Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Understanding Faculty Information Needs: A Process in the Context of Service

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Understanding Faculty Information Needs: A Process in the Context of Service

Article excerpt

Building major program revisions on the basis of an information needs analysis required members of an academic library staff to learn more about conducting in-house research. Working with administrative support, librarians crossed departmental boundaries to support the study, and then used the resulting data to begin redevelopment of a rapidly growing faculty service initiative.


Academic librarians manage the responsibility of meeting patron information needs within the context of a complex, dynamic environment. Effective decision-making requires an understanding of those information needs, an understanding based on more than personal experience. Recognizing that a new program's rapid growth indicated that an area of need had been tapped, the staff of the Blagg-Huey Library opted to move beyond their own experiences with the new program and into a formal study of the information needs it was designed to meet. The process behind and results of that study provide insight into community information-needs analysis.

The Research Problem: Why This Approach?

Limited resources demand carefully analyzed choices, particularly when service demands increase exponentially. Academic librarians make these difficult choices on a regular basis. Based on those two constants, the management of the Blagg-Huey Library identified their initial research problem as well as an approach used to handle it.

The immediate research problem grew out of a strong positive reaction to a new program, a reaction running across all segments of the university's diverse faculty. Explained more fully in the following sections, this program grew from one librarian's sideline to a significant portion of the workload for the entire reference staff. Obviously faculty information needs had been tapped and were being met. The question, however, was what information needs do the faculty have? Subsidiary questions followed. What information do they want? What information skills do they have or want to gain? What information channels and formats most interest them? What information problems most concern them?

The approach chosen to handle this research problem grew out of a fundamental management decision to build a strong foundation for the new program. Rather than simply evaluate a program that had grown too rapidly for strategic planning, the managers decided to strengthen the roots of the program by testing their own assumptions about the information needs that the program was intended to meet. The plan required three phases: first, a study of faculty information needs; second, a development of the program based on those needs; third, an evaluation of the resulting program.

The situation therefore required at least two sets of action research, the initial information-needs analysis and a future evaluation. By investing time in staff development at the beginning of the process, library managers expected to produce more cost-effective, timely, and focused results in the end. To this end, they chose an approach to the research problem that centered on staff development. Rather than assigning one person to handle the faculty information-needs analysis or hiring an outside consultant to complete the work, the library managers opted to develop the research skills of interested staff members so that they could handle the work on their own. With this approach, the study would result in (1) a deeper understanding of faculty information needs; and (2) a cadre of librarians whose skills and interest in research had been further developed.

Context of the Study; The Library

Texas Woman's University serves about nine thousand students (47 percent graduate students) with a mandated focus on the various service professions in health studies and education. The Blagg-Huey Library in Denton serves as the information base from which service is extended to the three satellite campuses, two in Dallas and one in Houston. …

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