We believe that the web, with the indexing tools available there, is becoming the library catalog of first choice for the entering student generation. A library's bibliographic catalog may be viewed as just one avenue to information among a choice of many links on a web page. An academic model that assumes students will use the particular library online catalog system first, or even most often, when information seeking may no longer apply. There is considerable debate in the information community about how electronic and web resources should be treated in the context of the library catalog. Assumptions about what should be "in" the catalog, and that traditional cataloging is the appropriate or essential response for organizing information can have costly implications for effective user support. The underlying intellectual and technical input needed to sustain the traditional OPAC paradigm of organizing information should not be discounted. If information seeking habits are changing it is critical to map this change, if we are to develop effective information tools.
Virginia tech is uniquely poised to examine the information seeking habits of the new student generation. All of the more than 5,000 entering students in 98/99 will be required to purchase a powerful computer to support their full participation in the Virginia Tech academic life. Networking is ubiquitous on the Blacksburg campus. Through its Cyberschool program a wide range of asynchronous learning opportunities are available to campus and distant learners. The graduate students participate in the Electronic Theses and Dissertation (ETD) program which encourages them to think of multiformated opportunities for conveying their research findings as electronic discourse.
We propose to assess the information seeking habits of undergraduate and graduate students over a three year period in an evolving information community to determine how to maximize their participation in an evolving learning environment.