The November 15, 2012 edition of Library Journal discussed a survey concerning student use and perceptions of academic libraries. The article reported that even as they enjoy high approval ratings, academic libraries could benefit from improved outreach to college students.
Key findings from that survey included:
- 90% of students who used their library said that they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to use the library again.
- Students’ primary uses of the library included study space (45%), Wi-Fi/Internet (40%), and research/class assignments (32%).
- 70% of students visited the library within the last 30 days, while 5% reported “never” having visited the library.
Given the importance of research in high-level undergraduate courses and my having assigned a 15-20-page research paper to my BBA 305 class, I conducted an anonymous survey of my students to see how their perceptions and use of the Leonard Lief Library compared with the results from this national survey.
My writing assignment is worth 20% of the course grade. It asks students to identify a target company; describe its competitive strategy; discuss its growth and profitability; outline its major strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT); and, to analyze the relevant industry’s employment situation. Much of this information can be found using electronic resources provided by Lehman College’s Library, including the Business Insights, Business Source Complete, and LexisNexis Academic databases.
Considering the scale of the required research, the broad range of the Library’s electronic resources, and the paper’s contribution to the overall course grade, one perhaps would reasonably expect that all of my students would have utilized the Library during the current semester. One would also expect that they made use of most or all of the above-mentioned databases.
Neither expectation proved accurate. In fact, 25% of my class, all of whom are students in their final year at Lehman College, reported that they had not used the Library during the current semester. Of the students who used the Library, 50% reported having used the LexisNexis Academic database and 33% said that they had used the Business Source Complete database.
None had used the Business Insights database, which provides SWOT analyses for a large number of companies.
The major findings from my survey included:
- 83% of students who used the Library said that they would be “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to use the Library again.
- 83% of students who used the Library during the current semester visited the library on at least a monthly basis.
- Their primary uses of the Library were to conduct research (42%), use a textbook on reserve (33%), and to utilize study space (25%). Unlike the national survey, none cited Wi-Fi/Internet access as a primary use.
- 50% of those who used the Library felt that it was “important” to their academic success. However, 50% were “neutral” as to whether the Library contributed to their academic performance.
- In terms of overall importance, students ranked a variety of uses, resources, or services as follows from most to least important: 1. Research Resource; 2. Study Space and Textbook on Reserve; 4. Wi-Fi/Internet; 5. Assignment Resource and Electronic Resources; and, 7. Print Resources and Reference Librarian.
I will repeat this survey during the spring 2013 semester. It is too soon to know whether these findings are representative of Lehman College’s overall student body and/or if the findings point to persistent issues. If the findings are representative and they reveal an enduring situation, that data would indicate:
- Students need to be made more aware of the critical relationship between the Library and their academic work. Such outreach from faculty (course and Library faculty) might need to occur on a sustained basis.
- Students might benefit from an introductory electronic research guide that describes effective research strategies and provides tangible examples of the kinds of information available on some of the Library’s major databases (based on a wide range of student research assignments at Lehman College). Information about the guide could be made available to students at Orientation for first-year students and transfer students. Links could also be provided on the Library’s homepage, the webpage devoted to Lehman College’s current students, the Division of Student Affairs’ “Student Toolbox,” and on faculty BlackBoard sites.
Based on my survey findings, I will require my students to attend a Library workshop or session to be scheduled with one of the Library faculty. The purpose of that workshop or session would be to inform my students on how they could leverage the Library’s resources and services to conduct effective research in general and to meet my course’s research requirements in particular.
During the current semester, I had encouraged my students to do so voluntarily. With a significant share of my students not fully utilizing the Library’s relevant research resources and some not using the Library altogether, attendance at such a workshop or session would likely be compulsory. Attendance would count for a modest part of my overall course grade.
The development of effective research skills is not only an investment in learning, but also an investment in differentiating oneself during one’s career. The Library provides a critical foundation for quality research. Therefore, it makes sense to try new ideas aimed at increasing student use of the Library and building student knowledge of the Library’s broad range of resources.