Robin Miller sends her apologies – she could not attend the conference because she interviewing for a librarian position this week. Robin graduated December 2009 from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
This survey takes a step back from detailing library services and gets back to basics. We examined our constituency of distance learners and explored their library preferences.
In the 2008/2009 school year, the University of Illinois Library began to plan for an expansion of its services to distance learners. The Standards for Distance Learning Library Services from ACRL informed our survey. To put it simply, distance learners have a right to exactly the same access to library materials and services as on-campus students.
In planning new services, we became aware that we had only anecdotal information about our users and we felt we needed a more complete profile of distance learners at Illinois. In our literature review, we found that our colleagues at other institutions have surveyed distance students, but even after reading this published work, our knowledge had gaps. In particular, we needed information about how distance learners were using our services at the University of Illinois. Our particular situation is complicated by the Global Campus Initiative and a lack of history with the University Library. The Office of Continuing Education could give us enrollment data, so we knew that more than 1,500 students were taking online or off campus courses. We knew that: The majority of the courses offered were graduate level courses. The disciplines with the largest populations of distance learners were: library science education engineering social work Agriculture
But here’s what we didn’t know: We didn’t know if distance learners from particular disciplines used the library more or less, We didn’t know which library services they were aware of, how they learned about those services, or which services they used more frequently, We didn’t know what distance learners wanted from the library, if they felt that particular services were lacking. You could certainly make the argument that academic libraries should make an effort to answer these questions about all of their users. But we focused our inquiry on distance learners because we perceived their distance as an obstacle to learning about and using the library.
So we designed a survey to bridge these gaps in knowledge. Robin designed the survey as part of a research methods class at GSLIS. I supervised and mentored. She used a standard web-based survey tool specific to Illinois, Webtools, which required students to login. A total of 1,500 students were contacted by the Office of Continuing Education to take the survey. We received 146 responses.
We used a web-based survey to help distance learners tell us more about their library use. We wanted to know: What library services were already used by Illinois distance learners The frequency of service use What services students were aware of How they became aware of those services What services they wanted from the library We also gathered some more demographic data
This slide shows a breakdown of survey respondents by discipline. As you can see, a large number of respondents were library science students. LEEP students are probably more aware of library services and willing to answer a survey about the library. Distance learners in a variety of disciplines – some we know already are better served by the library than others. e.g. Education/Social Work Mostly graduate students: From the literature review we learned that past surveys indicate that graduate students have different needs from the library, primarily reference services. Whereas undergraduates are looking primarily for online access to library materials.
The survey revealed that distance learners are using the library website. There is certainly room for improvement in these numbers, but the fact that more than 60% of students are aware that the library website exists and that they use it at least once a week indicates that the library website is a crucial point of communication for distance learners. We were able to respond to this information quickly, but launching both a web portal for distance learners on the library website, and LibGuides designed specifically for distance learners. We added a link to our library gateway labeled “Distance learners.” http://www.library.illinois.edu/distance/
Although we were pleased to learn that distance learners are using the library website, we also learned that many library services go unused by distance learners. Low numbers of survey respondents had contact the library via phone, email, or chat. Web-based instructional materials were not heavily used, and few students had attended an online workshop through the library. Not to our surprise, students are accessing electronic research materials, articles through our databases. But this is just one piece of doing effective and comprehensive research - clearly there is room for improvement on the part of the library to market our services better. We interpreted these results to mean that the library was not being effective in the marketing the wide range of services available to all students including interlibrary loan/reference/instruction.
Two questions included a field for open ended comments, which were quite revealing. From these comments, we might be able to conclude that some services go untapped because students are simply unaware that they exist.
Awareness of library services was a key area of inquiry. We didn’t know what distance learners knew about the library; however, because many distance learners rarely or ever visit the campus, we knew that they were not necessarily going to be aware of the library because they walk by the building on their way to class. When we asked distance students how they learned about the library, we got a very interesting mix of responses. A significant number indicated that they learned about the library from their instructor or because of promotion from their department; this suggests that collaboration is key to promoting library services to distance learners. In addition, we saw that the library website was an important way that students found out what the library has to offer. This suggests that we need to develop web portals and guides that distance learners find to be usable. Obviously we were a bit alarmed hat some students indicated that they were not familiar with the library.
We were also interested in how distance learners want to communicate with the library. This issue is important because we know that most distance learners can’t just walk into the physical library when they have a question. So, we asked them how they would prefer to seek help from the library. The respondents ranked their preferences. We can see that there is an overwhelming preference for email. So this means that we need to make it easy for distance students to email the library but it also means making students aware of our larger Ask a Librarian service, as well as connecting students to relevant subject specialists in a seamless way.
We also found contradictions in distance learners’ expressed preferences and the library services that they actually use. This again suggests that distance learners may be unaware of available services.
In an open ended question, we asked students what they value most about the University of Illinois Library. This shows the top 50 words used by our survey respondents. We weren’t surprised by this. Good to know that students are taking advantage of electronic access, but this is only created more questions for us: What do students do when they can’t find what they are looking for? Do they contact a librarian? Use ILL? What are their searching skills? Effective? Not? Huge implications for information literacy.
In an open ended question, we asked students what services they wish the library would provide. This shows the top 50 words used by our survey respondents. The results of this question were interesting because many responses requested services that already exist. In other cases, students asked for services that are very difficult to provide; for example, one student requested that the University of Illinois enable her to check out books at the University of Arkansas. Responses to this question also indicated that e-books are in increasingly high demand.
Students are clearly aware of the library as a resource for content, but they don’t necessarily use the library as a source for assistance in accessing the content. So we have untapped services: Reference via email, chat, and the phone Instruction, particularly in the case of web-based tutorials Subject specialists We have opportunities for outreach. In open ended responses, several students specifically requested that a librarian visit their class and talk about research resources. In addition, the survey showed that a significant number of students learned about the library from their instructors. This suggests that building strong liaison relationships with instructors and departments is an important step towards building student awareness of our services. At Illinois, we use a subject specialist model. One way to reach out to classes would be to implement technology training for librarians in the responsible disciplines so that they feel comfortable teaching in a online environment.
The survey clearly indicates that distance learners are aware of the library as a source of content—both print and electronic. The new issue becomes, how to we constructively assist distance learners with materials access and engage them in information literacy instruction opportunities? Next steps for Illinois include: 1. Develop a strategic marketing campaign 2. Work with subject specialist librarians to reach adjunct faculty 3. Deepen instruction efforts through web tutorials and videos
If you have feedback, we’d like to hear from you. Thank you.
Listening from a distance: A survey of University of Illinois distance learners and its implications for instruction Merinda Kaye Hensley and Robin Miller University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Every student, faculty member, administrator, staff member, or any other member of an institution of higher education, is entitled to the library services and resources of that institution, including direct communication with the appropriate library personnel, regardless of where enrolled or where located in affiliation with the institution. Academic libraries must, therefore, meet the information and research needs of all these constituents, wherever they may be.
Change on the horizon Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license, www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/4340727578/
“ I don't think the web site is easy to use. I was not aware of your webinars or IM a librarian. Perhaps I am doing these things late at night and not when a person is available. I would like a intro page with tutorials on how to do... different search engines and different resources the library has to offer.”
“ Better advertisement of services; I feel there is a lot the library has to offer that I’m not aware of.”