Taking the UGA Libraries' Pulse: The LibQUAL™ Survey
By Nan McMurry, Director of Collection Development
Libraries have traditionally measured their success by quantitative yardsticks such as number of volumes held or size of budget. While these figures are still important, the more recent trend of accountability that has emerged in the 21st century encourages users to judge the quality of the libraries that serve them.
LibQUAL+(TM) is a suite of services that libraries use to solicit, track, understand, and act upon users' opinions of service quality.
In 2004 and 2006 the UGA Libraries invited students, faculty, and staff to participate in LibQUAL™, a qualitative survey sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries. Survey participants specify their minimum expectations, ideal desires, and their perception of the Libraries’ actual performance. Survey questions concern the helpfulness and competency of the Libraries’ staff, the extent to which the Libraries provide access to needed information, how easy or difficult access tools are to employ, and whether the Libraries’ physical environment is conducive to research and study. The survey also includes a space for participants to offer their own remarks in addition to answering questions.
In 2006 the Libraries received 1,222 valid responses to the survey, and 582 participants provided additional comments. Services offered by the Libraries’ staff registered the highest scores, accompanied by a large number of positive comments about the staff and the Libraries’ performance as a whole. The Libraries’ collection and catalog did not fare as well, with many participants expressing a desire for additional resources, especially in electronic format. Participants also indicated that they want electronic access tools, such as the Libraries’ catalog GIL and the statewide GALILEO network to be easier to use. Libraries’ facilities received mixed reviews: praise for the Student Learning Center and its group study facilities, but also a strong need for more attractive surroundings in the Main and Science libraries, more space conducive to quiet individual study, and improved computer equipment.
The Libraries’ LibQUAL™ ratings in 2006 represented an overall improvement over 2004, welcome news after our efforts to address the concerns expressed in the earlier survey. We also compared favorably with other university libraries that used LibQUAL™. However, 2006 scores on certain individual questions were lower than in 2004, particularly with regard to the Libraries’ collection. Libraries across the country face a double challenge to their collections: steep price increases and static or decreasing budgets erode purchasing power, while advances in access tools make it increasingly evident to users what publications a library collection is lacking. The areas in which the Libraries have improved since 2004 are largely those that could be accomplished with better staff training, greater outreach to users, and plain hard work; the areas of decreasing scores reflect the grim reality of insufficient funding.
Assessment efforts such as the LibQUAL™ survey are especially important in an era of tight budgets because they provide direct testimony from library users on where they think that we are doing well or falling short. This makes it possible for the Libraries to stretch our dollars in the directions that will best support our users in their research and study.
We plan to participate in LibQUAL™ every few years and to conduct smaller local surveys during the off-years. We’ll never stop asking our users “what do you think?”!