March 16, 2018

UConn Discovers What Students Want From Their Library

The University of Connecticut Libraries Undergraduate Education Team released the results of Assessment 360, formally titled Undergraduates and the Library: How Students Use and Engage with Spaces, Resources, and Technologies.

“The objective of the study was, in the simplest of senses, to get to know our undergraduates, to locate our own undergraduates on the ever–‐changing plane of technology use and information seeking, and to literally locate them in the places they choose to get work done,” the report says. The assessment used a mix of quantitative methods (an online survey) with qualitative ones (focus groups, a filmed interview and a student-made short film.

Among the findings of the study are: that the name “Learning Commons” meant little to students; that the Commons was used casually between classes during the day and for extended, focused lengths of time in the evening; and that the Commons (and the whole library) needs a lot more outlets for students’ laptops. The students had little knowledge of, or interest in, reference assistance; they preferred signage to having to ask for help.

The survey found that common stereotypes of the Millennial generation as always-online digital natives to be perhaps overblown. Almost half said they spent 26-50 percent of their online time on academic work, and 21 percent spent 51-75 percent of their online time on schoolwork. Only 6 percent considered themselves early adopters of new technology; 17 percent use technologies “somewhat before” others; 53 percent adopt technology “at the same time” as others or take “a while” to use technologies (22 percent).

When it comes to interacting with the library via technology, 37 percent were extremely unlikely to ask a librarian a question via text/SMS/MMS/Web, and another 21 percent said it was unlikely. Some 34 percent said they’d be “fairly likely,” “likely,” or “extremely likely” to do so. However this may have more to do with a dislike of mediated help of any kind than with technology: 45 percent say they never seek face to face help from a librarian, and another 35 percent did so once a semester or less. Of those who did interact with librarians, it was almost always after “push” from a professor.

About half said they might use a library extension in their browser, depending on the quality; but they were more interested in accessing library resources and help in via UConn’s course management system. The survey found that the student portal was the primary reference point for students. As a result of this study, the library now has a presence on this page. Previously it could only be found in a drop down menu, which was less useful, since the study also found that students tended not to browse and click to find pages, instead using search functionality.

When it comes to physical space, beyond comfortable chairs and outlets, Assessment 360 found that students liked room to spread out, nearby food and proximity to their dorms for late-night travel; the ability to control their environment in terms of privacy, proximity, and talking or lack thereof.

As a result of the study, the library has already added power via poles or pillars; recalibrated research help to focus on live chat, branded the Learning Commons with a new name (Homer One), and added new signage. Other changes are still in the works: “We’re investigating new table and carrel designs that, on one hand, give our students room to spread out, while on the other hand maintain a sense of contained, semi–‐private space. We’re trying to identify furniture and layouts that offer the public–‐private (alone in a crowd) balance students seem to desire,” the report said.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. They re-branded the Learning Commons (bad bureaucrat name) with Homer One (stupid bureaucrat trying to be cool name)? I must be missing something. Why would UConn students want this? Homer One tells them *less* than Learning Commons does. Sheesh

    • somelibrarian says:

      Actually, it is a more functional name, seeing as the Learning Commons is located on the 1st floor of the Homer Babbidge Library…

    • Actually (surprised I didn’t catch this) a group of students voted to go with Homer Commons, not Homer One. You’re write, rjones2818, it’s another top-down name. The impetus for the name change, however, wasn’t so much this study (although this summary may suggest that). The impetus was from the library’s marketing group, who said: give us something we can build a brand on. Since Learning Commons clearly hadn’t stuck, we had in a sense an open slate. There’s a Learning Commons Council (librarians and academics representing the various commons centers). This was a decision (via student vote) of that council. You’re right…this does suggest a direct line (the study to the name change) that in fact didn’t exist. Perhaps misleading writing on my part.