What do graduate students really do?

an ethnographic exploration of the research habits of PhD students




Emily Singley

August, 2018

  • 10 humanities PhD students 

  • 5 from Boston College

  • 5 from Notre Dame

  • 30 hours of interviews


the study:

they go everywhere to find stuff


Google Scholar

Hathi Trust     

Google Books

finding aids

national library catalogs





library catalog




faculty websites

library databases





"I use Google for everything. I even use it as a portal into stuff the library has."


"I use WorldCat more just because I feel like it shows me more of what the BC Library has than the "Holmes" search. ... And then, if we don't have it, I can quickly see how long it would take to get it."



they really like Google and WorldCat 


"When I want to download something through BC's databases it takes like 6-7 steps. One click should be enough."


"It's not user friendly at all."


"When I go into ProQuest, it fails somewhere along the way and leads to a generic ProQuest page. ...that one I eventually found at BU."


"I could find the articles but then I couldn't actually read them."

library access is too hard 


"I see it on Google, get the link and copy and paste into SciHub and there's the article -  that's it."


"so far there is nothing that I couldn't find there [on SciHub]"


Q. What could the Library improve?

A. "Just do what SciHub does."

illegal access is easy



"ILL is just fantastic - everyone thinks that."


"I was really impressed that ILL was able to find two primary sources from Germany"


"Even that microfilm, which I thought was unfindable, they were able to come up with."


"Totally blew my mind - I would not have guessed that it was in Utah, but here it is!"

they love interlibrary loan


"Since it was ILL I had like a month expiration date so I've had to turn them back in."


"The only frustrating thing would be the length of the loan periods."


"The most frustrating thing is the loan time can be rather brief."


"There is no way I can give this back now. Because I'm using it."

...but they need to keep books longer


"There's like a stigma against recalling books among grad students."


"I've been having a lot of books recalled. That's a very logistical problem in organizing my research."


"I've been getting a lot of books recalled. How am I going to keep these books? Am I just going to be a delinquent? Or do I recall them again, and we get into a recall war?"


they don't like recalls



"I have a book now I was trying to scan because the library wants it back and I couldn't find it online."


"They kept recalling my books back .. I'm tired of dealing with this, so I'm just scanning them."


"I stopped re-ordering them because I don't have time and I started scanning."


"I'm spending two hours [scanning] today."


they will scan entire books if they have to

"I even ordered it in Amazon, because I checked the Library and they don't have it."


"If I know I'm going to need it for like ever ... I'll just buy it on Amazon."


"There was one really obscure journal that I couldn't get through BC, but I paid like five bucks and I could see the article for like a week so I just crammed it."


"I cannot wait a week, there's no way. .. so I just ordered it right away in Amazon - very expensive!"

they will buy things if they have to

the end



What do graduate students really do?

By Emily Singley

What do graduate students really do?

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