Student search behaviour in an online public access catalogue: an examination of 'searching mental models' and 'searcher self-concept'

Rebekah Willson, Lisa M. Given

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction. This paper presents a qualitative exploration of university students' experience of searching an online public access catalogue. The study investigated how students conceptualise their searching process, as well as how students understand themselves as seekers of information. Method. Following a search task, thirty-eight university students were interviewed using a qualitative, semi-structured interview design. The interviews explored students' experience of searching, conceptualised aspects of their searches, their information seeking strategies, confidence in searching, and any difficulties encountered. Analysis. The interviews were analysed using a grounded theory approach. The analysis involved iterative review and constant comparison of the transcripts, including line-by-line open coding followed by a second round of focused coding. Results. The results of the project present an emergent theory that explores a set of conceptual patterns in students' searching mental model of online systems, a typology of searchers' perceptions of their information retrieval skills (i.e., their searcher self-concept), and categorisation of types of searchers. Conclusion. With increased knowledge of how students conceptualise their search process and view themselves as seekers of information, educators and information professionals can work more effectively with students to search for the literature of their disciplines. Similarly, system designers can devise interfaces that suit students' needs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInformation Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • information literacy
  • online public access catalogue
  • information seeking
  • information retrieval
  • self-concept

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