Assessing Campus Libraries

Survey says students are generally satisfied with campus libraries, although a significant minority view them as irrelevant to academic success.

November 30, 2012

Students are satisfied overall with the role academic libraries play in their lives, but more than a third of them do not see the libraries as crucial to their academic success, according to a new survey.

The study, conducted by Library Journal, gathered data from 2,516 students at four- and two-year colleges about their opinions and habits in relation to their campus libraries and online library portals.

In many respects libraries fared well. The survey found that more than half (55 percent) of students typically find what they are looking for on a typical visit to either libraries or library portals.

At the same time students seemed blasé about the role of the library in their lives. More than 30 percent of students said they would unlikely or only somewhat likely to use the library again, and only 25 percent “strongly” agreed that their library meets their expectations.

“Of notable concern is the decrease in assurance that the academic library helps students understand what is being learned in class and offers unique support,” write the authors of the report, which is not freely available.

A mere 20 percent said the library “provides support that I can’t get anywhere else on campus.” The most commonly cited reason for visiting the library was to use it as a study space, but less than a third relied heavily on the library for peace and quiet. A shade over 25 percent agreed strongly that “my academic library is important to my academic success” — although an additional 45 percent believe this is true in general.

Which may be fine. Students do not necessarily need to exclaim the virtues of their campus libraries from the mountaintops in order to affirm the value of those libraries. Still, librarians might want to consider the implications of 40 percent of their students seeing no correlation between the presence of the library and their own academic success, write the authors.

The report recommends finding ways to inspire credibility with this group and “more securely anchor the library in the academic community” — although the authors’ only specific tip, “kind service,” might strike some librarians as fatuous.   

Despite predictions that many bound books might soon disappear from the stacks, a strong majority (67 percent) of respondents in the Library Journal survey rated the availability of print resources on-site as either important or extremely important. The availability of in-person assistance was also highly rated (59 percent), although curiously fewer than 20 percent of students reported availing themselves of library staffers for any purpose. (Students also reported visiting the library’s physical plant and online portal in roughly equal measure.)

So where do students turn when tracking down research materials, if not to librarians? The study reaffirmed the truism that students tend to turn first to Google. But the authors anticipated a predictably alarmed response to this fact by assuring readers that the popular search engine is rarely a student’s only stop.

“Google provides a quick information scoop, but … more than half of students who reported using Google as one of their top three information sources beyond the academic library also selected” more reputable resources on campus, “suggesting a hybrid, bolstered approach to research.”

Nevertheless, the report’s authors advise librarians to “make this distinction clear and develop means to further research instruction … so students will understand where to go and how to evaluate information once they have completed pre-research with Google.”



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