Library patrons speak their collective mind
Newly released user survey reveals increasing popularity of online access, services

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

10 April 2002 | More faculty and graduate students visit the campus library online than in person, according to a newly released user survey.

The draw seems to be the growing number of online library resources, including academic and trade journals, abstracting and indexing sources, magazines and reference works.

Seventy-three percent of faculty across all disciplines said they use the campus libraries online from their homes or offices, while 41 percent said they visited the libraries in person one or more times a week. Similarly, 65 percent of graduate students said they used the library online at least once a week, and 53 percent reported using it in person with the same frequency.

“That doesn’t come as a surprise,” said librarian Pat Maughan, who co-chaired the survey project with Mechanical Engineer-ing Professor Dennis Lieu. “Users are noticing that we are making more materials available online as they become available to us from publishers and as we create online resources.”

The library, which includes 19 branches in a variety of disciplines, currently has approximately 10,000 journal titles on line. Plans are to make more materials available on the web over the next several years, as they become affordable, while continuing to build the more traditional print-based collections.

Maughan was surprised to learn from the survey how frequently faculty and graduate students are using the library. “At least once a week” implies that many are frequenting the libraries, in person or online, even more often.

The survey tool, a SERVQUAL questionnaire, is among the most popular assessment tools for measuring service quality in organizations. It has been used in many industries, including the medical, retail banking and legal fields, Maughan said.

Survey results
Conducted in the fall of 2000, the survey queried a random sample of faculty and graduate students. The sample, generated by the Berkeley Survey Research Center, included 609 faculty and 792 graduate students. Forty-three percent of the faculty and about one-third of the graduate students responded. Compared to other universities and industries that have administered the survey, this is considered a high response rate. A statistical consultant from the Department of Statistics assisted the library in interpreting the data.

Respondents were asked to rank the quality of library services on the relative importance of five factors: reliability (the library’s ability to perform the promised service dependably and accurately); responsiveness (the staff’s willingness and promptness when delivering services); assurance (the knowledge and courtesy of the library’s staff and its ability to earn trust and confidence); empathy (the caring, individual attention that staff provide to users); and tangibles (the appearance of library facilities, equipment and communications materials).

Library users identified reliability, followed by responsiveness, as the most important aspects of quality library services. Assurance, the knowledge and courtesy of the staff and its ability to earn trust and confidence, placed third in importance. Faculty rated individualized attention (empathy) next in line, while for graduate students it was tangibles (the importance of adequate library facilities and equipment).

Respondents were also asked their opinions about the importance of 21 service features that a library may offer and were given an opportunity to rate Berkeley’s performance in each of these areas.

They were also asked to suggest one way in which campus libraries could improve. Here, recurrent themes were reminiscent of responses to a 1997 survey, including the need for longer library hours and an emphasis on expanding library collections.

In addition, a new value — a request for “constant, dependable and knowledgeable library staff working at the reference desks” — emerged this year.

Groundbreaking effort
Berkeley is one of the few universities that conducts service quality surveys for its library users, Maughan said. The campus’s 1997 library user survey was considered a groundbreaking effort. Since then, SERV-QUAL has caught on as an assessment tool at other college campuses.

A number of respondents suggested instituting services that, in fact, the library already provides and about which they seemed to be unaware. These included delivering articles and books to campus addresses for a fee, providing access to electronic journals, and offering drop-in instructional sessions on online sources.

Users also suggested some new services that the library does not already provide. These included customized notifications of new books and journals in the faculty member’s or graduate student’s particular area of interest, the ability to place holds online for needed materials, and a standardized system for notifing patrons electronically of new library services and electronic sources.

A full description of the library user survey and findings, arranged by library and by respondent category, is available at


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