Monday, 15 April 2013

"Great Expectations": how libraries are changing to meet student needs

In this breakout session Liz Waller and Sarah Thompson of the University of York gave an overview of the initiatives taking place at York, Durham and Newcastle University Library Services to meet the increasing expectations of students. There is now a lot of work being done in this area as students have to pay fees (£9,000 pa in 2012/13) and students needs are changing. Increasingly, students believe that course costs should cover things like travel between campuses, software and course booklets, etc.

At the University of York there are a number of surveys undertaken, including the National Student Survey (NSS) which is a big driver for change.(There is actually only one question in this survey which specifically mentions library services!)

Liz and Sarah wanted to discover how other libraries are trying to improve the student experience, so they emailed to find out, among other things:
- Are libraries buying more resources?
- Are they deploying new strategies?
- To what extent is student fees a driver?
- Is there any difference in the service provided?
- Has additional funding been made available?
There were 23 responses from a broad range of library services.

New Resources
17 libraries have purchased new information resources. Examples are: reading list materials; more e-books; targeting purchases to support specific subject areas; introduction of a fast-track student request system; reading list software purchased to manage lists; print textbooks given to students.

New Strategies
16 libraries are deploying new strategies to deliver content to students. Examples are: buying print textbooks for first year students; providing pre-loaded devices to students, e.g. Kindles; implementation of a resource discovery tool; e-first policy for books.

Service Improvements
22 out of the 23 libraries improved service provision in some way this year. Examples are: longer opening hours; refurbishment; improved wi-fi; free/reduced printing; consideration of abolishing fines; improved IT support in library buildings; improved student-library liaison.

It seems that a lot of the changes libraries are making have been planned anyway. However, higher student fees seem to have given the opportunity for more dialogue between all groups involved and money is occasionally forthcoming to make these changes.

Case Studies
Durham has done the following things:
- 24/7 opening during exam term. Looking into doing this during vacations.
- More books (student-led).
- More PCs. Laptop loans.
- More study spaces.
Durham have found that the NSS has been the biggest driver. Use of Patron Driven Acquisition (PDA) is strong. They are now collecting statistics from the entry gates.

Newcastle has done the following things:

- 24/7 opening all term time. There is explicit student need for this, as well as wanting to keep up with the competition.
- Removal of stock to off-site storage.
- Strong move to silent study. Space design is being driven by students, working in partnership with the library.
- Use of Primo.
There has been excellent feedback from students.

York has done the following things:
- Refurbishment.
- 24/7 opening.
- Improved communications and marketing. Libraries are not normally good at doing this. The library at York uses Twitter and Facebook. News is distributed in different ways.
- Bought subject specific resources. Individual discussion with departments.
- Service developments, including flexible loans, room-booking systems, LibGuides. There are now specific staff in the library who are able to answer any questions users have quickly. Also 'grab and go' questionnaires have been undertaken in the library to find out from first hand the issues customers have.
- Fast-track purchase of heavily requested materials.
- Made changes to the loans system (inspired by the University of Sheffield). Now no fines unless an item is requested; 4 week rolling loan period;  situational borrower categories (looking at behaviours); dynamic loan periods (longer time given to part-time students).
- Fast-track orders.
- Electronic text service (digitising).
- More e-books available, including all key texts.
- Free inter-library loans for essential books.
The impact has been positive. The library scored 82% in the NSS, compared to 74% the year before.

Some Thoughts

The session was concluded with the following questions which libraries need to think about.
- Has this work given us more leverage?
- Are students more demanding?
- Has students behaviour chaged?
- Do we understand the impact of the things we are trying?
- Are we giving money back or are we investing in the future?
- Should we see students as partners rather than customers or consumers?
- Do we have to do more with less? Is there conflicting pressure to reduce recurrent costs across the University?

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