What Do Students Want? A Focus Group Study of Students at a Mid-Sized Public University

Article excerpt

Introduction

This study presents the findings of a series of focus groups conducted at Kutztown University, a medium-sized public liberal arts institution serving approximately 10,000 students and over 500 faculty members. The focus groups, consisting of almost fifty undergraduate students, centered on how students are meeting their information needs, how they use the library, and how the library could be improved.

We are keenly interested in providing excellent library resources and services to our constituents, with this in mind we set out to develop a study that would ascertain the effectiveness of our current services, the strengths of our collections, and the direction the library should take concerning new information delivery systems and products. The library had participated in the LibQual survey, but we were interested in conducting a more in-depth, open ended assessment of our student users. We quickly realized that a survey would be too static and would limit the creativity of the participants. Ultimately we decided that a student focus group would be the best method to accomplish our goals.

Methods

In accordance with the literature (Powell and Connaway, 2004; McNamara, 1999; University of Texas at Austin, 2005a; University of Texas at Austin, 2005b), we developed seven questions to ask each focus group. The questions start out broad, then narrow, and finish by focusing on the primary concern of the study. By modifying questions from a previous study (Weber and Flatley 2006), we constructed a set of queries aimed at student library use.

* Where do you go to meet your information needs?

* Is the library useful to you? Why or why not.

* How can/does the library help you with your classroom work?

* Do you use library resources for your own research and interest? Please explain how and what.

* What do you think is the single most important service for the library to provide?

* In the age of the Internet, what do you see as the role of the academic library on campus?

* In your opinion, how can the library be improved?

Focus group set-up included scheduling sessions and recruiting a diverse population of students. We created a varied schedule for our session times to allow for the wide-ranging class and activity schedules of our undergraduate students. We included "open hours" (e.g. times when no classes are scheduled at the university) and late afternoon times. We were then faced with the challenge of recruiting a group of busy undergraduate students. Other researchers have relied on various incentives including food and prizes to induce participation (Becker and Flug 2005). Given our lack of a budget we had to develop other means to recruit students. Our recruitment centered on three diverse pools of students. First of all, we were able to induce a number of our student employees to participate by offering them one-hour of paid time (e.g. they would work their regularly scheduled hours but one of those hours would be spend in a focus group). Secondly, we had the good fortune that one of our student workers was also the president of a campus organization dedicated to involving students in Greek life in service projects. This student was able to recruit other students to do the focus group as a service project. Our third pool consisted of students from two library science classes for non-majors. We asked a library science professor if we could interview his research methods class. We felt that participating in a focus group was an appropriate learning lesson for a research class and he agreed. Altogether we were able to arrange a total of 11 sessions with 49 students. In accordance with University policy, all participants received a notice that explained the purpose of the study and signed a consent form. All responses were kept confidential. Responses were recorded by taking notes and using a tape recorder. …