July 22, 2014

New LJ Report Closely Examines What Makes Academic Library Patrons Tick

pp logo New LJ Report Closely Examines What Makes Academic Library Patrons Tick

College students view their academic libraries favorably—especially as freshmen. Yet as they advance in their academic careers, undergraduates may be losing esteem for the library as a place that offers unique academic support not found anywhere else on campus, according to LJ’s Patron Profiles: Academic Library Edition.

Compiled in conjunction with Design Think Do consulting, Beacon Hill Strategic Solutions, Bowker, and a dedicated advisory board, this stand-alone report asked faculty and students about “actual usage and perceived value of their academic libraries, with an emphasis on products and services both now and in the future, in the context of digital and emerging technology trends.”

Surveying more than 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students and 751 faculty members from research universities, colleges, and community colleges, the report found that “students require richer engagement with librarians beyond the first year, to be developed through increased collaboration, outreach, and social media interactivity, and quality service present at the ­library.”

Of course, every rich engagement must begin with an introduction, and today’s students often make their first acquaintance with their academic library online.

While almost 45 percent of respondents agreed that visiting the library in person is the best way to learn about its resources, Twitter, course assignments, email, a library’s website, and Facebook were also considered viable ways to get this information, each acknowledged by more than one-third of ­respondents.

Meanwhile, students and faculty alike expressed an interest in staying connected with their library using social media platforms including Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr.

“The survey responses indicate Facebook to be a leading platform of interest to students that libraries should employ when establishing social media priorities, but the [other] media platforms should not be overlooked, as each one provides unique opportunities and value and attracts a distinct ­community,” states the report.

Overall, student responses indicated that a majority were pleased with their libraries.
When asked why they visit their academic library, college students ranked free Wi-Fi, print collections, and convenience as their top three reasons; when asked, “The last time you used the academic library, were there resources or services that you were seeking that were not available?,” 86 percent of students and 76 percent of faculty said no, according to the report.

Fortunately, retention rates are high, with a combined 90 percent of students saying they were either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to use the library again if they’ve used the library once.

Between one-quarter to one-third of students appear to be the staunchest supporters of the library. For example, students were asked to rate their level of agreement with various statements about their library on a scale ranging from “agree strongly” to “strongly disagree.” About 25 percent “agree strongly” that their library is important to their academic success, and almost 30 percent “agree strongly” with the statement “I rely on my academic library for peace and quiet, individual study space.”

Similarly, 30 percent of students said they make on-site visits to their library “frequently” (today or within the past 24 hours). More than 45 percent said they make on-site visits occasionally (in the past seven to 30 days), and only five percent of students claimed they “never” visit the library.

Forty-five percent of students listed “study space” as their reason for on-site library visits. This was followed closely by the use of Wi-Fi or Internet by more than 40 percent. Research for classes and assignments was the third most popular response, chosen by 32 percent.

“The findings suggest that efforts to design and develop academic library spaces should focus on the experience of place, including quiet and collaborative workspaces; stable, fast Wi-Fi, computing technology that supports creative activity; and research and technology support in close proximity to student study areas,” the report notes.

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A solid majority (70 percent) of students are using their library’s online resources. Twenty-five percent said they use resources such as online journals, databases, and ebooks frequently, and 45 percent said they use them occasionally. The top three uses for these resources include “research for classes and assignments” chosen by almost 60 percent of respondents; access to “textbooks, online ebooks” selected by almost 30 percent; and “professor requirements, such as minimum number of print and online sources,” selected by about 25 percent.

Unfortunately, online resources are still going unused by about 30 percent of students. Some 23 percent of respondents said they rarely used their library’s online resources, and about seven percent said they “never” used them.

On some level, academic libraries continue to compete for attention with free online resources, including Google and Wikipedia.

When beginning a research project or significant assignment, 73 percent of students said they regularly use Google as an initial research source to familiarize themselves with a topic before turning to library resources. About 30 percent said they regularly started research projects with a library visit, while about 25 percent said they regularly started with a visit to their campus library’s website, and 25 percent said they visited a textbook website first.

Faculty continue to be strong advocates of their campus libraries, recommending or requiring their students to use them.

“The faculty portion of the survey revealed that faculty respondents held their respective academic libraries in high regard and were well-experienced in navigating the libraries’ resources in support of research, teaching, and learning,” the report explains. “Eighty-two percent of faculty respondents recommended their libraries’ websites to students to a high or moderate extent, compared with 77 percent who reported the same for the on-site facility.”

Almost 60 percent of faculty said that they place course material on reserve at the library. Also, 84 percent said they recommend that their students use online journals for research and class projects, followed by other discipline-specific resources, recommended by more than 50 percent of respondents.

In addition, more than 86 percent of faculty respondents said that they used their campus libraries for academic research, “with the vast majority, over 79 percent, doing so for contributions to scholarly publications,” the report notes.

For faculty, the most frequent objective of an on-site research visit was consultation with a subject librarian, chosen by almost 75 percent. By contrast, 77 percent of faculty cited fact-checking as their reason for using online resources.

“Faculty perceptions about the library were largely positive, although only a few qualitative statements reached the ‘agree strongly’ level, including 50.8 percent of faculty respondents who indicated that ‘my academic library is important to my academic success,’ ” the report states. “Approximately 40 percent felt confident in their own ability to use the library, as well as in the library’s ability to provide support unavailable elsewhere on campus.”

LJ’s Patron Profiles: Academic Library Edition contains more detailed data on the subjects covered here, as well as analyses of student and faculty satisfaction by visit, expected outcomes by visit, reasons for using online versus on-site resources, reasons for consulting library staff, most common interactions with staff, preference for various discovery methods, the appeal and use of mobile services, the storage or other handling of online articles after retrieval, and much more. The full report is available for purchase.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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