Eastern Michigan University Library
In the last issue of Library Matters, we provided you with some representative comments about the library from the LibQUAL survey. This survey was developed by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in collaboration with Texas A&M University and was based on the extensively tested and accepted ServQUAL tool used by for-profit companies. 308 institutions, including college and university libraries, community college libraries, health sciences libraries, military libraries, public libraries and state libraries, participated in the survey in 2003. In this article, we will look at the demographics of EMU survey participants, examine the results from the 25 questions concerning service quality, and see how our library measures up against five of our peer institutions.
We had a total of 878 respondents with 535 undergraduates, 122 graduate students, 160 faculty and 61 staff, including nine from the library. The breakdown of respondents by sex is actually quite representative of the general EMU population, with 577 females (66% of respondents compared to 61% of the total EMU population) and 291 males (34% of respondents compared to 39% total). The response by discipline also correlates to the breakdown within the total EMU population. Education has the most respondents (33% although just 22% of the total population) followed by Business (12% of respondents and 13% of the total population) and Social Sciences/Psychology (10% of respondents and 11% of the total population).
In terms of frequency of library use, most respondents (39%) report that they use resources on the library premises on a weekly basis followed by use on a monthly basis (30%). Similar usage patterns are reported for electronic access of library resources. However, a significant percentage of respondents (60%) use non-library gateways such as Yahoo and Google to find information on a daily basis.
The LibQUAL survey consists of 25 core questions asking respondents to rate on a scale of 1-9 (with 9 being the most favorable) not only their current perceptions of library service quality but to also indicate the minimum levels of service they are willing to accept and the desired levels of service they want to receive. This enables us to assess the differences or gaps in users’ expectations versus their perceptions. The questions are divided into the following four areas or dimensions: Affect of service (9 items concerning the courteousness, dependability and competence of the library staff); Library as place (5 items dealing with the overall comfort of the premises and the availability of quiet space and community areas); Personal control (6 items concerning convenient access to collections, remotely accessible electronic resources, and the ease of independently using the facility and its resources); and Access to information (5 items covering hours of operation, availability of needed print and electronic resources, and timely document delivery/interlibrary loan).
Although we are still analyzing this data, some of the results are quite revealing.
• EMU library users have very high expectations and desires when it comes to both services and collections.
In comparison not only to the findings of the five peer institutions but also to the standardized norms for all college and university libraries participating in the survey, our users have the highest overall minimum expectation of service and are tied with users at one of our peer libraries for the highest overall desired level of service. Perhaps because Eastern Michigan is in such close proximity to the libraries of major research institutions (University of Michigan, Wayne State and Michigan State) or because we have a state of the art facility, our clients expect, whether realistic or not, that our library provide the same level of service and collections. See Chart 1 for a comparison of our overall minimum, perceived and desired scores with those of our peer institutions.
• EMU library users indicate that, on average, their perceptions of our service only meet their minimum expectations in the Affect of service dimension.
Here our score of 6.71 not only falls below the perceived norm of 7.22 for all college and university libraries but also below all but one of our peer institutions. See Chart 2 for a breakdown of Affect of service by EMU user group. Note that in this area, graduate students do not feel that we even meet their minimum expectations.
• EMU library users indicate that, on average, the library falls slightly below their minimum expectations in the area of Personal control.
With our score of 6.87, we fall below the perceived norm of 7.09 for all college and university libraries and below three of our five peer institutions. See Chart 3 for a breakdown of Personal control by EMU user group. Note that while the library again did not meet graduate students’ expectations, there is an even sharper disparity between faculty expectations and perceptions in this area.
• EMU library users indicate that, on average, we slightly exceed their minimum expectations in the Access to information category.
Our score of 6.94 is close to the 7.02 norm for all college and university libraries, and we are tied with two of our peer institutions for second place in that ranking. See Chart 4 for a breakdown of Access to information by EMU user group. Note, however, that we again fail to meet the minimum expectations of both graduate students and faculty.
• As might be expected given our five-year old library building, we excel in the Library as place dimension.
Our score of 7.28 exceeds the perceived norm of 6.91 for college and university libraries, and we are again tied for second place within our group of peer institutions. See Chart 5 for a breakdown of Library as place by EMU user group. Note that the library significantly exceeds minimum expectations among all groups.
Even when we factor in the higher minimum expectations our users have compared to what users expect at our peer institutions, it is apparent that we face some challenges when it comes to the service provided by library staff, the availability of print and electronic resources, and the ability of users to independently access information. It is critical that we first address those specific issues where perceptions of library service quality fall below minimum expectations. And then we will want to begin narrowing the gap between users’ perceptions and their desired levels of service in all four areas. Besides taking a closer look at some of the individual survey questions to glean more information, we will be undertaking focus group interviews targeted to specific user groups. We will begin with an in depth survey of graduate students which hopefully will give us a better picture of where we are failing and how we can improve. In future articles, we will examine each of the four dimensions (and their component questions) in more detail, including breakouts by discipline. In the meantime, please make use of the suggestion boxes in the lobby to provide us with immediate feedback about your library experiences.