What do students want from their libraries?

There's a massive libraryland industry organized around figuring out what students want from us in terms of space, collections, services, etc. We survey, observe and focus group them to death. And that's great and incredibly valuable. But sometimes I think we might have a tendency to see what we want when we're observing and they might have a tendency to tell us what they think we want to hear when we survey or focus group.

Personally, I like to do Twitter searches. It's an interesting way to find out what they're saying and thinking about us when they're being candid and brutal and don't think we're paying attention. So I do searches on Steacie, Scott Library, YorkU, YorkU Library and others to gather some intelligence.

I like this one I saw today:

i will never understand how people misread the sign scott library and somehow see student centre instead. HUSH UP!

Or this one (TH refers to the Tim Horton's coffee shops):

I swear that Yorku has implemented a "must have XL TH coffee" as 90% of students here are complying. Ah early mornings at the library.

Of course, we're in our exam period right now, so that really skews the results towards quiet and caffeine, but it's still very interesting and enlightening. Most of the time they bitch and moan, saying nice things and bad things, calling us out, pointing out where we fall down and where we could do things differently. They also reveal some of their own unrealistic expectations, a bit of a sense of entitlement, some student-to-student nastiness, some purposefully naughty behaviour.

Try some searches on your library -- I'd love to hear what students are saying in other places too!

15 responses so far

  • Coturnix says:

    But does the library respond to their tweets? After the first shock, I bet the students would think that your librarians are the coolest ever, and would probably give you, once they get to know you a little bit better, on Twitter, much more realistic feedback than in formal surveys.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Well, Coturnix, we do. I've responded to compliments and complaints on twitter as well as suggested books or other resources when I've seen tweets from York people asking about stuff. I forgot to mention above that I also monitor a list of York tweeters (here) and respond where appropriate, either as myself or as my library.

    It works out pretty well and I have gotten a lot of remarks in the "I can't believe you guys are so cool!" vein. There was also a article in our campus student newspaper a couple of months ago with a very nice shout out to the library twitter presence. I also went to a Social Media Week Toronto event here on campus where there were a couple of nice shout-outs to all the twitter-happy librarians. So yes, using twitter has worked, it has gotten us noticed, it has engaged our community on a certain level.

    The percentage of people in the 18-22 age range using twitter is still fairly small, but since we have 50,000+ students, the raw number of students on twitter is pretty decent.

  • Coturnix says:

    Great! Now, if only Facebook was as easy to search.....

  • darchole says:

    I think comfortable chairs would be great. Those basic wooden chairs every library seems to have are pure h*ll when you have to sit there for anything more than 5 minutes.(I'm not a student, but since I'm in research I do go to the library when something I want isn't available onine.)

  • Kathryn says:

    Our library built its own cafe, which is fabulous! Then all the in-house talent that designed it was laid off due to budget cuts. But it's pretty swanky, thanks to donations from local artisans and suppliers. Prices and quality are OK, and it's a nice place to have a snack and surf the net with your laptop, or meet up for study and java.

    What I really want from the library is better online journal collections (at least until open access takes over the world). It would also help if SFX didn't screw up so often, saying articles are available when they're not, or overlooking articles that are available.

  • John Dupuis says:

    darchole, Library furniture is one of those great mysteries of life. The mystery is how to combine low cost with comfort and durability. Believe me, we have quite a few soft chairs and they suffer a lot of punishment and abuse.

    In any case, like I said we do have a lot of soft chairs that are quite popular for relaxing and sleeping. But they could probably be more comfortable; out limitations were cost and getting something that was really durable.

  • John Dupuis says:

    kathryn, we don't have a cafe at any of the York libraries -- mostly due to space considerations. My library is only about 30,000 sq feet and is basically one big open space, which makes it difficult to add noisy space without make the whole darn place too noisy. Lack of quiet is the single biggest complaint we get from students so it's something we are really aware of.

    Food and drink policies (both formal and informal) have been relaxing over the years, so that increases students' expectations about food and drink on site. We'll see how this evolves over time.

  • Isabel says:

    Nice to see young students still care about quiet.

    I would like a section of the library to be typing-free, for those of us who would like to read or study sometimes without the teeth-chattering sound of typing all around us.

    Also beep-free.

  • darchole says:

    Re: chairs
    True, budget is always a concern, no matter what field you work in. And I have to say the chairs at my workplace are only marginally better than those wooden chairs. I'm just thinking back the times I've been in the library, and saw how tables and chairs are utilized. I usually see a lot of 4-8 person tables with those wooden chairs and I almost never see them full, usually I only see 1 person per table. It might be more cost effective (as in more people come into the library and use said chairs and tables) to have smaller tables and better chairs.

  • Luna_the_cat says:

    The University of Aberdeen is busy making something of a mess of its library.

    They have a brand-new "flagship" library being built right now. Unfortunately, they hired architects to design a "trendy" "modern" space, not a really usable space. Looking at the plans and models (and getting my ear bent by librarians), there are a few problems evident already.

    1. There is a beautiful, climate-controlled showcasing area for some of its historic/medieval collection being integrated, as well as a secure, climate-controlled storage facility and conservation studio. This is a definite good thing, and a real improvement over the current library. However, for the normal holdings, holding space is being reduced by close to 40%! The librarians have not been reduced to begging garage space for books from people, but it has come close -- they are renting storage units around the city for books they don't want to sell off!

    2. The center of the library is a giant open-plan space. On one side is the cafe/coffee shop. 5 meters away is an open seminar area, with screens and multimedia, where they actually propose to hold training sessions! Oh, that's not going to be noisy or have students randomly wandering in there, at all.

    3. The 7 upper floors of the library are all open balconies into the central open atrium of the building, with its coffee shop and seminar area. No, not gonna be noisy...

    4. In order to build and landscape this new library, the campus, which is already terribly short of parking, is losing close to 25% of its existing parking. This makes competition for parking space from staff and faculty nothing less than bloodthirsty, and to add insult to injury, the administration is proposing adding (rather expensive) parking charges for campus for the first time in history. People not happy.

    It is a beautiful-looking building, but I foresee issues. To add further insult, the university held "consultations" for close to a year on the planned design, and then went ahead with the original plan after ignoring most of the feedback.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Isabel, I hear you on that one. A couple of times recently I've asked students playing games to move to move out of the quiet areas because of the frantic clicking sounds they were making. I can usually tell if surrounding students approve from the silent smiles and thumbs up!

  • John Dupuis says:

    darchole, it's definitely a problem we have here at my library. We're so tight for space that yes, all the tables are completely full. Frankly, if we used smaller tables, we would only be able to fit in a lower number of students. Space is our problem.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Luna, I'm not surprised that the renovation project is so controversial. We're being pulled in a million directions by the real needs of our users versus what our funders are willing to support. Frankly, funders don't like book warehouses. They want cool, they want buildings that will increase their prestige, not usefulness to students and researchers. Plus, defining usefulness to students and researchers is not as easy as it sounds. The use of print collections is declining and will continue to decline. Managing that process while still supporting the very real current needs of students and researchers is neither easy nor obvious.

  • Scott says:

    Unrealistic demands are my personal speciality, and as a science undergrad at a major university, I can bring more than enough entitlement if I wear the proper hat at these discussions.

    That said, I do have mostly good things to say about my university's science library. The outside isn't attractive at all thanks to 50's brutalist architecture and a rainy, humind climate - but the inside certainly does the job. There's a cafeteria twelve seconds away from the entrance to the library and this is always full of study groups and other people who don't need quiet, because the library itself is 100% quiet space. Otherwise the place is splendid - lots of quiet space, and never packed because the loud students just go to the cafeteria to study. The layout is sensible and intuitive (when books are not being shuffled, see below) and maps/guides are clearly displayed and widely available.

    If I have to issue a gripe about this library's design and operation (rather than book collection, which is sometimes lacking in my field) it's that there's only four computers out of 30 on the main floor which have both productivity suites installed and access to the internet outside the library's resources. It's very frustrating to see these computers being used to access Facebook and play Farmville. I don't know why these restrictions exist - about half have outside net access and half have productivity software - couldn't tech just install Open Office so we could type something, if budget is a problem?

    Some scheduling decisions did puzzle me. For example, they began a major reorganization of the shelves and renovation to the computer labs in the basement (leaving open only the main floor computers mentioned above) not a week before the exam period of the previous semester - the job is still ongoing as far as I know.

    In the newest library (split mostly between arts and engineering) - which includes a cafe - they also saw fit to include new public computers. They are splendid, all with MSWord and complete net access. Still, about 1/4 of them at any given time are tied up with non-scholastic activities - also frustrating because the line-ups for these computers can be up to twenty minutes long. But student behaviour isn't really the library's problem and I'm sure the student body would howl if they blocked facebook on the public computers.

    Regarding the printer: it recently learned to print double-sided. That would be helpful for assignments if any of my professors or TAs accepted double-sided documents 😛 More seriously, the price per one-sided text page is $0.07. The price per double-sided text page is $0.14. When you direct Word or acrobat reader or whatever to send the file double-sided, it still displays the total number of soft pages (probably idiomatic terminology, 4 soft pages are printed onto 2 double-sided hard pages). But the printer charges you per soft page, so printing double-sided saves me half the paper and none of the money. There's also no shortage of students willing to print 100+ page jobs all in one go on our single, shared printer. This is generally not popular among the fifteen people waiting for their short jobs to print. I always split mine into 10-15 page pieces if I need to print something huge.

    The content-splitting between this and the other library might be frustrating for students in other disciplines. Anything with anything at all to do with biology goes in the brutalist building, everything else goes in this one. So biochemistry is in one but regular chemistry in another, and I could see this being problematic for students and researchers in that field.

    And of course, being a university building, all the libraries experience rather dramatic reductions in open times and available services on sundays - but this is probably a matter of campus policy.

    I think your comment about entitlement was pretty much spot-on. Many of the problems I encounter daily in libraries are derived almost exclusively from student behaviour. Reaching solutions to library issues will, of course, demand some effort from the students as well as action on the part of the library. I'm sure I'm obliviously irritating someone, but we're so polite, we only complain on twitter and scienceblogs.

    And please, if you build a new library, specify that bathroom stall doors should swing out, not in.

  • John Dupuis says:

    Hi Scott, Thanks for your fantastic comment -- you should really send it along to the people that run your library, I'm sure they'd really appreciate your candor and honesty.

    I would like to clarify one thing I said in my original post about student's sense of entitlement. The thing I value most about what I see on twitter is that it's brutally honest. Very often, we in the libraries are not portrayed in the best light and that's fine. Like I said, I appreciate the honesty. Of course, sometimes the students don't necessarily portray themselves or each other in the best light either. I also don't hold that against them at all. Not in the least.

    If I occasionally snicker quietly to myself, thinking, "I can't believe she/he said that!" then, well, that's twitter for you. I do appreciate the input, even if sometimes expectations might seem a bit unrealistic to us. Of course, maybe it can prod us into converting the unrealistic into the realistic. A good example of that is how food & drink policies have evolved over the last few years. So maybe "sense of entitlement" was a poor choice of phrase.

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