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Assessment in a Medium-SizedAcademic Library: A Success Story
Carolyn Gutierrez and Jianrong WangLibrary, The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Galloway, NJ, USAAbstract
This case study demonstrates the positive changes that evolved from a series of assessmentactivities. It shows that even smaller libraries can conduct assessment, with the support ofcolleagues and the library administration. Librarians can take a proactive role rather thanwaiting for a mandate from college administration. Two years of LibQUALs survey results(2005 and 2008) were analyzed in depth using statistical correlation analyses. Following this,respondents comments were categorized by dimension and analyzed to detect correlations.The information collected was then used to track trends and highlight the strengths andweaknesses of the library through the eyes of its users. A comparison of the survey resultsshowed an increase in perceived service in all dimensions. However, user expectations roseeven faster, especially with regard to e-resources, equipment, and study space. Positive resultsabout staff expertise and service attitudes demonstrated that users valued the personalattention and capabilities of the library staff. The study shows that a user survey is only thefirst step in an assessment process. Assessment can be effective only if follow-up actionsare taken to address negative feedback and the actions then communicated to all stakeholders.While assessment has become a necessity for many libraries, small- and medium-sizedlibraries often shy away from it, due to limited resources. The Richard Stockton CollegeLibrary undertook assessment in areas in which it could expect achievable results. Anotheroutcome came in the form of additional resources, which narrowed the gap between libraryservices and users needs.
Keywords: Academic libraries; library assessment; evaluation; LibQUALs; data analysisI. Introduction
In this period of tightened budgets and relatively free access to informationonline, academic librarians are discovering that the central role of the libraryin their institutions is no longer a given. It is necessary now to justify itsposition with tangible evidence of the librarys contributions to the missionof their institutions.CONTEXTS FOR ASSESSMENT AND OUTCOME EVALUATION IN LIBRARIANSHIPADVANCES IN LIBRARIANSHIP, VOL. 35r 2012 by Emerald Group Publishing LimitedISSN: 0065-2830DOI: 10.1108/S0065-2830(2012)0000035007
Carolyn Gutierrez and Jianrong Wang66The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (RSC) is a liberal arts collegewith over 8000 students located in southern New Jersey. The library staffconsists of 3 administrators, 5 librarians, 18 full-time staff and 10 part-time.Although the library participated in LibQUALs surveys and assessmentof certain individual services, such as pre- and post-testing of student learningin information literacy sessions and analysis of periodical usage, an in-depthassessment of library services as a whole had never been undertaken.
In the summer of 2008 a Faculty Resource Network (FRN) seminar onlibrary assessment at New York University, attended by the authors, trans-formed attitudes about assessment by a library. Conference conveners, Hillerand Self (2008), emphasized using assessment creatively and adopting apositive, rather than defensive attitude toward findings, even if they arenegative. They introduced seminar participants to the merits and applicationsof assessment, and stressed that lack of a statistical background was not abarrier. Everyone and every department in a library can conduct and benefitfrom assessment on some level. Assessment can provide the opportunity to tellthe librarys story to administrators, emphasizing not only its strengths but itsweaknesses. It becomes part of an ongoing process toward improving libraryservices and meeting user needs. According to the seminar conveners,whatever type of assessment libraries employ, following up on the results iscrucial to success. Stakeholders need to be informed of the results and ofmeasures taken to remediate the problems identified through assessment.
Neither of the Stockton librarians attending the FRN seminar had astatistical background. Nevertheless, they returned to work with enthusiasmabout assessment. They initiated a meeting of library faculty and adminis-trators and persuaded them about its value and, as a result, a Library AssessmentCommittee was established consisting of the library director, two associatedirectors, five librarians, and the coordinator of information technology.
Although there are diverse ways to carry out assessment, many librariesuse LibQUALs, a web-based assessment tool that collects and interpretslibrary users perceptions of library service quality. Since the RSC libraryadministered LibQUALs in 2005 and 2008, the Assessment Committeedecided to start with an analysis of that data.
In both surveys, users expressed satisfaction with the services providedby the library staff but had some negative views about Information Controland Library as a Place. In 2005 the library administration reviewed theLibQUALs results and shared them with the professional staff. Somechanges were made, notably in the establishment of a Graduate StudentLounge and increased library hours, but there the analysis more or less ended.The 2008 results showed some improvement, but the expectations of usershad increased even more. The changes made as a result of the 2005 responses
Assessment in a Medium-Sized Academic Library 67did not seem to be adequately reflected in the 2008 survey, which wasdisappointing. We responded and gave them what they wanted and theyrestill unhappy was the general sentiment expressed. The LibQUALs surveywas again relegated to the shelf. This time the Assessment Committee took adifferent approach.A. Literature Review
Since the focus of this article is not just assessment but also about using theresults, the authors examined how other libraries utilized their LibQUALsfindings. LibQUALs provides a quantitative representation of respondentsperceptions of library services but does not address the questions Why dothey feel that way? or How should we improve our services? It is whatlibraries do with the LibQUALs analysis that can lead to evidence-basedchange. A detailed analysis of respondent comments or a follow-up withqualitative research can fill these gaps.
Gerke and Maness (2010) in their LibQUALs analysis discoveredwhich factors correlated with a high rate of satisfaction with the electronicresources collection namely, patron age, discipline, frequency of library website use, and frequency of visits to the physical library. Interestingly, theyfound it was not a persons age or discipline that made a significant differ-ence, but frequency of their use of the library web site. The more attractivelibraries with study space available also had the highest rate of on-site use.They found a link between the frequency of library visits and satisfactionwith electronic resources. This suggests that use of a librarys physical spaceand its web site are not divorced from their level of satisfaction with theelectronic resources collection. They may in fact reinforce one another. Gerkeand Maness study refutes the argument that brick and mortar libraries willsoon become obsolete.
LibQUALs results can also be helpful when analyzed prior to a strategicplanning process. Saunders (2008) discusses the value of drilling down intothe LibQUALs data in preparation for strategic planning. LibQUALsdata offer a contemporary snapshot of how patrons view their library, whilestrategic planning focuses on where the library should be in 5 or 10 years. Priorto their LibQUALs survey, Purdue librarians had an anecdotal under-standing of patron use and perceptions, but the LibQUALs data helpedthem to produce a balanced strategic plan based on fact, not merely impression.
Another way of approaching the LibQUALs data is to examine thedifferences in patrons and their expectations. Jones and Kayongo (2008)reported that Notre Dames libraries found users comments extremely helpfulin shedding light on the quantitative data. They discovered, after examining
Carolyn Gutierrez and Jianrong Wang68and mapping them to the LibQUALs survey questions, that under-graduates, graduates, and faculty had differing needs and expectations. Forundergraduates, access to the physical library, despite the availability of remoteaccess to electronic resources, was still important. They wanted the library tobe open 24 hours for studying and appreciated the personal attention receivedfrom library staff. Graduate students, on the other hand, were more concernedwith print and/or electronic journal collection coverage and much lessconcerned with services or the physical library. Faculty echoed the graduatestudent concerns, but expressed their dissatisfaction with the size of thecollections even more vehemently. Both groups voiced unhappiness withthe recall policy when books were checked out of the library. In response, NotreDame revised their recall policy, introduced 24-hour access during studyweeks, and renovated the Graduate Student area.
Heath, Kyrillidou, and Askew (2004) provide an excellent compilationof articles on how libraries utilized their LibQUALs findings. One ofthe entries (Knapp, 2004) emphasized the importance of adopting a positiveapproach to the findings. Instead of reacting defensively to negative res-ponses, Knapps library system drew on the results to redesign public servicesat the University of Pittsburgh Library System. To increase student satis-faction with the quality of service, they launched new initiatives such asdigital reference service, a targeted instruction program, and a Peer-to-PeerLibrary Consultants Program.
Of particular interest was the way in which Lewis (2009) at EastCarolina Univer