Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Survey Says. What Our Users Really Want Is Us!

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Survey Says. What Our Users Really Want Is Us!

Article excerpt

By now, nearly every large research library is deeply involved in user surveys, and we depend on the data they produce as we craft flexible goals for changing times. Survey data is even more important when external review committees are charged to review the library's mission because evidence-based metrics provide a crucial basis for understanding and rating performance and service goals. Indeed, the data often fall out in our favor, as local history has often shown. In 1997 the University of California- Berkeley (UC Berkeley) charged a "blue ribbon committee" to review the university library in an era of state budget shortfalls. The university library engaged its community quite effectively, relying on survey data as part of the process. In 2012, another blue ribbon committee was formed for the same reasons. The venture garnered strong support for building the staff and collections budgets; it also raised consciousness levels in general. The current committee, hard at work as we go to press, has an updated charge to identify the most important objectives for all library services. Intensive survey work preceded the formation of the blue ribbon committee and definitely influenced its charge.

Although research libraries vary quite a bit in their operational structure, there are commonalities among peer institutions, and so survey work is always broadly interesting. With that in mind, I will focus this month on sharing the survey responses that were gathered on the Berkeley campus during fall 2012.

'Central to the University's Mission'

After years of tight budgets, the university library at UC Berkeley found itself once again facing many hard decisions about its near and long-term future. Library leaders responded proactively in 2012, launching an internal "re-envisioning" process. Once they had data in hand, they took their findings to the faculty and campus administration. The survey reached more than 4,000 faculty, students, and staff. Read all about it on the library's website. (See "Attitudes Toward Re-Envisioning the UC Berkeley Library: An Online Survey of the UC Campus Community" at lib.berkeley.edu/AboutLibrary/re_envision.html.)

The re-envisioning process and accompanying survey data attracted favorable attention, and a blue ribbon committee was charged to study the situation and make strategic recommendations. Survey data were influential from the get-go. The survey produced one of those "keystone" metrics we always hope to achieve: 7 in 10 users said they used the library a "great deal" or a "fair amount." The data suggest that the library is central to the university's mission, to be sure, but another intriguing mindset was revealed. It turns out that "liking" the library inevitably means liking librarians, and the majority of survey respondents hold them in high esteem. Indeed, the survey also confirmed that the interactions we have with patrons leave them better off than they were before. This finding is a crucial value point that we need to return to over and over again, especially since debates about library space and budgets often tilt toward self-service and selfdirected research models as a solution to staffing challenges.

The value of "high touch" services is confirmed elsewhere in the survey too. At its core, the surveyors wanted to discover whether patrons preferred "stand-alone, full-service" subject libraries (of which there are many on campus) or whether they would accept "hub and cluster" services points. The latter would allow a much-reduced staff to pool their efforts - a big savings, as it would give the university a basis for permanently reducing of the total number of full-time employees in the library. But graduates and undergraduates expressed greater comfort with the full-service approach, which was welcome news. The faculty split 50-50 on this point, but a 50% favorable rating for stand-alone, full-service locations is nonetheless a compelling number.

'High-Quality Collections'? …

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