Session Description

There is evidence in educational literature that college students are often overconfident regarding how much they know about academic subjects. The objective of this study is to determine the presence of this overconfidence effect in undergraduate library users, and how it can be addressed by instruction librarians.

Type of Library

University Library


libraries, undergraduates, library instruction


May 12th, 3:00 PM

"The Library Catalog is Definitely the Best place to find articles!” Overconfidence Among Undergraduate Library Users

Fireplace Lounge

Investigators in several academic subjects have conducted research focused on determining if undergraduate students are overconfident regarding their knowledge of disciplinary subject matter. Up until recently, most of these studies have investigated students of psychology or economics. However, a handful of academic librarians have begun to conduct similar studies with undergraduate library users, curious whether this population shows similar overconfidence in their grasp of academic research. Overconfidence is a major problem for students because it interferes with both learning and an authentic self-awareness. The present study surveyed 34 undergraduates to assess if they were overconfident about their knowledge in key library research areas including citing, identifying components of scholarly and popular sources, and developing and applying searches in online databases. This project was a partnership between a reference and instruction librarian and a psychology professor at a mid-sized urban university in the northeast region of the United States.

Two questionnaires were developed. The first was titled Library Knowledge Confidence Scale and contained ten true/false questions about key research skills. After circling their answer, participants rated their confidence in their response from 50% (just guessing) to 100% (absolutely sure). A general knowledge scale with the same format was created for comparison purposes.

Despite the fact that student scores were low on both scales (M=60 out of 100 for library scale and M=69 on general knowledge scale), ANOVA tests showed that students demonstrated pronounced overconfidence on both tools. These results signify a need for increased library and metacognitive skill instruction among this student sample.

The outcome of this study was similar to results of studies conducted in psychology and education, as students thought they knew more about library research than they actually did. Students will benefit both from increased library instruction and strategies for lessening overconfidence. The latter methods can include embedded librarians and reflective workshops geared at evaluation of test answers.

This session would provide several benefits for librarians in attendance. First, librarians interested in investigating issues related to overconfidence in their own user populations would have a template from which they could base their own study. It would be particularly beneficial to replicate this study with graduate students. Additionally, this project utilized several statistical methodologies popular in social sciences research, including analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Pearson correlations. The presenter would offer participants information on incorporating these statistics into their research agenda and practice. This project is a combination of the disciplines of library and information science and psychology. This collaboration among academic departments and the library is a valuable addition to teaching and learning, and this study demonstrates a framework for forging such an interdepartmental partnership.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.