Student Use of the Library: Spring 2013 Survey

Last fall, I conducted a survey to learn about how my students were using the library. I wanted to compare the outcomes with those of a national survey. This semester, I repeated the survey in search of persistent themes.

The major findings from my survey included:

  • 86% of students who used the library said that they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to use the library again (83% in fall 2012).
  • 86% of students who used the library during the current semester visited the library on at least a monthly basis (83% in fall 2012).
  • Their primary uses of the library were to conduct research (39% vs. 42% in fall 2012), prepare an assignment (31% vs. 0% in fall 2012), or use a textbook on reserve (21% vs. 33% in fall 2012).
  • 71% of those who used the library felt that it was “important” to their academic success (50% in fall 2012). However, 29% were “neutral” as to whether the library contributed to their academic performance (50% in fall 2012).
  • In terms of overall importance, students ranked a variety of uses, resources, or services as follows from most to least important: 1. Wi-Fi/Internet (4th in fall 2012); 2. Study Space (2nd in fall 2012); 3. Research Resource (1st in fall 2012) and Print Resources (7th in fall 2012); 5. Assignment Resource (5th in fall 2012); 6. Electronic Resources (5th in fall 2012); 7. Reference Librarian (7th in fall 2012); and, 8. Textbook on Reserve (7th in fall 2012).

As had been the case last semester, I assigned a research paper worth 20% of the course grade. Much of the required information can be found using electronic resources provided by Lehman College’s Library, including the Business Insights, Business Source Complete, and LexisNexis Academic databases.

During the fall, 50% of students visiting the library 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.

The outcomes were little changed this semester. 43% of students said that they had used the LexisNexis database and 14% reported having used the Business Insights database. However, 43% reported using none of the electronic resources identified in the survey (Business Insights, Business Source Complete, LexisNexis, EconLit, and JSTOR Arts & Science).

Since that survey, I constructed a "Business Database Utilization Score" or BDUS for students who used the library. That metric is calculated as follows:  # of database uses / (# of databases * # of students)

The BDUS for fall 2012 was 0.208. For spring 2013, it was 0.143.

Following the results of the last survey, I had planned to require my students to attend a library workshop, but deferred.  I wanted to repeat the survey to see if underutilization of the library’s electronic resources was a continuing issue.

The survey results suggest that at least a share of students may not be information literate. In today’s complex and dynamic world, information literacy has become essential. Managers and policy makers need a multidisciplinary perspective that takes into consideration diverse information, uncertainty, opportunity costs, and empirical outcomes to be effective.

In his recently published book, The Signal and the Noise (The Penguin Press: 2012), founder and statistician Nate Silver writes, “…if the quantity of information is increasing by 2.5 quintillion bytes per day, the amount of useful information almost certainly isn’t.” He continues, “Most of it is just noise, and the noise is increasing faster than the signal.” In other words, the Information Revolution has ushered in a blinding blizzard of data that has increasingly shrouded the “useful” from the “useless.”

In that blizzard, students, consumers, managers, and policy makers can easily get lost when trying to accomplish tasks, make decisions, or solve problems. The resulting outcomes can be disastrous.

Student learning can fall short of what’s possible. Consumers can pay too much for inferior products that do not adequately address their needs. Managers can make decisions that speed the competitive erosion of their firms. Policy makers can adopt laws or issue regulations that make little or no tangible contribution to the general welfare despite the costs and manpower involved.

With computing power and data storage continuing to grow at a dizzying pace, the data blizzard will not abate anytime soon. It may well intensify.

Nevertheless, navigating this environment and its opportunities and challenges is neither a hopeless task nor a matter of random chance. Information literacy can empower users of information, much as literacy had done following the advent of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in 1450.

Every college graduate, without exception, should possess the skills that comprise information literacy and perhaps none more than tomorrow’s managers, scientists, and political leaders. With its position at the crossroads of information and the expertise of its faculty, the library has become the Information Age-equivalent of the Rosetta Stone. It is a key institution for cultivating and expanding information literacy. Unless students take advantage of its resources and services, the library cannot perform that crucial role.

Based on the results of my two surveys and the paramount importance of information literacy, I will require my fall 2013 class to attend a session to be scheduled with a member of the library faculty outside of my normal class hours and when none of my students are scheduled to attend another class. In substance, I will give my students an “on-campus homework assignment.” To make the requirement credible, attendance at the workshop will account for 5% of the course grade. In addition, lack of attendance would preclude a student’s earning an “A” in my course.

Following the semester, the BDUS will be one of several measures by which I evaluate the effectiveness of the library session requirement and related incentives. Additional measures will be used. Changes to the calculation of the course grade, if necessary, will be adopted based on the data.

To be sure, I expect some objections from students. Nonetheless, an evidence-based approach, a willingness to act on the data, a degree of innovation, and the measurement of results are important for enhancing student learning outcomes. With information literacy having become critical to academic and professional success, along with data indicating that library information literacy sessions strengthen student research skills, mandating attendance at such a session makes sense.

Top: The facade of the Leonard Lief Library; Bottom: Company/Industry/Market Research Databases





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