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Universities and colleges -- Evaluation, Academic libraries, Information literacy


Returning students - those with a significant lapse in time during their formal education - make up a large and growing percentage of the student population at Portland State University (PSU). Over 40% of PSU undergraduates are over 26 years of age and 21% of graduate students over 39. Given returning students’ experiences in the work force, motivations for learning, and the lapse of time since conducting academic research, returning students may approach research differently than traditional students. Despite the size of this student population at PSU and the growth of the returning student demographic in higher education, very little research has been conducted regarding this demographic’s research habits and skills.

Over the course of two academic quarters, three librarians from Portland State University conducted an ethnographic study of returning students’ research habits. Librarians collected data using direct observation, research journals, photo diaries, focus groups, surveys and semi-structured interviews. The goals of this research were to describe returning students’ research habits and to identify potential improvements to library services and instruction for returning students at PSU.

Returning to Learn: Research and the Prodigal Student will present the study’s initial findings, outline recommendations resulting from the research, and identify further research opportunities regarding this unique and growing student population. These findings will allow other academic libraries to learn about returning students’ research habits, and help them to identify potential changes in or additions to library services for this student population.


Presented on June 29, 2013 at the American Library Association Annual Conference, Chicago.

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