degree program at Limerick Institute of Technology was enlisted into the study to establish how they deal with information retrievals, such as information/reference desk inquiry service, electronic resources, and online tutorials. The study also examined mature students’ perceptions of university support services and barriers to study. This attempt was meant mainly to assess the utilization of library services by the mature students in Ireland with the aim of providing appropriate recommendations on how these services could be improved.
For the purpose of the clarity of the discussion in the research and discussion of results obtained, it is important that some of the key terms that are used in the paper be defined. The first and crucial term is a mature learner. For the purpose of this discussion as stated above, the definition of a mature learner that shall be used is that applied in the United Kingdom. According to this definition, a mature learner is any individual above the age of 25 years or in that age who joins an institution of higher learning (Holden 2012, p. 46). The next definition is that of the term information-seeking behavior. For the purpose of this dissertation, information-seeking behavior will be considered the acts, which facilitate the acquisition of academic information and knowledge. Another term that needs definition is the library system. The dissertation will regard the library as a place where the mature students gather information in the learning institutions, and not in any other form of a library. The LIT Library is bi-locational and this means the students can access it with ease. The Technical Library and Headquarters are located at the main Moylish Park Campus. The Art Library is located at the Clare Street Campus, which is convenient to both mature and traditional school students.
Several researchers have ventured into this field of study. Their research has enabled the understanding of both the mature students and library systems in learning institutions. Others have also discussed the information-seeking behaviors of mature students. However, there exists scanty literature linking the learning of mature students in library institutions. In one of the studies on information-seeking, a description was made for the steps followed including the perception of need, the search itself, finding the information, and using the information to either satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Krikelas model of learning has been widely studied. This model states, “ information-seeking is based on ‘‘need,’’ a concept which is closely related to motivation and consequently to many theories of learning” (Eisenberg, & Brown, 1992, p. 213).
Another model of learning is that suggested by Carol C Kuhlthau, which states that emphasis is made on the cognitive skills and “as they increase, so does information-seeking effectiveness” (Kuhlthau, 1991, p. 368). Kuhlthau’s model, as opposed to Krikelas’s model, expands beyond the actions of seeking. It focuses even on the thoughts actions and feelings of the person seeking the information as they proceed through the whole process (Kuhlthau, 1991, p. 368). This model includes the cognitive issues in information-seeking including the aspect of confusion, doubt, anxiety, and confidence (Kuhlthau, 1991, p. 368).
Apart from the two models that are suggested, other models exist with the best example being the one suggested by Eisenberg and Berkowitz (1992, p. 28). These two researchers proposed a model based on the ‘‘Big Six Skills’’, which were “task definition, information-seeking, implementation, use, synthesis, and evaluation” (Eisenberg, & Berkowitz, 1992, p. 29). This model according to Berkowitz and Eisenberg is flexible and non-linear allowing information-seeking to be studied in an appropriate way (1992, p. 28). Motivation plays a special role in information-seeking, and many researchers have explored the relationship. Mature learners also need motivation such as the traditional learners in their information-seeking.
In the “hierarchy of needs” that Abraham Maslow identified, physiological needs were high followed by safety, belongingness, esteem, and self-actualization in that order (Case, 2006). In higher institutions, it is crucial to establish the existing hierarchy, especially relating to mature students. Some of the other theories that are used to describe the motivation of individuals in their studies are the “theory of achievement motivation” that identifies at least three non-hierarchical needs: the need for affiliation, the need for power, and the need for achievement (Small, 1998). Apart from motivation, critical thinking is another of the qualities that are necessary during information-seeking and the learning process in general. The librarians should be aware that some of the students in their libraries might experience problems in critical thinking. This issue may hinder their information-seeking. Critical thinking in information-seeking behavior for mature students is widely recognized as a major hindrance in the utilization of library services (Robinson, & Reid 2007, p. 35). One of the studies conducted to prove that critical thinking is an important factor in the information-seeking habits of students is the Grinnel College study (Trosset 1998, p. 48).
The other factor that is important in the learning process and information-seeking is the various theories of learning that exist. However, the learning theories are stated to be applicable where the student is motivated. They, therefore, apply where the student is adequately motivated (Trosset 1998, p. 48). Mature students have some factors, which act as motivators in the learning process, and these influence the success in their use of information systems such as the library. Some of the theories that have been fronted to answer the question of what motivates students to include the behavior theory and the control theory (Trosset, 1998, p. 48).
The positive and negative reinforcements might be used to reinforce behavior in animals and human beings in particular. This argument comprises the behavior theory. According to the theory, students who perform in the desired way are rewarded to enhance their performance and reinforce the behavior, while a punishment follows for those students who do not perform as expected (Grace, 2013, Para.4). Students acquiring behavior this way have been found to be easily vulnerable to any change, and they change their habits whenever an opportunity presents. This behavior is also transferred to the learning habits of the students. Mature students are not left behind.
William Glasser developed the ‘‘Control Theory’’ of behavior which states that “response to outside stimulus, behavior is determined by what a person wants or needs at any given time, and any given behavior is an attempt to address basic human needs such as love, freedom, and power, etc” (1986, p. 12). If the desired behavior, therefore, addresses the need of students, they will respond appropriately with this applying even in the information-seeking behavior (Glasser 1986, p. 12). The information searching systems in the library institutions should be constructed with this in mind, and they should show the students the right path in information-seeking.
In another study conducted on mature students in Canada and their information behaviors, there existed overlaps between the daily and academic needs of mature students in terms of their information needs (Glasser 1986, p. 12). The study set out to determine the identities of mature students and their information behaviors (Glasser 1986, p. 12). Mature students are known to have other issues to handle in their social lives as opposed to traditional students. They include the parenting roles and the educational barriers (Friedman 2002, p. 97). According to Glasser, studies of mature students’ educational and informational needs “reflect two main themes: a focus on the barriers and conflicts in mature students’ academic and informational experiences, and a distinct separation between academic and everyday needs” (1986, p. 12).
Most of the studies conducted on mature students focus on their everyday needs, and how these act to determine the levels of success that they display in their studies (Glasser 1986, p. 12). Savolainen’s (1995) reveals an overlap that exists between the information needs of mature students and their working and other environments. According to Savolanen, the information needs of students arise before they have set their foot on the tertiary learning institutions, and for the mature students, this begins with the desire to go back to the learning process, which is then followed by the actual choosing of the institution of choice (1995, p. 264). For the traditional students, however, the transition to the higher institutions is usually swifter and easier, as the institutions usually provide them with the relevant materials. These include the university calendars and other applications that enable the student to have smooth transitions to the institutions. The libraries in most of the institutions also have materials for these students to support their information needs (Lawson 2005, p. 29). According to Lawson “Mature students, however, do not have access to such collections and must use other strategies to solve their information needs” (2005, p. 29).
information-seeking behaviors of students are greatly affected by the prevailing technology. Libraries in institutions of higher learning tend to compete with technology to enhance the knowledge acquisition by their students. The mature students in the current generation are said to have been born in the communication age. They have therefore grown up in front of a screen. Oblinger and Oblinger (2005, p. 32) state that there is an observed decline in the traditional in-house reference statistics in libraries with the reason stated above being thought to be perpetuating this decline.
As opposed to their conventional counterparts who are joining the higher institutions with adequate knowledge on the use of information technology, mature students face a challenge in the utilization of library resources due to their adaptation towards meeting the needs of the contemporary students (Oblinger, & Oblinger 2005, p. 34). Modern-day students are described as being technology savvy. They can comfortably use a number of social sites on the internet. They are also described as requiring instant results in anything that they search for and want to know. It is because of this that “Reference librarians, aware of the need to accommodate this new brand of users, are scrambling to meet them “on their own turf” and “on their own terms” (Golderman & Connolly, 2007).
Shaundra Walker (2006) writes that if academic libraries want to remain “vital” and “useful” to the current generation of students, it is necessary for them to determine how students access and use information. Researchers agree with this notion and a belief, “academic librarians need to know more about the preferences and needs” (Walker, 2006) of the current crop of college students has therefore emerged. This case has led to the general information-seeking system in the libraries being focused on the current generation of students leaving the mature students to adapt without any help. The measure taken by libraries to aid in the information gathering has not been of many benefits, as the students do not even find them easy and interesting to use in the end. As Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) concluded in the student technology survey that they conducted, the majority of respondents “preferred a moderate amount of IT in their classes” and that “face-to-face” interactions were preferable to online options (p. 2.11). They continued to indicate, “The implication is that colleges and universities should not assume that more technology is necessarily better” (Oblinger & Oblinger 2005, p. 2.11).
A number of researchers have defined the learning habits and behaviors of adult learners and in effect, those mature learners. These are said to be different from those of the other regular and traditional students, who have a different method of information acquisition. In Ireland, there has been a desire to increase the number of mature students in the institutions of higher learning. This desire is thought to be driven by the desire to remain competitive in the world economy (Given 2002, p. 34). This case has led to the increase of mature students in the institutions with the number of these students doubling over the years (Given 2002, p. 34) thus helping in the achievement of the set objectives of increasing their number, but not without the creation of other problems. The students are known not to perform better than their younger counterparts at the respective disciplines- a situation that has been blamed on the information and generation mismatch (Given 2002, p. 36). The library and other information systems have been blamed for facilitating the problem by operating in the favour of the regular traditional students at the expense and without consideration of the mature students (Given 2002, p. 36).
In Ireland, the available literature indicates that the number of mature students who are going back for higher education has doubled over the years (Given 2002, p. 33). This rate of change in the number of mature students has been explained in a number of ways. However, the most popular is the desire to improve the employment cadres and/or to obtain a promotion at the workplace. Another reason for the observed increase is due to the competitiveness of the job industry. In fact, since the number of professionals in all the areas has increased, employers are moving to use various levels of academic qualifications to provide employment (Given 2002, p. 34). There are those who argue that the generally good performance of the economy in the country has made education more affordable to those who could not do it at a time that was more appropriate for them (Given 2002, p. 34). With all these explanations, however, it remains to be seen whether the enrolments will continue on an upward trend in Ireland.
The information-seeking behaviors of mature students have also been discussed in other studies, with these focusing on the utilization of information on all avenues of their lives including in the learning institutions (Given 2002, p. 37). The policies that exist in these institutions are also a focus of research, with these being described as more centered on the needs of the other undergraduate students apart from the mature students (Given 2002, p. 38). The systems that are applied in the search of information are, therefore, not tailored to the needs of mature students in the libraries.
This section of the paper describes the research methodology that was used in the study to determine how mature students interact with the library and information services in third-level institutions. It also comprises a description of the sample size and the characteristics of the individuals chosen, the settings in which the research was done, procedures used in recruitment, methods of data collection used, and the ethical issues. The section also consists of the instruments used and the methods used in data analysis.
Methodology and design
The purpose of this study was to determine how mature students in third-level institutions engage with the library system. A literature search was conducted on the studies detailing the strategies in which mature students use to engage with library and information services at Limerick Institute of Technology, with an explicit hub on information-seeking tactics. The inclusion criteria were the language used and the timing of the research. Studies selected had to be in English and not more than 50 years old. Studies were located using the relevant electronic databases such as Library OPAC and Information Abstract (LISA), Emerald and Library, Information Science, Technology Abstracts (LISTA), Science Direct, and EBRARY – online Ebooks. Search terms included mature students, information, library services, and library behaviors.
The most appropriate were picked and further scrutinized until the final list of studies was obtained. An evaluation in detail followed where the findings were reported and compared. For achieving the above set objective, questionnaires were developed and used in the collection of numerical data, and this qualified the study as a classification of quantitative research. As Burns and Grove (2005) state, “…quantitative research uses numerical data and statistical analysis to obtain information about the world giving the opportunity to describe and examine the possible relationship among variables” (p. 23). The design was descriptive and correlational. Therefore, it did not qualify as an experimental study, which was suitable for the study since, as Burns and Grove (2005) state, “Correlational studies examine the relationships between two or more variables and provide the opportunity to determine the pattern and the strength of the existing relationships and also allow for hypotheses generation” (p.35).
Non-experimental studies are widely used in the education discipline with the other disciplines that commonly use it being in health disciplines where that experimental manipulation of human characteristics is not ethical. This study also has advantages over other methods of study that were not used. According to Polit and Beck, “Studies that combine descriptive and correlational characteristics examine variables and also describe relationships among them” (2004, p. 14).
The study utilized convenience sampling of the population of mature students at the Limerick Institute of Technology, which was the institution chosen for the study. The sample constituted of 997 mature students in a total population of 3985 undergraduate students. The combined population of mature students around campus was 1429, and this was the population for the year 2012/2013. The inclusion criterion for the sample selection was based on the definition of a mature student that is stated above. Thus, a participant had to have joined the institution at the age of 25 years or above. The rest of the students chosen at random were those who had joined the institution at a younger age, and these were used as the control group. The participants were also required to be able to answer the questionnaire or participate in personal interviews.
The sample size was determined by a number of factors, with time and convenience being some of them. According to Field, many rules for calculating the sample size for regression exist, and these have different situations of use (2005). For the purpose of this study, the sample size was also dependent on the number of predictors that were present. Field (2005) states that one of the commonest rules for calculating the sample size for regression is 10-15 cases for each of the predictors in the model. According to him, the formulae for calculating the sample size vary. According to Field, “The first rule is based on the regression model overall test; the minimum sample size is calculated as 50+8k (k = number of predictors). The second rule is based on an individual predictor test; the minimum sample size is 104+k (k = number of predictors)” (2005, p. 12).
As stated above, the Limerick Institute of Technology was the base of the study, and the subjects used for it were selected from here. The institution has a total undergraduate population of 3985 with the number of mature students being 997 for the academic year 2011/12 constituting a proportion of about 25%. The mature students registered for the year were 217 out of the 1153 registrations for the same year. The tertiary campus used for the study had a total undergraduate population of 623 students. The population of mature students was 38% of the total population. The institution was considered appropriate for the study since it had an operational Library ‘Book Scheme’ from the Student Assistance Fund. This scheme began in the library in September 2004 books are purchased for mature students or students who are experiencing financial difficulty with respect to purchasing core recommended course material (Holden 2012, p. 46). Limerick institute of technology was also chosen based on the location, which was of interest to the study. Data obtained from this study would then be used to generalize the entire population of Ireland and especially the mature students in the learning institutions.
For the purpose of this study, ethical guidelines will be followed to ensure that the rights of the participants are not interfered with and that they are aware of the research and participate willingly. Study approval will therefore be sought from the university ethical committee that is concerned with research in the institution and by its members in compliance with the ethical standards at the institutions. The federal regulations protecting human rights will also be followed appropriately (Field 2005). The questionnaires will not have a place for the subjects to fill in their names, and a numbered code will be used instead. This will ensure the protection of subjects’ respect, privacy, and information confidentiality. The principal investigator (PI) will therefore assign a study identification number to each subject in the order in which the research subjects will enroll for the study as required (Field 2005). The participants will also be provided with the opportunity to participate in the study or not to. They will be provided with a set of rules of the study in each of the questionnaires.
Data Collection Procedure
The questionnaire that was used in the data collection was administered to the Social Care Degree program students who were the students selected to represent the population in the learning institution. The first part of the questionnaire consisted of the gender of the participant, the age category of the participants, and the current year of study. It also consisted of the student’s status at the college, this being undergraduate, postgraduate, evening students, and distance learners. The next section consisted of the information regarding library use. In this section, the reasons for use of the library were determined along with the help offered by the library staff.
The section also determined the use of the internet in the library as well as the cataloged within it. More information on the use of the library use was also collected in this section. The next section enquired about the information quality that was obtained in the institution’s library based on age followed by a section on the awareness of the students on any of the schemes that the library had set in place to assist them in the information-seeking process. The attitudes of the students towards the whole library in the institution were also determined in this section with the section that followed eliciting the opinion of the participants on the measure that they would recommend to improve the library system.
The main instrument used for the purpose of this study is a questionnaire, and this was administered to all the participants in the study. The Social Care Degree program students who numbered 75 in number were the sample population used in the study. The questionnaire consisted of all the parts listed above with questions being focused on the specific objectives that were established. Another instrument that was of use in the data collection is the use of interviews. Before the interviews were conducted, a key informant interview guide (KIIG) was prepared to aid during the interview and to keep it objective and focused. The use of the interviews was mainly in the assessment of the attitude of the staff in the library and their knowledge of the needs of the mature students.
When the collection of the data was completed, the results were analyzed using the preferred methods. Based on the best methods of data analysis as stated by the field, the Kolmogorov-Smirnov and Shapiro-Wilk tests were used to determine the normal distribution of the principal variables (2005). Both of these tests were statistically significant at a p-value less than.05, which is the value that is usually used to indicate non-normal distribution (Field, 2005). The analysis of the data was performed based on the research question. Descriptive statistics should be used to describe the results of descriptive questions (Field, 2005), which was the case in the study. The other method of data analysis that was utilized is the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS), version 17.0, which was used to make a statistical analysis of the results based on the documented advantages over other methods (Fields, 2005). Alpha and power level was set at the traditional values for social science research (0.05, 0.8) with the goal of maintaining good statistical power and statistical significance (Field, 2005).
In summary, this section entailed a description of the qualitative and quantitative designs used to show investigate the interaction of mature students with the information systems in tertiary institutions. Some of the items in methodology that were discussed include the characteristics of the sample, the settings of the study, methods in sample recruitment and data collection, study ethics, and data analysis. The questionnaire and the interview were also discussed as the key tools used in the study.
Outline of the study
The study thesis is on the interaction between mature students and the information services in the third level institutions. The study also attempts to determine if learning institutions at the same level provide adequate learning facilities for the mature students. Before the description of the above research question, it is important to have a description of the reasons why the mature students are returning to school, and their information-seeking behaviors. The study will thus compare the information-seeking behaviors of the traditional students below the age of 25 of joining tertiary institutions to that of mature students.
Based on the findings of the differences in the information-seeking behaviors of these two populations of students, the next thing will be to evaluate whether the library policies in place are a hindrance to their information-seeking methods, and what measures exist to ensure that the students are not disadvantaged. The social Care Degree program students are the cohort of choice in the institution. The choice was made based on convenience. The information retrieval services in the institution have been regarded as advanced and efficient in the past. However, there are few studies determining the effects it has on mature students and whether it affects their performance. The study will also examine the perceptions of mature students towards the university support services and enlist any barriers to their study behaviors. Recommendations will then be made on how to improve any of the services and rectify any failures found within the system.
Setting the scene
The generation of people born between the years 1980 and 1994 grew up in an environment where the digitalization of daily activities was taking place (Holden 2012, p. 46). This generation is regarded as having “grown around the television screens, computers, video games, and movies” had (Cerf, & Navasky 1984). Their research skills have been studied to establish the effects that electronic devices have. Most of these students are the ones joining the institutions of higher learning as mature students. The generation in which they were born may have an overall negative effect on their information-seeking habits. These students know only the use of gadgets such as computers in the information gathering, and books are not their preferred mode of study. The question is how the libraries in learning institutions aid them in their learning and what measures exist to this effect.
Aims and Objectives
For any study to be objective and accurate, the researcher has to formulate aims and objectives, which act as a guide and a means of measuring the findings. For this particular paper, the objectives are classified into the main objective and the minor objectives facilitating the key aim of the study, which is:
- To examine the ways in which mature students engage with library and information services at Limerick Institute of Technology, with a specific focus on information-seeking behaviors,
Therefore, the objectives of the study are
- To examine mature students’ perceptions of university support services, the barriers to their study, and to provide appropriate recommendations towards improving these services
- To find out the number of mature students in Limerick Institute of Technology
- To find out the exact number of mature students in a group of students in the Social Care Degree program and their proportion
- To evaluate how these mature students deal with information retrievals, such as information/reference desk inquiry service, electronic resources, and online tutorials
In line with the research aims and objectives listed above, it is possible to generate some of the questions that will be used as a guide in the formulation and carrying out of the research. As relates to the aim of the study, therefore, the main research question that the research attempts to answer is
- What are the perceptions of mature students towards the student support services?
- What are the barriers of information-seeking associated with them?
Some of the other questions the paper will attempt to answer to facilitate in the answering of the main research question are also listed below:
- Who are mature students in the institutions of higher learning?
- What proportion of the general student population do these students make up?
- What proportion of them is in the Social Care Degree program?
- What are the existing policies in the library system in Limerick Institute of Technology how do the mature students deal with information retrieval such as information/reference desk enquiry service, electronic resources, and online tutorials?
The study will then answer these questions.
As discussed above, the number of mature learners in our institutions of higher learning has been on the increase, and this is due to the factors indicated above. The performance of these set of students has been of great significance to the educational system, therefore. All avenues are being explored on how to improve on the same. There exists a knowledge gap in the literature examining the performance of the mature students as compared to traditional students. Though the examined literature provides varying results on the performance between the two groups, there are few researchers indicating the causes of disparities in the performance.
However, one of the major causes of the differences in performance in class for the two groups has been stated as being because of their differences in information-seeking behavior. This issue has not been studied in a qualitative research study with the various authors depending on other sources for the information. There is, therefore, an apparent knowledge gap in this area. As such, it is important to carry out research on it. It is a personal conviction that this research will be of significance to the Limerick Institute of Technology and other institutions of higher learning with a population of mature learners. It will enable policy formulation to facilitate the acquisition of information through the respective library systems, as well as ensure that this group of students is not disadvantaged.
For the 75 students to which the questionnaire was administered, all of them answered the gender question. The females responding to the questionnaire were 53 with their male counterparts consisting of the rest 22. Their percentages were 70.67% and 29.33% respectively as indicated below (See table in Appendix 1)
All the respondents filled this section and the section on age that followed. The next section on age was then answered where the participants indicated their age category. 44% of the students were in the age category of 23 to 32 years with the exact number being 33 students. The next category of 33 to 42 years had 22 students, and this constituted 29.33% of the sample population. In the neat category of students between the ages of 43 to 52 years, the number of students in the sample was 13 with this making up 17.33% of the sample. The last category of the respondents was between the ages of 53 and 64. This group had the least of members, with their exact number being 7.
The next section evaluated the academic years or the level of study of the respondents. The respondents in their first year of study were 8 in number and this was 10.67% of the population under study. The second year of study had 33.33% of the sample population, and this was 25% of the students representing the largest sample of the students. Each of the third and fourth years of study contributed 24% of the students in study, with each having 18 students each. Apart from the classification based on the years of study, another classification based on the status of the students at the institution was also used. In this classification, the bulk of the participants fell under the category of undergraduate students with the exact number being 65 and the percentage being 86.67%. The rest (10) were undergraduate students with their proportion being 13.33%. Though the study had sought to enlist evening students and distance learners, none of the students in these populations was present for the study.
After the definition of the participants based on the demographic characteristics, the next section was to determine the library use. The questions that were answered include the reasons for visiting the library. Of the 75 students polled, none declined to answer the questions. They could choose one or more of the listed choices. The largest percentage of the students indicated that the main reason for visiting the library was to borrow books with the number being 67 students. This was closely followed by the number of students who went to the library to study, with their population being 45 (72%). The next group of students visiting the library did so with the aim of using the computers present there. This population was 56 representing 74.67% of the study participants.
The next category was that of students who visited the library in the institution according to the study did so to use printers there, and this was 43, representing 57.33% of the study population. The next category of students visiting the library to use the journals had 31 students representing 41.33% of the study population. 30.67% of the students (23) went to the library to use the internet to search the online catalogues while 28 (37.33%) went there to search the online databases. Those who went to use the group study rooms in the library were 31 representing 41.33% of the sample population. The graph below shows the above information (see details in Appendix 2)
The efficiency of the library was gauged by evaluating whether the students visiting it were able to find the materials they were looking for. A series of replies were provided from which the students had to choose. The largest percentage replied that they frequently got what they were looking for, with this being (37) 49.33% of the sample population. Students who always got what they were looking for were 14 (18.67%), those who got it ‘sometimes’ were 23 (30.67%). Only one person ‘seldom’ got what he or she was looking for in the library. None of the students reported getting what they were looking for in the library, and this was a good indicator for the institution.
With the library evaluated, the staff followed. The level, at which they assist the students were evaluated. 53.33% (39) of the students reported that the staff is extremely supportive of their information needs, and the number was closely followed by those feeling that the staff was ‘very’ assistive 30 (40%). 8% of the students thought that the staff was somewhat assistive in their information needs with the exact number of students being 6. None of the students thought that the staff was not very helpful at all. The graph below represents the above information (See Appendix 3 for details)
As concerns the opening hours of the library in the institution, the students that strongly agreed that the hours opened were adequate for them were 18, with this being 24% of the group. 46.67% of the students (35) agreed that the hours were adequate, with 11 of them choosing to be neutral in the question (11). The rest of the students either disagreed with the idea that the opening hours were adequate with others 9.33% strongly disagreeing.
As regards the use of the library website, 55 of the students (73.33%) reported using the website, with the rest 20 (26.67%) stating that they do not use the website. A significant number of the students (73.33%) also reported that they felt confident while using the online resources that the library had provided (55). The rest 26.67% did not feel confident (20). The services that were accessed via the library network were also investigated, and the respondents ticked those that they frequently accessed through the service. The results were; opening Hours 24 (32%), Library Catalogue 35 (46.67%), Online Databases 48 (64%), Summon 35 (46.67%), E-Journals 36 (48%), E-Book Resources 33 (44%), Library Information 15 (20%), Information literacy e.g. Epigeum, Write it Right, Endnote 10 (13.33%), Inter-Library Loans 5 (6.67%), Ask a Librarian 12 (16%) and Library guides/FAQ’s 3 (4%).
When asked how easy it was for the students to obtain the information they needed in the library information system, only 7 agreed that it was extremely easy (9.33%)with 41.33% (31) agreeing that the process was very easy. 37.33% said it was moderately easy with 6.67% stating that it was slightly easy. The rest 5.33% stated that it was not easy at all. The majority of the students (50.67%) also stated that they found the materials they needed properly shelved in the library, with 24% strongly agreeing that this was done. Approximately 22.67% of the students were neutral on the issue with 2.67% of them disagreeing with the library shelving system. None of the respondents strongly disagreed that the material they required was not adequately shelved in the library.
For the students who used the interlibrary loan services, 42.67% of the students were satisfied with it with 2.67% not being satisfied. However, a major observation is that most of the students (54.67%) had never used the ILL service in the institution. The students polled indicated that the noise levels in the library were unacceptable with only 20% of the sample population agreeing that the noise level was acceptable. When the assistance of librarians was sought, the majority of students (98.67% indicated that the librarians were of great help in the information-seeking. Only one person did not find their information being helpful. Asked whether the students would accept lunchtime or evening training on the use of library resources, 44 students (58.67%) stated that they were welcome to the idea with the rest (41.33%) declining to comply with it. Another 68 students representing 91.89% of the population agreed that the library training room is an important resource, with the rest 8.11% (6) disagreeing with this. Asked whether they were aware of the special access book scheme service run by the library, 64% of the students indicated having knowledge on the same with the rest 36% stating they had not heard of it.
From the study above, the female mature students are reported to be more than their male counterparts are, and this is supported by a number of studies (Given 2002, p. 34). Some of the reasons why the female students are more in number include the larger population of females in the nation, the higher expected life expectancy, and the general observation of female students having the desire to pursue further education (Holden 2012, p. 46). More female students are also reported to be leaving the learning institutions at a younger age to start a family after which they choose to go back and further their studies. The larger female population in the study group could have influenced the outcome of the study based on the observation that the female students demonstrate better use of information systems (Holden 2012, p. 46). The female population proportion in the institution also reflects the ratio of students that exists in other learning institutions of the same level with the same applying for the mature students (Holden 2012, p. 46).
Most of the mature students also joined higher institutions at a younger age, and this explained the high number of them in the category of learners in the age of 23 to 32 years. The age of mature students is very significant in their information-seeking behavior with different ages having different preferences based on the environment in which they grew up. The category of learners in the age bracket of 23 and 32, for example, display different information-seeking behavior compared to those in the category of 53 to 64. This finding may explain the differences in the data obtained in the study. The older adult learners are likely to face challenges in the use of the internet and other services in the library. They are also less likely to ask for assistance (Keogh 2002, p. 24). Most of the students displaying displeasure with the library services were in this category of learners, and this means that they were not comfortable with the existing services.
As indicated above, the majority of mature students were in the second and third year of study. This category was not explained by any of the factors. There might have been a variation in the enrolment throughout the years. Most of the students were also undergraduates with the reasons for visiting the library being mainly the information-seeking. This case therefore means that the students had the dewier to use the library’s information-seeking service. The different kinds of doing the searches employed are the manual and computerised searches. The greater number of students utilized the computers, with most of them being able to use the internet in their searches. This means that the information sharing and acquisition in the library was adequate for them. However, a significant proportion of the students preferred to borrow books or read within the library. Some of the reasons for the students to use the books as a primary method of information-seeking were because they could not use the internet services in the library, which required the assistance of the librarians.
The library ranked highly on the provision of information to the mature students. The majority of them reported of getting the materials they needed in the right place thus placing the institution’s library as a place for information-seeking and offering services to the mature students. The materials that the students’ desired, however, may be determined by their knowledge of the services being offered by the library, and most of them were aware of them. As indicated above, some of the barriers in the information-seeking for mature students in learning institutions are the attitude of the staff in the library, and the competence that they bring here (Cerf, & Navasky 1984, p. 35: Wurman 2000). In this particular study, the level of satisfaction with the services offered by the staff in the library was remarkable with most student expressing satisfaction in them.
The library was efficient in the provision of services to the mature students according to the above information. However, the hours available for them to do their information-seeking were reported to be inadequate. A number of students said that they were not satisfied with the opening hours of the institution, which affected the learning that took place here. According to Fisher, mature students take longer in the learning process, and this may explain why they needed more hours to do their studies in the library (2005, p. 345). Most of the mature students are also involved in other social activities such as raising their families (Fisher 2005, p. 345), which may also influence the information-seeking behavior and explain the need for more study hours and odd studying hours such as late night and weekends.
Most of the students also reported that they used the library websites. They also reported that they had the knowledge in the use of this form of seeking information. However, a significant number of students did not know how to use the information provided in the networks, and the main problem was in the knowledge of how to use these websites. The library offers a number of services online. These students cannot benefit due to their problem. Most of the students used the internet to access the catalogues and access the online databases that have unmatched resources in the term of knowledge. They also accessed the online journals. Those that were not able to use these services were disadvantaged. A significant proportion of these students reported that the library system did not present an easy way of presenting information to them. This case may have been a hindrance to their information-seeking, and may have caused them to seek other methods.
Some of the concerns that the students raised include the large number of passwords that are required in the information-seeking process in the library and the inability of some of the links to work. Summon was the other area that most of the student dwelt on, with the recommendation that it be made user-friendly. Some of the students also suggested that computer classes and other measures be made to ensure that the skills of the mature students in information-seeking are sharpened to ensure fair competition with their other counterparts. For those of the students that were able to use the internet and the library resources, a suggestion was made to have the e-books being made available, as the number of hard copies was not enough.
The library book scheme and loan services were known to only a few of the students, with a significantly large number of students being involved. However, some of the students were not aware of its existence since they had never used the service. Training the students in the use of library resources is a good way of ensuring that they are able to utilize those (Case 2006). The majority of students accepted this strategy. They stated that they were welcome to any training at lunchtime or in the evening hours. This strategy would make them competitive in their respective fields, as they would be able to sharpen their information-seeking skills. Generally, the mature students require assistance in their information-seeking skills. Their learning behavior allows them to utilize the library institutions. Librarians and authorities in learning institutions should ensure that their libraries are friendly to the population of these students to ensure and facilitate their information-seeking habits.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In conclusion, the number of mature students in the learning institutions has increased all over the world, and reasons for this increase have been postulated. Mature student have been described with their expectations of learning institutions being outlined. The information-seeking behaviors of these students have been investigated and compared with those of the other traditional students, with the factors affecting it also being outlined. Policies in place in the learning institutions to assist these students have also been discussed. A cohort of students in the Limerick Institute of technology has also been used to explore the mature students and their information needs with the library being the focus of the study. The results of this study have been discussed, with appropriate recommendations such as information literacy tutorials being made. The perceptions that mature students have on the university support services have been explored with the barriers to the information-seeking being addressed.
The study also focuses on the recommendations that were made by the students participating in it. Most of the students were in agreement with the proposal to introduce learning programs on the use of library information services, as this would enhance their skills in the information-seeking. The paper progressively examines the utilization of library services by the mature students all over the world and specifically in Ireland. From the research, it is apparent that measures are in place to ensure that these students get the most out of the education system. The feedbacks from the students and other studies done on the same topic indicate that the right policies are in place and the library system is both accessible and available for use by these students in Ireland based on the institutions sampled. However, a number of recommendations were also made on how these services could be improved. Librarians are crucial in this recommendation. A suggestion follows that they should increase in number in every institution with a special training being given to them on how to handle the needs of mature students. This strategy would go a long way in ensuring that these students get the educational standards compatible with those of their younger counterparts. For other students and librarians outside Ireland, the findings presented in the research will be of help in determining the various gaps that need to be sealed by either students or librarians in an attempt to get the best out of libraries.
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|Accessing Library by Gender|
|Reasons for Accessing Library|
|Look at Journals||41.33333333||31|
|Search the Online Catalogue||30.66666667||23|
|Search the Online Databases||37.33333333||28|
|Group Study Rooms||41.33333333||31|
|Are Staff Supportive?|
|Not very Helpful||0||0|
|Not Helpful at all||0||0|