Dean’s Update: New Ways to Understand Our Students

Dean’s Update: New Ways to Understand Our Students
Jenny James Lee
November 11, 2015

[The Dean's Update is a column introducing each issue of the Libraries' monthly e-newsletter In Circulation.]

Core to quality improvement efforts is the customer voice. It is what drives improvement efforts, as service providers respond to their clients. Librarians were quick to embrace the many techniques used to assess users’ expectations and perceptions of services.

Since the 1990s, the profession’s research, conferences, literature, formal course education and workshops have added engagement with service marketing and communication theories, survey and focus group interview methods, innovative qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques and automated systems to capture and analyze data about library clients’ behaviors and expectations. Many academic libraries have added job responsibilities and introduced dedicated staff positions to assess the voice of students and faculty in higher education.

Drexel Libraries has engaged with this movement, realigning staff around service quality improvement and seeking ways to better understand the changing nature of how students seek information and what they need to study. Through In Circulation and our other reports, we summarize what we learn through observations, feedback surveys, interviews, and review of computer logs. However, I have noticed that recently our students have voiced their interest in the library in new ways.

Every year, students approach me and other librarians at least once to ask for details about library operations for a course assignment. This quarter alone, two separate groups of engineering students have met with me multiple times to discuss ideas to design a new library for their capstone course. Their observations and ideas about how to meet student needs both confirm our own impressions and add new perspectives to our thinking.

Last week an undergraduate student asked for cost information to support his work to write an advocacy article for a writing course. A recent graduate returned last spring with encouragement to let students help us understand how our emerging Data Visualization Zone will be useful to learn new ways to explore information—the enthusiastic suggestion was to let them loose and learn from their experiential learning.

A trustee this summer suggested a technique from marketing to better understand our clients. We are working with a LeBow faculty member and graduate students to develop persona. The capstone course assignment engages these students to develop their consulting skills and present the Libraries with character sketches that will represent different types of students that use the library, featuring important expectations and behaviors.

Last spring a student from China delighted us with a request to exhibit a beautiful collection of her poems and photographs as a thank you for the welcome she received at Drexel. Her gesture brought attention to the image of a library as home and a place for sharing ideas that she voiced was strong among foreign students. The same view of the library as their go-to place for focused study was expressed in spring by the gift of mobile white boards from the Undergraduate Student Government Association - made to the Libraries in response to feedback they heard that this furnishing was very popular and they wanted more of them in their library.

As we continue to develop our own expertise to hear the voice of our customers, it is good to be open to different ways students tell us about their experiences and how the Libraries can continue to support them become independent learners.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries