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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2003


Suiting Library Instruction to the Myers-Briggs Personality Types and Holland Vocational Personality Types of Engineering Students

Jeanine Williamson
Reference & Instructional Services
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


The Myers-Briggs personality typology and the Holland Vocational typology of work environments and individuals offer insights about engineering students and faculty that librarians may apply to instruction. This article provides a literature review of the two theories as applicable to library instruction; discusses the personality make-ups of engineering students, Engineering faculty, and librarians; discusses selected literature relating the two theories to learning; and provides possible applications of the Myers-Briggs system and the Holland Vocational system to information literacy or library instruction for engineering students.


How would you design instruction if you already knew some of the personality characteristics of members of the audience? To some extent, librarians have provided creative answers to this question by tailoring instruction to the probable abilities and interests of students in classes. For some disciplines, the librarian may do more: information about the probable personality makeup of potential audiences is readily available from published literature and may be applied to instruction. While results may not be generalizable from some studies with small samples, ideas for instruction are ripe for the picking from published research and may be tested in actual classroom situations.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been of considerable interest to Engineering faculty planning teamwork and other aspects of instruction (Bernold et al. 2000, Christy and Lima 1998; Felder et al. 1993; Godleski 1984; Kresta 1998; McCaulley et al. 1983; Scott and Scott 1996; Sloan 1998; Thomas et al. 2000; Wankat 1999; Yokomoto and Ware 1981). Knowing the Myers-Brigg type distributions among Engineering students can be of use to librarians planning library instruction for them.

Another useful typology for librarians is the one incorporated in the Holland Vocational Theory of Vocational Personalities and Work Environments which measures six vocational interests or characteristics in individuals and occupations (Holland 1997). The Holland vocational typology, less well known to the general public than the Myers-Briggs typology, has been extensively used by vocational counselors and is available for individuals to take in the form of the Self-Directed Search and the Vocational Preference Inventory. Other tests that make use of the theory are the ACT World of Work and Strong Vocational Interest Battery (Holland et al. 1994; Holland 1985). Like the Myers-Briggs system, the Holland vocational typology offers insights into engineering students' personalities, in this case, vocational personalities. A number of studies using Holland's theory have presented data on engineers or engineering students (Bruch and Krieshok 1981; Erez and Shneorson 1980; Fouad 1989; Holland 1985; Lent et al. 1989; Southworth and Morningstar 1970).

The purpose of this article is to provide background information about the two theories; discuss the personality make-ups of engineering students, engineering faculty, and librarians; discuss selected literature relating the two theories to learning; and provide possible applications of the Myers-Briggs system and the Holland Vocational system to information literacy or library instruction for engineering students.

Applying Myers-Briggs Information to Library Instruction


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality inventory developed by Myers and Briggs (Myers et al. 1998) from the psychological theory of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. Jung's theory classed individuals' personality types into eight types based on three dichotomous variables (Extroversion/ Introversion (E/I), Sensing/Intuiting (S/N), and Thinking/Feeling (T/F)) (Jung 1923). Myers and Briggs further developed Jung's theory by adding a fourth dichotomous variable, Judging versus Perceiving (J/P), and they also developed the widely popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for assessing individuals' preferences along the four dimensions and consequent four letter types (Myers et al. 1998).

Extroversion/Introversion refers to the two ways individuals prefer to focus their energy. Those who prefer extroversion prefer to focus their energy on activities in the outside world of people and objects, while individuals who prefer introversion prefer to direct their energy to their inner worlds of thoughts and ideas. Those who prefer Sensing prefer to receive information from their five senses and focus on concrete reality, while those who prefer Intuition prefer to receive information from their intuition and focus on possibilities and patterns. People who prefer Thinking like to make decisions objectively and logically, while people who prefer Feeling like to make decisions based on personal values. Persons who prefer Judging like to lead their lives with decisiveness and organization, while persons who prefer Perceiving like flexible and spontaneous lifestyles (Myers et al. 1998).

A person's four-letter type tends to be associated with a number of personality characteristics. (Myers 1998). People of different types tend to enjoy different college majors and occupations, although it is unethical and invalid to select any individual's job or major based on type. Many occupations are benefited from type diversity among their members, as a summary of the 16 types' experiences in librarianship shows. (Myers et al. 1998)

Engineering Students' Myers-Briggs Types

Popular career selection guides have listed jobs that should appeal to individuals among the 16 personality types. Do What You Are (Tieger and Barron-Tieger 2001) lists careers that the 16 Myers-Briggs types may especially enjoy; the types which would probably enjoy engineering were ENTJ, INTJ, INTP, ESTJ, ISTJ, ESTP, and ISTP. These types all share the Thinking preference (T), or a preference for objective decision making as opposed to taking into account personal values in making decisions. If this career guide is correct, it would suggest that librarians should try to appeal to engineering students' Thinking preference in designing library instruction. Published studies offer similar data, reported in Table 1.

Table 1. Most Frequent Myers-Briggs Types among Samples of Engineering Students.

Most Frequent Types
(percentage of total)
Scott and Scott (1996)
(University of Tennessee Knoxville engineering freshmen 1990-1994)
ISTJ (13.4)
ESTJ (11.7)
ENTP (8.8)
INTP (8.8)
McCaulley et al. (1987)
(Eight colleges and universities)
ISTJ (16.46)
ESTJ (12.75)
ENTJ (9.43)
INTJ (9.43)
INTP (8.46)
ENTP (7.43)
Felder et al. (1993)
(Chemical engineering students)
ISTJ (20.7)
ESTJ (11.2)
ENFP (9.5)
INTP (8.6)
INTJ (7.8)
Thomas et al. (2000)
(Georgia Tech engineering students)
ISTJ (16.9)
INTJ (12.3)
ENTP (11.8)
ESTJ (9.2)
ISTP (7.7)
INTP (7.2)
Staiger (1990)
(Electrical engineering students from three universities)
ISTJ (15)
ENTJ (10.9)
INTJ (10.5)
ESTJ (9.7)
INTP (8.4)
Sloan and Jens (1992)
(Colorado School of Mines engineering students)
ISTJ (14)
INTP (12)
ENTP (9)
INTJ (9)
Rosati (1997)
(Canadian sample of engineering students)
ISTJ (18.1)
ESTJ (10.3)
INTP (9.4)
INTJ (8.5)
ISTP (8.2)

These results show a clear Thinking preference among engineering students in a variety of samples. It is notable that in all of these samples, ISTJ is the most common type for engineering students. This type is described as:

Quiet, serious, earn success by thoroughness and dependability. Practical, matter-of fact, realistic and responsible. Decide logically what should be done and work toward it steadily regardless of distractions. Take pleasure in making everything orderly and organized-their work, their home, their life. Value traditions and loyalty (Myers 1998).

Immediate implications of this description are that librarians should offer thorough, organized, practically useful instruction. Additional implications for instruction drawn from the data will be discussed below.

Engineering Faculty's Myers-Briggs Types

The most common types for engineering faculty members at the University of Tennessee Knoxville were ISTJ (22.6%), INTJ (17.8%), INTP (17.8 %), and ENTJ (14.3%). In a comparison of UT's engineering freshmen to practicing engineers and engineering faculty, the freshmen were fairly similar to practicing engineers and less so to engineering faculty, who were more Introverted, Intuitive, and Judging than the engineering freshmen (Scott and Scott 1996). Engineering faculty at the Colorado School of Mines were found to be more Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging than engineering students. The most common types for engineering faculty were INTJ (23%), ENTJ (16%), ISTJ (14%), INTP (14%), and ENTP (11%) (Sloan and Jens 1982). The data imply that in working with engineering faculty, librarians can expect them to be conceptual and abstract (Intuitive preference), rather than preferring sensory data. Librarians who have a Sensing preference may find that engineering faculty expect a short overview for their classes rather than detailed, thorough instruction. My own experience shows this to be the case when faculty members have requested 20-minute or 30-minute sessions rather than the entire traditional hour for bibliographic instruction. While I cannot guarantee that this was due to engineering faculty members' preference for Intuition, it is certainly worth thinking about. Perhaps librarians could inform Intuitive faculty members that detailed library instruction is more likely to be effective with engineering students than a brief overview. It is important to appeal to both the Sensing and Intuitive preferences of different students in providing library instruction.

Librarians' Myers-Briggs Types

The most common types for librarians were ISTJ (16.5%), INTJ (11.5%), INTP (9.1%), ISFJ (8.1%), and ENTJ (7.9%) (Scherdin 1994b). Librarians would appear to share the personality preferences for objective decision making (Thinking) and an organized, closure-seeking way of life (Judging) with many engineering students. Librarians also often share temperaments (NT and SJ) with many engineering students. Temperaments are four binary groupings of MBTI letters: SJ, NF, NT, and SP (Keirsey and Bates 1984). These temperaments are thought to give additional characteristics beyond those of the single preference dimensions. Individuals having the SJ temperament are conservative, practical and uphold traditions and rules. Those having the NT temperament are innovative, intellectual, and theoretical. There would appear to be much common ground between librarians and the majority of engineering students, so it should come naturally to librarians to provide logical, objectively worded, and organized instruction.

Myers-Briggs Types and Learning

The literature on Myers-Briggs types and learning is extensive and is presented only selectively here. For the purposes of this review, all literature on engineering students' learning that incorporates Myers-Briggs will be included, but only selected papers on Myers-Briggs and general learning will be provided.

Engineering Students, Myers-Briggs, and Learning

Tailoring instruction to both the Sensing and Intuitive preferences is the goal most often discussed in the engineering instructional literature. Wankat (1999) theorized that the Sensing students in his chemical engineering class may have performed less well than the Intuitives since both the instructor and the textbook were Intuitive. All the students who withdrew from his class were Sensing, and Intuitives did better than expected on two of the quizzes. Wankat concluded: "The professor should include more sensing activities such as step-by-step algorithmic problem-solving in his or her teaching repertoire." (1999). Christy and Lima (1998), studying the use of portfolios in engineering classes, found that 69 percent of Sensing types found them useful compared to 87 percent of Intuitives. Intuitives were more likely to pass a chemical engineering class in Felder et al.'s (1993) study than Sensing types. Sloan and Jens (1982) found that Sensing engineering students had 50 percent chance to score above average on an Intuitive instructor's test, while Intuitive students had a 75 percent chance to score above average on it.

Instructional style has been shown to differentially affect Sensing and Intuitive types' performance in circuit analysis classes (Yokomoto and Ware 1981). In the first case, they provided "Intuitive" problems and did not coach for type differences. The Intuitive students' test scores were more linearly correlated to homework scores than Sensing students' in this case. In a second case, the instructor did provide coaching involving type differences, while still providing Intuitive problems, and there was no significant difference between Sensing students and Intuitive students' correlations of exams to homework problems. A third case repeated conditions of the first case (Intuitive instructor, no coaching, Intuitive problems) and had similar results to the first case. A fourth case used non-Intuitive problems on the exams that were quite similar to homework problems. In this case, the Sensing students' exams were more linearly correlated to homework problems than Intuitive students'. In the last case, a replication of the conditions for the second case was performed (coaching to type differences, Intuitive problems) and similar results to the second case were found.

Some of Yokomoto and Ware's observed implications for problem solving of the Sensing/Intuiting preference are worth summarizing here. Sensing types pay more attention to examples and problems; Intuitive types pay more attention to definitions, concepts, and theories. Sensing types need to be forewarned that there are concepts; Intuitives need to learn the specific methods for problem solving. Exams that contain Intuitive problems, i.e., do not replicate the homework problems, but require integrated understanding, will favor Intuitives. Coaching can be performed by stressing that there are important concepts to Sensing types and that there are important methods and routines to Intuitive types.

Librarians should appeal to both Sensing and Intuitive preferences in their instruction by offering step-by-step procedures and getting their details correct, and also by mentioning that the information skills the students learn are transferable. While Intuitive students may naturally pick up on concepts such as Boolean logic, Sensing students may need practical examples and coaching to think of other applications for tools or methods presented.

Thomas (1990) discussed other instructional issues in addition to appealing to the Sensing and Intuitive preferences. In a sample of Mechanical Engineering Technology students at Purdue, Introverts and/or Sensors preferred a lecture format, whereas Extroverts and/or Intuitives preferred a discussion format. Introverts preferred courses without laboratories, but Extroverts preferred laboratory courses. Sensing types and/or Judging types preferred tightly structured courses, rather than loosely structured courses. Thinking students became involved in cooperative education programs more than Feeling types did. Introverts and Sensing individuals preferred problems dealing with formulas and numbers, but Extroverts and Intuitives preferred problems involving principles and ideas. Introverts worked alone; extroverts tended to work in groups.

McCaulley et al. (1983) also offered implications for teaching engineering students that went beyond appealing to both Sensing and Intuitive preferences. They said that since many engineering students are logical, analytical and decisive types, they might lack needed communication and teamwork skills. Engineering faculty need to teach these skills. Less typical engineering students, such as Extroverts and Feeling types appreciate feedback and appreciation and may not receive enough from engineering faculty. McCaulley et al.'s comments are also important for librarians, since librarians need to realize that there may be "minority types" in their audience who may need a more personal style directed towards them individually. While it seems impossible for a librarian to appeal equally to all possible preferences, certainly she or he can check with students individually during an exercise to see if they need additional help.

General Papers on Myers-Briggs and Learning

From the extensive literature on Myers-Briggs and learning, some findings are pointed out here that may be relevant to the librarian providing instruction. Fairhurst and Fairhurst (1995) correlated preferred modes of instruction based on working with school students. Their comments may also be applicable to college students. SJ types, NT types and NF types prefer lectures, although the SJs tend to prefer lectures about facts whereas the NTs prefer abstract lectures, and NFs like lectures about people. SPs prefer learning through performance, or through manipulating materials to learn about a subject. Lawrence (1984) synthesized learning style research and reported that Extroversion correlated with exhibition, dominance, talkativeness, being active, being gregarious, and being close to reality. Introversion was correlated with intellectual achievement, solitariness, verbal reasoning, ideational fluency, reality-distance, and reading. Sensing was correlated with order, gregariousness, field-dependence, economic interests, reality-closeness, a practical outlook, seeing learning as being for practical use, and carefulness in problem solving. Intuition was associated with autonomy and independence, artistic, aesthetic interest and creativity, liking to use mind and intellectuality, field independence, reality-distance, managing abstract symbols, imagination, theoretical orientation, reading, and quickness in problem solving. Thinking was correlated with theoretical interests and endurance. Feeling was correlated with social interest, affiliation, and nurturance. Judging was correlated with order, endurance and attitude to work (achievement orientation). Perceiving was associated with autonomy, change, impulsiveness, and tolerance of complexity.

Lawrence (1984) also reported on learning preferences, noting that Extroverts preferred talking, discussion, psychomotor activity and working with a group, whereas Introverts preferred reading/verbal reasoning, time for individual processing, and working individually, Sensing persons preferred tasks that call for carefulness, thoroughness and soundness of understanding, going step-by-step, tasks that call for memory of facts, and practical interests. Intuitives preferred tasks that call for quickness of insight and in seeing relationships, finding their own way in new material, tasks that call for grasping general concepts, tasks that call for imagination, intellectual interests, and reading. Thinking types preferred logical organization of a teacher and objective material to study, while Feeling types preferred personal rapport with a teacher and learning through personal relationships. Judging types preferred to work in a steady, orderly way, formalized instruction, prescribed tasks, and drive toward closure, completion. Perceiving types preferred to work in a flexible way, to follow impulses, informal problem solving, discovery tasks, and managing emerging problems.

The performance of different types using different media, such as self-paced instruction, distance learning, or using computer interfaces is also important for librarians' knowledge, but will only be touched upon in this paper. Sensing students performed significantly better than Intuitive students in an interactive videodisc learning situation (Matta and Kern 1991). This suggests that interactive web tutorials would perhaps be useful for Sensing engineering students, although possibly less useful for Intuitive students, who did slightly better than Sensing students in Matta and Kern's control situation of classroom learning. As an example from personal experience, I have used a web tutorial with engineering students that they used to follow along while I was lecturing, and they seemed to appreciate it. I can only guess that the reason why Sensing students like tutorials is that tutorials are generally thorough and well organized.

Discongruencies between students' learning styles and librarians' teaching styles may have significant effects on instruction. Cooper and Miller (1991) found that congruence between learning style and teaching style was significantly related to student course evaluations and student evaluations of the instructor, but not final course grades. Discongruency along the Sensing/Intuition dimension was the main source of these results. Librarians may find that some types of students do not like their instruction, and this may be reflected in course evaluations if they are collected.

Implications of Myers-Briggs Data for Library Instruction to Engineering Students

Librarians should attempt to appeal to engineering students' Thinking and Judging preferences, while balancing appeals to the Sensing/Intuitive dimension. This requires that they provide objectively worded, logical instruction with causation statements (reasons), and that instruction is well organized.

Lawrence (1997) says that Thinking types do their best learning with teachers who organize the classroom with logical systems, provide feedback that shows what students do and do not accomplish, have a cool, objective approach to things, and provide clear, logical material to study and things for students to analyze. An example of a causation statement that could accomplish this is: "Ei Compendex is a database that lists engineering research articles and conference papers. Because these research articles and conference papers have in many cases undergone a process of professional peer review, or validation, the information may be of higher quality than that found in individuals' web pages." I believe from my instructional experience that engineering students seek logical explanations for statements and instructions, and I try to provide them as frequently as possible. I try to maintain a fairly objective, cool demeanor in instruction, although I do use humor, especially irony. When I have tried to appeal to engineering students' emotions, such as by expressing my sympathy for students who spend hours in the library, I have not sensed that they were particularly receptive.

Lawrence (1997) writes that the learning style preferences of Judging persons are to "have things organized in a clear plan," "have deadlines and stay well ahead of them," to do work in a steady way toward completion, to know just what they are accountable for, and to "have instruction that is organized and moves in predictable ways."

To appeal to Judging types, it is important for the librarian to structure the instruction clearly, perhaps providing a written outline, as well as pointing out what is going to be covered. If a librarian jumps from topic to topic or fails to discuss planned material, this may not be appreciated by engineering students. The librarian should be sure that instruction does not take longer that expected, since engineering faculty often have clearly stated time limits. The librarian should ensure that all equipment works as expected, since engineering students and faculty will be surprised and disappointed if it does not.

Since some students in the audience will be Sensing types and some will be Intuitive types, the librarian probably needs to include both an overview and some examples into his or her presentation. A lecture that is too detail oriented will possibly alienate the Intuitive students, while a lecture that leaves steps out and is vague will most likely alienate the Sensing students. Sensing students prefer "starting with solid facts," "going step by step in new material," "starting with known things and adding on," "starting with first-hand experience that gives practice in things to be learned," "starting with hands-on things" (Lawrence 1997). To appeal to Sensing types, a librarian might want to start with a demo of an engineering database and try to tie it into engineering students' past experience, mentioning general databases they may have used such as Proquest or Infotrac, or Web searching. They could also explain that research articles and conference papers in Ei Compendex are written by people like engineering students' professors. Intuitive types have rather different learning preferences than Sensing types. Intuitive types enjoy doing something that catches the imagination, prefer to start with interesting concepts, prefer to find their own way in new materials, enjoy exploring possibilities, prefer to sample new skills rather than practice familiar ones, and like to start with a concept or idea (Lawrence 1997). A librarian might want to introduce an interesting concept such as Boolean searching using Venn diagrams or the concept of subject headings to appeal to Intuitives. Trying to lecture to both information processing preferences is, in my opinion, the hardest part of instruction. One way that I have found to communicate to Sensing types (I am an Intuitive) is to read aloud some of the results that are found in database searches instead of just saying, "Here are the results, notice each one has a title, subject heading, etc." It is sometimes hard for me to temper abstractions and generalities with real-world details. As an Intuitive type, I have benefited from listening to Sensing colleagues discuss library services because they offer a wealth of practical, thorough, exact information and perhaps are clearer because they use language to appeal to the five senses. I think Intuitive types may at times be better at explaining concepts and giving overviews. It may be helpful to have Sensing types read over Intuitives' instructional materials and vice-versa.

Applying Holland Vocational Personality Information to Library Instruction


The Holland typology of vocational personalities and work environments classifies individuals and work environments such as occupations according to their resemblance to six preferences arranged along a hexagon: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. Theoretically, individuals who share vocational personalities with characteristics assigned to work environments will be attracted to these environments, succeed in them, and persist (Walsh and Holland 1992; Holland 1997). Realistic types of individuals are hands-on and practical. Investigative individuals tend to be analytical and focus on finding explanations of physical and social realities. Artistic individuals are expressive and favor creative activities. Social individuals provide help and counseling and focus on social interactions. Enterprising individuals focus on persuasion in business contexts. Conventional individuals focus on establishing orderly routines such as in clerical work (Gottfredson and Holland 1996). For all of these types of individuals, the corresponding type of work environment incorporates the same values and activities the individual types favor.

Individuals may find out their Holland vocational personalities by taking the Self-Directed Search or the Vocational Preference Inventory. Multiple discriminant analysis of job analysis data has been used to indicate the probable three-letter code of occupations in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (Gottfredson and Holland 1996).

The distance between the points of the hexagon indicates similarities or dissimilarities between persons and/or environments. An Investigative individual should share similarities with Realistic and Artistic individuals and work environments, but should be rather dissimilar to Enterprising types, which are opposite Investigative types on the hexagon. Realistic types should be similar to Conventional and Investigative types, but most dissimilar to their opposite Social types (Holland 1997).

Engineering Students' Holland Vocational Personalities

Data collected on engineers and engineering students through the Vocational Preference Inventory showed that the engineers and technicians scored highest on Investigative (called Intellectual by the VPI), Conventional, and Realistic. of the engineering students scored highest on Investigative, Realistic, and Enterprising (Holland 1985).

A comparison of Holland scores of students who persisted in engineering with those who changed majors or left the university showed that the sample of students who changed their major had higher scores on the Social and Artistic scales than those of students who persisted in engineering. Students who persisted in engineering had the highest scores on the Investigative and Realistic scales, with noticeably smaller scores on Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. By contrast, those students who changed their major had the highest score on Investigative, with moderately high scores on Realistic, Social, and Artistic (Southworth and Morningstar 1970).

The Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, used to measure the vocational personalities of U.S. and Mexican engineering students and professionals, showed that the scores for all groups were highest for Realistic, then Investigative, then Conventional (Fouad 1989).

The Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes classifies occupations according to the vocational preferences most required by tasks of the job. Different engineering jobs are given a number of classifications ranking the three most required preferences for the job. Selected engineering professions that engineering students may be preparing for are classified with the following three letter codes, reported in Table 2 (Gottfredson and Holland 1996).

Table 2. Holland Vocational Codes and Corresponding Occupations of Engineers.

Holland Code Corresponding Occupations
RIS Electronics design engineer
Mechanical Engineer
Electrical design engineer
RIE Ordnance Engineer
Petroleum Engineer
Standards Engineer
Faculty member, college or university, engineering
REI Materials Engineer
Safety Engineer, Mines
IRS Ceramic Engineer
Aeronautical Engineer
Chemical design engineer, processes
Chemical research engineer
Electrical research engineer
Railroad Engineer
Structural Engineer
Hydraulic Engineer
IRE Aeronautical research engineer
Chemical Engineer
Biomedical Engineer
Electrical Engineer, power system
Nuclear Engineer
Materials Scientist
Marine Engineer
Agricultural Engineer
Software Engineer
Manufacturing Engineer
Civil Engineer
Electrical Engineer
IRC Nuclear fuels research engineer
Nuclear criticality safety engineer
Waste management engineer, radioactive
ISR Safety Engineer
Airport Engineer
Transportation Engineer
ISE Product safety engineer
IER Engineer, soils
Sanitary Engineer
IES Engineering manager, electronics
Electronics test engineer
IEC Highway administrative engineer
Fire protection engineer
ICR Reliability Engineer
ICS Packaging Engineer
ERS Sales Engineer
EIR Industrial Engineer
EIC Industrial health engineer
Production Engineer

While the expected Realistic and Investigative preferences predominate, there are differences among the engineering occupations. Industrial engineers have Enterprising aspects to their job. Some types of engineering occupations have a Social component, such as airport engineer or product safety engineer. Librarians will want to appeal to engineering students' probable Investigative and Realistic interests, but may also want to consider appealing to Enterprising, Social, and Conventional interests. To appeal to Investigative interests, librarians should offer opportunities for engineers to flex their critical and analytical muscles, and to appeal to Realistic interests, librarians should point out the practical use of information skills and allow hands-on learning opportunities.

Engineering Faculty Members' Holland Vocational Personalities

A study of the differences between academic engineers and professional engineers found that academics had higher Artistic scores than professionals, and that professionals had higher Social scores than academics. The highest score for both types of engineers was Investigative. The high Artistic score for academic engineers (second in rank among the six interests) suggests a possible point of commonality between librarians and engineering faculty. The sample was a single Israeli group of 45 academic engineers (Erez and Shneorson 1980).

Librarians' Holland Vocational Personalities

Librarians were most similar to Artistic, then Investigative, then Realistic when they took the ACT Interest Inventory, an inventory that assigns codes similar to the Holland typology (Scherdin 1994a). David and Scherdin (1994) found somewhat similar data on librarians when testing them using the Strong Vocational Inventory, another test that employs Holland's concepts. Artistic, Conventional, and Investigative were the most frequent codes for their combined sample of different types of librarians. No engineering occupations were found to have an Artistic preference in their three letter codes in the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes, whereas this was the primary preference of librarians in the Scherdin and David and Scherdin studies. If librarians typically have Artistic as their first code, then according to the hexagonal theory they are rather similar to engineers who have the adjacent Investigative characteristic as their primary letter, but are of intermediate similarity to those engineers who have Realistic as their first letter.

Librarians' occupations receive various classifications in the Dictionary of Holland Occupational Codes and are reported in Table 3 (Gottfredson and Holland 1996).

Table 3. Holland Vocational Codes and Corresponding Occupations of Librarians.

SAI Librarian
AES Archivist
SER Librarian, Special Collections
ESI Library consultant
SEC Library director

These codes indicate that library occupations usually require a mixture of Artistic, Social and Enterprising tasks. If librarians primarily have Artistic interests, then they may have expressive values foreign to engineering students and faculty. My own experience bears out this theory. A handout I used for freshmen engineers failed because it was designed to appeal to Artistic interests, rather than Investigative or Realistic interests. I had used a bridge design metaphor to lay out text on the handout. It met with lukewarm interest at best.

Research about the Holland Vocational Typology and Learning

In summarizing the literature concerning the Holland theory and learning, I will cover all studies related to engineering, but only selected ones that treat the subject in a general manner.

Engineering Students, Holland Vocational Interests, and Learning

A test of whether Realistic or Investigative students were better adjusted to a heavily theoretical engineering curriculum found that Investigative types persisted more than Realistic types in the major and had higher GPAs at the end of their first semester in two out of three classes tested (Bruch and Krieshok 1981). A theoretical learning situation would seem to appeal more to the Investigative than Realistic engineers (although there may have been additional reasons the Realistic engineers did not persist as much as the Investigative ones). GPA at the end of the fourth semester was only higher for Investigative types for one of the three classes tested. Thus the Realistic types who did persist were able to handle the theoretical curriculum in two of the three classes.

A test of scales of Engineering Self-Efficacy ad Science Self-Efficacy administered to students found that Engineering Self-Efficacy correlated with both the Realistic and Investigative scales, whereas Science Self-Efficacy correlated with the Investigative scale (Lent et al. 1989).

General Papers on Holland Vocational Interests and Learning

Faculty members with different Holland types had different teaching style preferences as measured by Morstain and Smart (1976). Realistic types had more goal-oriented (Achievement-oriented) and pragmatic views of education than Artistic types. Realistic and Investigative types were more oriented towards assignment learning than Social and Artistic types. Realistic and Investigative types were more oriented towards assessment than Social and Artistic types. Social types were more oriented to having students do independent study than Realistic, Enterprising, and Investigative types were. Social types were more oriented towards having a collegial interaction style with students than Realistic, Enterprising, or Investigative types were. Librarians should keep in mind that engineering faculty members may have different teaching styles than they do, perhaps oriented towards assessment and specific achievements if the RIE classification of engineering faculty members is correct.

Holland's (1985) use of the Vocational Preference Inventory, on Realistic and Investigative individuals indicates that Realistic males are hardheaded, practical, mechanically inclined, lacking insight, frank, and have poor interpersonal skills. Realistic females are asocial, hardheaded, practical, and have technical competencies, but poor interpersonal skills. Investigative males are scientifically inclined, have science and math ability, and are achieving, independent, shy, radical, curious (open), reserved, and planful. Investigative females are scientifically inclined and shy, have science, research and math ability, and are radical, achieving, independent, curious (open), reserved, and planful.

Implications of Holland Vocational Data for Library Instruction to Engineering Students

Librarians should attempt to appeal to engineers' likely Realistic and Investigative preferences when planning instruction. An approach expressing Social or Artistic preferences may backfire when used with an engineering audience; testing is needed to determine whether this is true. Since librarians are likely to have Investigative or Realistic preferences as some of their major preferences, they should be able to draw upon these preferences when instructing engineers. To express a Realistic preference, a librarian might arrange for hands-on instruction of the library catalog or engineering database. She might appeal to Realistic types' practicality and adventurousness by arranging a competition to make use of an information resource to solve a problem. I had success with this approach when teaching two groups of freshmen minority engineers: during the second class I told the students that nobody in the first class had successfully answered a hard question on their worksheet, and I challenged the second class to do better. The second class produced some perfect papers!

To appeal to Investigative engineers, librarians might ask students to analyze a search expression and a set of results to determine why it worked or didn't work to find literature on a topic. Analytical prowess is typical of those who have Investigative interests. I try to make my classes interactive, asking several questions that will appeal to Investigative interests. For example, I will explain the call number system to the class and later ask a question that requires application of that knowledge. In addition the librarian needs to motivate Investigative students by emphasizing that searching for engineering literature could help students increase their knowledge and problem-solving abilities. The librarian should be prepared to motivate Realistic students by explaining the practical significance of tools she is presenting.

Artistic type librarians who value expression may be well qualified to create innovative instruction for Realistic and Investigative engineering students (as long as they try to appeal to Realistic and Investigative interests), since Artistic types are typically quite skilled with communication. Librarians who have Social as one of their vocational personality characteristics should feel a sense of satisfaction in helping Engineering students to learn how to search for information, even if these students are vocationally somewhat different from librarians.


The applications that were gained from examining the body of literature on Myers-Briggs Personality Types and Holland Vocational Types were that librarians ought to appeal to engineering students with logical, objectively worded instruction containing causation sentences (reasons for statements and instructions); well-organized instruction; and hands-on learning opportunities. Librarians ought to appeal both to engineers' practical, competitive natures and their intellectual interests. Although librarians share some preferences along Myers-Briggs dimensions with engineering students and engineering faculty, their Holland vocational profiles are rather different. They ought to plan accordingly for different expectations for instruction.

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