January 23, 2022

Journal Article: “Comparing the Information Needs and Experiences of Undergraduate Students and Practicing Engineers”

The following article appears in The Journal of Academic Librarianship. The full text is available (free) online as of Feb. 16, 2019.


Comparing the Information Needs and Experiences of Undergraduate Students and Practicing Engineers


Margaret Phillips
Purdue University 

Michael Fosmire
Purdue University 

Laura Turner
Caterpillar Inc

Kristin Petersheim
Caterpillar Inc

Purdue University 


The Journal of Academic Librarianship
Volume 45, Issue 1
January 2019
DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2018.12.004


Practicing engineers and undergraduate engineering and technology students seek and use information differently within the research and design process. This paper presents the results of a survey conducted by librarians at Purdue University and information specialists at Caterpillar Inc. to analyze self-reported information habits and challenges of both user populations. The authors created surveys containing similar questions for each user group, using a framework that asked participants to think about their information needs and use during a recent engineering project. The survey questions discerned users’ confidence in their information abilities, and their preferences and barriers for finding and using information.

The results of this study reveal differences between students and engineers and are informative for both academic and corporate librarians. Key findings affirm previous research that novices are more confident in their abilities than experts. Additionally, the findings suggest undergraduates prefer quick, easy to digest content like online videos and news, while engineers are more likely to learn by consulting a colleague or other subject expert, and through reading journals and trade literature. While students rated themselves as more confident information users, engineers reported working in a more complex information landscape, which includes internal document management systems and numerous places to look for technical information. Findings within this paper can inform the development of information literacy curricula that better parallels the corporate environment, and can give corporate librarians insight into how recent graduates may expect to interact with information in a new work environment.

Direct to Full Text Article ||| PDF Version (11 pages)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.