A Culture of Continuous Improvement

January 16, 2014

Mary Donohue

 In choosing to seek a higher education degree, students exhibit their desire to improve themselves and their circumstances through hard work and commitment to a plan of action towards a goal. FM and the Evans Library support and echo that desire by continuously working to improve services and enhance resources that lead to student success.

The Evans Library utilizes a variety of tools to assess the services we provide, to help us determine how successful those services are and to decide which to maintain, change or add.  One such tool is a bi-annual survey the Library distributes during the Fall and Spring semesters which gives the campus community an opportunity to rate our services, resources, staff, and facilities.  This survey, given regularly since 2008, has provided us with a unique opportunity to see what patrons (and particularly students) look for in an academic library and assists us in improving current services while exploring those for the future.

Because the survey results are both quantitative and qualitative, we have had the opportunity to focus on issues from both broad and narrow perspectives.  For example, this year’s survey (taken by 198 individuals) showed us that 76.5% of our students are “satisfied/very satisfied” with library hours while 66.7% of faculty would like to see a “How to Read a Textbook” workshop.  Since similar questions have been asked over the past five years, we have the unique ability to review how perceptions and expectations change over time.  This is particularly helpful as we develop long-term library strategic plans.

It is the qualitative information (i.e. comments) that have long provided the most useful information. While it is always encouraging to read the positive things people think (our staff has always scored high marks in the services department, gratifying since ‘pro-active service’ is a core library service), what users see as concerns can be more valuable.

For example, many of the negative comments in the 2008 survey detailed the difficulty with finding a quiet place in the library to study.  Academic libraries were in the process of significant change then due to the increasing presence of computers for course work and research as well as the changing nature of faculty assignments.  At that time, the Evans Library was in the process of fully implementing the first floor Learning Commons, an area which encouraged students to work collaboratively and in groups whenever necessary.  This understandably changed the dynamic of the library atmosphere and was apparently more of a student concern than we realized. 

After seeing the comments, we initiated additional conversations with students, researched the library literature, and consulted our teaching faculty and SUNY librarian colleagues. These discussions led to ‘zoning’ the library, i.e. creating clearly marked spaces where different environments existed. The first floor remained collaborative while quieter spaces for more individual study were designated on the second floor and in various study rooms.  Subsequent survey results show that making this change resulted in increased satisfaction with the library study spaces and educational environment as a whole.

Surveys, however, only tell part of the story and must always be supplemented with other types of data and information. Our steps, as we continue to move towards continuous improvement, will include increased partnering with teaching and student services faculty and administration to improve library services and facilitate student success. All this helps us continue to be seen as a valued educational resource for the entire community.

Mary Donohue is Professor & Library Director at FM.

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