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On their own terms: First-year student interviews about everyday life research can help librarians flip the deficit script

Elizabeth Kocevar-Weidinger (Preston Library, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, USA)
Emily Cox (UTSA Libraries, University of Texas, San Antonio, Texas, USA)
Mark Lenker (Lied Library, University of Nevada Las Vegas Lied Library, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA)
Tatiana Pashkova-Balkenhol (McNairy Library and Learning Forum, Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, USA)
Virginia Kinman (Greenwood Library (retired), Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 16 May 2019

Issue publication date: 12 June 2019




The purpose of this study is to investigate how first-year students conduct everyday life research and how, if possible, their everyday research skills can inform information literacy instruction in higher education. Very few studies in information literacy emphasize existing knowledge that students bring with them to college; instead, the emphasis tends to fall on deficits in students’ academic research skills. Strengths-based approaches or asset-based approaches as found in the literature of psychology and education provide a basis for exploring this direction in information literacy education.


The research used a phenomenographic methodology, interviewing 40 first-year students from two large universities, a medium-sized university and a community college.


The qualitative study suggests that first-year students are capable of using information purposefully to learn or research interests that have sparked their curiosities. They are also capable of reflecting on the ways that their investigations fulfilled their purposes, resulted in unexpected outcomes or made them consider their issue in a new light. These existing capacities provide promising starting points for strengths-based approaches to information literacy instruction.

Practical implications

Dialogue with students about prior research experiences enables teaching librarians to plan engaging, authentic information literacy curriculum that acknowledges existing strengths.


This study provides a valuable contribution to empirical evidence of student research skills prior to entering higher education and suggests connections between those skills and the ACRL Information Literacy Framework. In addition, the study provides a case for strengths-based education, activating students’ prior knowledge to learn and create new knowledge. Authors have presented at Library Instruction West, July 2018.



In memory of Susan Cooperstein, mentor, dear friend and lead author of Beyond Active Learning: A Constructivist Approach to Learning, Reference Services Review, 32(2), 2004.


Kocevar-Weidinger, E., Cox, E., Lenker, M., Pashkova-Balkenhol, T. and Kinman, V. (2019), "On their own terms: First-year student interviews about everyday life research can help librarians flip the deficit script", Reference Services Review, Vol. 47 No. 2, pp. 169-192.



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