Closer Than You Think: Librarian Perceptions vs. User Needs


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These are my slides from a presentation at the 30th Annual Charleston Conference. The entire slide deck (including slides from my co-presenters) will be online shortly.

Closer Than You Think: Librarian Perceptions vs. User Needs / Speakers: Heather Blaine - Credo Reference; Erin Dorney - Millersville University; Julia Gelfand - University of California - Irvine

In two recent surveys Credo Reference collected approximately 1,000 responses each from librarians and students on two basic questions: What challenges do students face when doing research? What are the important capabilities of an online resource?
The results were surprising. Though we often hear about a gulf between librarian perceptions and user needs, our data suggest otherwise. So, if librarians have the correct understanding about what students find difficult in research today and they agree on what an online resource should offer then why are we still fighting the Google and Wikipedia reflex? How can new innovative reference products from mobile reference applications to experimental publishing projects bring students and librarians even closer?

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  • Credo Reference did surveys of students and academic librarians. The survey results surprisingly revealed that a lot of perceptions about reference are shared by both groups! Examples: What is the most important capability of online reference? The number one response for both students and librarians was quality of content (50.5% of librarians and 48.6% of librarians). What is hardest about doing research for school? Finding a starting point for research (19.2% of librarians and 19.3% of students) and Overwhelmed by too much content (17.4% of librarians and 19.1% of students).
  • My name is Erin Dorney and I’m the outreach librarian at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. I spend a lot of my time working on publicity and marketing for library services, resources, and programs. That is the lens through which I’m entering the conversation this afternoon. I’m going to share my thoughts on how we can capitalize on the shared perceptions between librarians and library users. And perhaps pose some questions to leave you thinking.

  • Librarians and students in the Credo survey agreed that finding a starting point for their research is one of the most difficult aspects. To this, I ask, are we still using jargon in our signage, internal/external communications, within our interfaces and marketing? Students want it fast and easy, easy, easy - if they don’t know the vocabulary we’re using, they’re moving on to the open web. How can we make things clearer, make their experience better so that they come back the next time? We need to help them sort through information overload (quickly!) so they don't click away.

    Use clear and friendly language. Replace traditional words with transformative words: powerful, intuitive, value-enhanced terminology.

    used car - certified pre-owned vehicle
    trailers - mobile units

  • As seen in the Credo survey, librarians and students want research avenues available outside the library (search engines, social networks, Blackboard, etc.). Students want "anytime, anywhere" access to friends, entertainment, news and...information (yay! & thank goodness because everyone in this room today, vendors and librarians have dedicated their careers to information in one way or another!) According to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 85% of Americans now own a cell phone. Are our websites mobile friendly? Another Pew study reported that 22% of all adults (representing 28% of internet users) signed up to receive alerts about local issues (such as traffic, school events, weather warnings or crime alerts) via email or text messaging. Are we offering our users the option of push notifications?

  • As an outreach librarian, I do a lot with marketing. I know there was a time where “marketing” was a dirty word for librarians, but I hope that time has passed because we all need to stop shushing and start...

  • And I mean, everything. Transparent organizations. Professional development. Conversations on blogs and microblogs.

    I was recently sitting at our reference desk helping a student. Another student was waiting in line to be helped next. As I worked with the first student, the second chimed in and we all worked on the question together. I ended up watching as the second student demo-ed his “favorite database” to the first student. When does this happen!? Here is a student who has a FAVORITE DATABASE! That is fabulous! We need to share that. And encourage peer-to-peer sharing. Use testimonies in your marketing! Let students recommend, review, analyze resources. This is a generation of sharing vs a generation of privacy - they want to share their thoughts - on social networks and maybe even....somewhere on the library website? Are we giving them the opportunity to talk about the "library brand" to their peers?

  • Prime example of how important gathering and USING feedback is: Think about the drinks many of you are holding - that’s a concrete example of the Charleston conference organizers taking your feedback into consideration, improving your experience, making this conference stand out!

    Libraries and library service is not about us. We’re no longer storage warehouses for books. We’re integrated. Are we listening to user feedback, comments, questions? How can we improve our resources and services to contribute to information fluency instead of information literacy? With the whole patron driven acquisitions movement, that is a prime example of us giving the students what they want - creating a just in time collection instead of a just in case collection. What else can we do to help bridge the gaps that both WE (as librarians) and the STUDENTS (as seen in the Credo survey) have identified?

  • So, you might think that none of these things relate to reference. But they all contribute to overall perception of the library, encouraging (or discouraging) users from your services, resources, and employees. How can we be friendly flexible facilitators for the discovery, adaptation and creation of knowledge? That’s the field I want to work in... I hope it’s your vision too.

  • Please visit to continue the conversation and learn more about the surveys!
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