Is Google ruining research?

Meris Stansbury of eSchool News recently wondered how students’ reading and research habits have been influenced by our Google-centric culture.

She cites research commissioned by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee that says:

[Web users] tend to seek information horizontally–meaning they skim, or bounce from page to page, without reading in depth and rarely return to a previous source. About 60 percent of electronic journal users view no more than three pages, the study found, and 65 percent never return.

The study also reveals statistics about students’ preference for web researching. For instance, 89 percent of college students use search engines to begin an information search, the study found–while only 2 percent start from a library web site.

Are students to blame for this? Or is it a design issue?

In my experience, students don’t use library web sites for research because they are more difficult to use. While libraries contain richer, more reliable information than Google, they aren’t designed as well. Students can’t find relevant data as quickly as they can with Google.
The depth of information a reader seeks is also a design issue.

Good designers can present large amounts of information in an intelligent way, that encourages users to read all of it. Perhaps students are skimming more because information sources aren’t designed to encourage in-depth reading.

Ask any student to compare/contrast their favorite textbook with their least favorite. I’ll bet each textbook presents the same amount of information. But the good textbook packages their data better.

Library web sites (and other rich sources of information) aren’t losing the popularity content because they have lots of data. They’re losing because they’re poorly designed.