Information Grounds of College Students

The most exhaustive information ground study to date and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, this study focused on deriving an information ground typology that captures nuances such as: focal activities, actor/social type roles, effects of information type (trivial vs. big decision information; insider vs. outsider), motivation (voluntary vs. forced or hostage, e.g., choir groups vs. waiting rooms), and membership size and type ("open" vs. "closed").

This study examined college students at the University of Washington and their everyday, non-school related needs. The survey, which comprised 27 primarily open questions, was conducted in-person in late October 2004, a few weeks after the fall quarter had begun. Of the 729 students surveyed, 55% were female and 45% were male; 72% were undergraduates, 21% were graduate students, and 7% were non-degree seeking students.

Findings from this study revealed that college students relied heavily on social settings on campus (in the hallways before and after class, study centers, studios, rehearsal area, outside gathering areas) to exchange information, but considered off-campus places such as restaurants to be the best places to acquire information, followed by social gatherings and the workplace. Results also indicated that college students were less likely to consider online places as their information grounds preferring places that allowed for face to face interaction. College students indicated that the quality of the information encountered at their information ground was a primary reason for choosing their information ground, but that people factors (presence of people representing diversity of opinion or who shared the same beliefs and opinions or were helpful, trustworthy and shared interests) and place factors (familiar, comfortable, convenience) were also important. Overall, students indicated that they knew the people at their information grounds well (at minimum they recognized one another if not knew their first names) and were likely to mix in other settings too, suggesting fairly strong, multiplex ties. When asked how often they frequented the information ground at which they receive the most important or best information, 90% said they were frequent, regular visitors and over 70% indicated that they had been going to their place for over a year. College students' responses when asked what they have in common with the people at their information grounds were divided into four categories: activity, background, characteristic, and interests. When asked what percentage of the everyday information that they encountered at the information grounds occurred by chance, students' responses were fairly uniform across quartiles (i.e., 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%). Respondents indicated that information about events, opinion and people were the types of information most likely to be encountered by accident or chance.

When asked what they liked about their favorite information grounds in general, responses focused upon such place attributes as atmosphere and ambience: over 50% of respondents mentioned this as an important consideration. Other reasons included making connections with people, amenities, convenience, and resources. When the answers to this question were categorized according to whether they related to the information, people or place, about 75% related to the physical location, whereas approximately 14% focused on people and only 6% addressed information. This suggests that physical, place-related factors play an extremely important role in the effectiveness of an information ground, at least in the case of college students.