Friday, January 09, 2009

Article Note: On meeting academic needs for information

Citation for the article:

Saunders, E. Stewart. "Meeting Academic Needs for Information: A Customer Service Approach." portal: Libraries and the Academy 8.4 (2008): 357-371.

Read via Project Muse.

This article deals with the results of a LibQual+ survey done at Purdue University. We just completed LibQual+ for this year here, so I had a bit more interest in reading this article as a result. One of the things that really caught my eye was the article's main assertion: ". . .that libraries are in the business of providing information resources and that users are the judges of those resources" (367). In other words, the emphasis, what a library should be doing, is providing the information resources that students need in order for them to meet their academic needs. Whether the library is "pretty" or spacious or has a lot of fancy furniture is not as relevant, even though this is something currently assessed in the survey. It certainly was something our director observed upon when she looked at our results; a lot of the comments were about the building and the space, not all complimentary. And while I am all for a nice and neat space, at the end of the day, we cannot forget that the library has an educational mission. Our business is to provide information, do it better than Google, and support the education of students. Aesthetic enhancements are nice, but if they do not support the educational mission, then the library is not better than a food court.

Here are then some highlights from the article:

  • "This paper argues that libraries are in the business of providing the books, articles, and documents that contain the information needed by the user. All operations and resources in the library should support this key goal" (357).
  • The author considers the fact that information resources, especially online materials, are the major cost factor in libraries today. Many libraries are shifting more and more of their budgets in that direction. So, in a sense, the provision of information resources could not be better. Yet patrons want more now than the resources and librarians. They want the computers, and they want the study spaces.
  • There is a difference between what librarians often see about their library and what the students see. We see for the most part the units of the library (circulation, reference, cataloguing, etc.). The kids just see the books, the online resources, and the computers along with the building (the parts of the building they see). They see the collections as well as the space where the collection is kept. An out-of-date unattractive collection will probably ellicit responses from students that the building and library may not be as relevant to them in meeting their needs, for instance.
  • "A service industry can only be judged by the quality of the service provided" (358). We provide materials, but we also provide a service, and we are then judged by those two things: the resources we provide and the service we have to support those resources we provide.
  • Overall, quality service is still important. "If academic libraries are to differentiate themselves from Google, they must do so by providing a quality of information service that the competition cannot match" (359). Again, this is the human element, which is something I have pondered once or twice before.
  • I thought this was a provocative question, since it seems to go against a lot of the library literature and what a good number of the L2 bloggers say. The author writes: "However, should improving overall patron satisfaction be the goal of the library? If the primary mission of the library is to provide the information resources needed by the user and, thereby, meet the competition from the Internet, then should not the goal of the library be to improve satisfaction with this particular part of our operation? If that is the case, the other aspects of the library's operation should be viewed in terms of how they can improve the information sources" (360).
  • "The way respondents evaluate the access mechanisms of the library is a strong predictor of how they will evaluate the information resources of the library" (363).
  • What does the author mean by access mechanisms? "The access mechanisms are those reflected in the survey questions related to the variable access, that is, well-designed library Web pages, up-to-date computers with good functionality, ease of off-campus access, intuitive databases, and so on" (363, italics in the original).
  • "What does this mean for library policy? Patrons who have high opinion of the access mechanisms tend to have a high opinion of the library's information sources" (367). So the author asks if more investment in this regard would entice the low satisfaction people to have a higher satisfaction level. It would seem that if there is a causal effect, and the author says it is reasonable to that there is, then investing more in things like better Web pages should yield a higher return in satisfaction when it comes to information needs.
  • On the other hand, the author seems to go against a lot of the conventional wisdom which argues for more investment in things like staff training or better facilities. He writes that "investment in improved library facilities and better staff training, on the other hand, will probably have little effect on the evaluation of information sources" (367). Readers have to keep in mind the original argument the author is making: that libraries core business is information resources. Libraries seeking to improve overall satisfaction of the users (more along the lines of making them happy and giving them what they want) will emphasize other areas such as spaces. At the end of the day, the key question is: what is the mission of the library? What exactly is it supposed to do?

No comments: