Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Article Note: On Non-use of the academic library

Citation for the article:

Toner, Lisa. "Non-use of Library Services by Students in a UK Academic Library." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 3.2 (2008): 18-31.

Read online (this is an open-access journal. Journal link here).

This article serves to confirm a lot of what we know already when it comes to our academic libraries and the patrons that do not use the library. We know the reasons, but we don't always have the evidence. This is where this article comes in. Although it is a British study, it will still resonate with librarians on this side of the pond. And I would suggest that it may be desirable to replicate this study. I am willing to speculate that, in some cases, having this information would not only be useful for marketing and outreach purposes, but it would also be useful in terms of accreditation to show that you are surveying as many of your campus populations as possible. I would think in our case that it might not be too difficult to replicate the study here, assuming one could overcome some of the administrative red tape. But I digress. Let us look at the article.

The study looked at the non-use of the library at St. Martin's College in the United Kingdom. Survey was done via a mail (postal) survey and an additional survey done in some specific classes. After the literature review and the methodology section, the article goes on to discuss the results. The article does feature an appendix with the survey instrument, which I found helpful in order to see what questions were asked. Though not mentioned in the article, the survey form does mention a prize drawing for participation. When we conducted our usability testing, we did a prize drawing as well. For us, it was fairly clear we needed to "bribe" the students somehow to get them to come in. However, we were conducting more than just a questionnaire, so some compensation for the additional time was in order.

Some highlights then:

  • How they defined low use: "Low use was defined following a discussion amongst the management team as students who had borrowed three items or less in the previous twelve-month period" (22). For them, it represented a 21% of the student total number.
  • They found that mode of study (i.e. part time versus full time) and age could predict use of library services (23).
  • "The results highlighted that non-users not only made no use of traditional library services but only made limited use of the electronic resources provided by the library" (24). Note that not only did they not use the library, but they are not using the electronic resources that we invest so much to provide. This again seems pretty consistent. In our case, one way to validate this would be to keep track of the panicky and/or cranky phone calls we get about how to log onto the proxy for off campus access around the end of academic terms. Those kids never came to the library or used the library website (where the directions for logging in are available) until the very last moment, and under protest because their professor said, "you better not be using just Google." We can imagine then the ones that don't even call us.
  • Reinforcing the above: "Students who do not borrow books are on the whole not using other library services either" (27).
  • In the article, "induction to library service" is what we would call library instruction. In their case, a third of their respondents reported not getting any form of library induction, but on closer look, these were mostly distance students (24). What they learned was that "the library must creatively develop more alternative induction packages for those not taught on a main campus" (24). This is where things like embedding librarians into places like Blackboard and use of tutorials can help.
  • Awareness is still a key issue: "The responses indicated that many students are not aware of all library services offered. This highlights the need to do much more in terms of marketing, publicity, and promotion" (26).
  • Expanding the research: ". . .further data could have been usefully gathered from this group by follow-up telephone interviews with a sample of respondents" (28).
The article does include tables to illustrate the results. Overall it provides a good discussion and offers a way to consider replication.

No comments: