On April 4, 2013, I was a panelist for the webcast “Perspectives on Academic Patrons: A Closer Look at Takeaways from Library Journal’s Academic Patron Profiles (APP).” Along with Jaime Hammond, acting director of library services, Naugatuck Valley Community College, CT, and Sue Polanka, head, reference & instruction, Wright State University Libraries, OH, we discussed “some of the report’s major findings and…trends driving library use,” according to the webcast description. Steven Bell, associate university librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, moderated.
To prepare, we all selected the three topic areas we felt were the most significant survey results for our academic library communities. The report is divided into “Activities & Outcomes,” “On-Site Vs. Online Usage,” “Research Behaviors and Needs,” and “Faculty Perspectives.” Not surprisingly, we each had at least one takeaway in common.
Jaime Hammond made a comment during the webcast that I picked up on immediately during the session but have continued to ponder. She noted that libraries were about three things: “materials, space, and services.” It framed very well the items I selected to talk about during the event (“Activities & Outcomes,” “On-Site Vs. Online Usage,” and “Faculty Perspectives”), but it also reflects some of the fundamental questions we are trying to address at my campus library.
Activities & outcomes
In mid-February, a head librarian at another campus asked what other librarians were doing to collaborate with their campus admissions office. One colleague noted the admissions office sends out a letter she wrote congratulating the student on being accepted to the university and highlighting the resources and services they can take advantage of while they finish up high school. Another talked about providing a general library overview during the admissions orientation session. Several noted working with student leaders who provide campus tours to more accurately highlight library services and resources, particularly to expand on the limiting “they have books” conversation.
Before the webcast my reference librarian and I just happened to be talking about what we could do to strengthen our relationship with admissions and get more connected with prospective students. We want to highlight how the library plays a role in their academic success.
A bar graph from the APP report showed only about 18 percent of the student responses indicated the reason for consulting with library staff is to achieve a good grade on an assignment or course. Before reading the report I might have attributed this number to the challenges librarians sometimes face getting opportunities to provide course-related instruction in a wide variety of classes. However, after reading the report I wonder if it really points to a missed opportunity earlier in the student’s career, during the admissions process. Academic success is something I always highlight to students in my library instruction classes, but I may be planting that seed a bit too late.
On-Site vs. online usage
The numbers for students using their library on-site (76 percent) and online (69 percent) are not that far apart. And while the survey results demonstrate online use is primarily for research materials and on-site focuses on library as place, there is a certain amount of fluidity between the two. This is further demonstrated in the reasons for using the library building on campus. On-site use of the library is most strongly tied to the availability of wireless connectivity. Interestingly, though, the fourth most popular response to this survey question was “better online resources for my discipline”—even though those online resources are, well, equally online wherever the student is working.
When asked their reasons for using the library on-site, only 24 percent of student respondents indicated the building as providing a more appealing and comfortable workspace. Other locations such as coffee shops, specialty shops, and other commercial businesses offering free wireless access are likely where students work either on their own or in groups. These places certainly offer what a more outdated library space cannot: a floor plan where tables and chairs can be rearranged, food and drink, and plenty of electrical outlets. Some Dunkin’ Donuts locations, including franchises in Florida, New Jersey, and Ohio, now have conference rooms customers can reserve and rent for a nominal fee. As we evaluate and renovate academic library spaces both on-site and online we need to keep in mind these spaces often collide for our users.
The survey included questions specifically for faculty. While there was strong support for the academic library’s importance to academic success and unique support function on campus, the responses were not nearly as strong for the library meeting expectations, having the right technology for accomplishing goals, or fostering opportunities to use the library. In my mind this represented a real split in philosophy and practice. There is recognition that an academic library on campus is necessary and something students and faculty can benefit from—and yet it does not live up to expectations. These results demonstrate the need to have deeper conversations with faculty to understand what is missing from students’ library experience, how services can be better marketed, and ways to partner in championing use of the campus library by the entire community.
Faculty surveyed also found the online library experience to be more problematic than did student respondents. In my conversations with faculty members, I get the sense there is a concern students will only use the online library and not the print collection or physical building. Meanwhile, results from APP revealed that 76 percent of students who responded to the survey are spending time in the library building. We spend a lot of time focusing on the research needs of students, but maybe we need to consider how those research needs are viewed by faculty.
I spend a lot of my own time working with other members of the faculty to determine what their goals are for an assignment and the type of information they expect the students to identify and use. There is always disappointment that students probably will not use books unless required by the assignment or that everything will likely be retrieved from a computer that may not even be located in the library. Or worse, faculty must devote a class period to a course-related instruction session for their students to learn how to develop a research topic and use their campus library. We need to keep in mind the concept of our academic libraries providing users with materials, spaces, and services. For me, the report begins both to bring into focus and provide guidance regarding the types of services and resources students and faculty expect to be available in the library.