Posted by: Ali | September 18, 2009

Article review: Designing library services based on user needs

This is  a paper from the 2009 IFLA conference that documents the repositioning of a faculty library (which serves staff and postgraduates) – from helping students find information, to helping students apply information – specifically into the area of career counselling.

The author outlines that the key drivers of change for the Business & Economics Library at the University of Illinois were:

– a rapid decline in book and journal circulation which raised questions about the effective use of space

– a change in the pedagogical requirements for graduate-level courses changing – so most courses required large datasets and commercial research reports for analysis rather than “historical documents”,  so essentially there was (what seems to me a quite dramatic!) move away from traditional research

– as resources were increasingly available online users were self sufficient in searching for information (although the article notes they “did not necessarily recognize their lack of information searching competencies”)

– faculty requested specific databases that the library could not afford (presumably this also lessened the relevance of the library to the faculty

– high (55-65%) of international students with varying degrees of library experiences from their home countries. The article mentions that “meeting their needs posed a great challenge” but there was no further discussion as to whether the new service model actually met their needs or what attempt was made to meet the challenge. (I presume there was still some need to continue some sort of library orientation and information literacy services to these students or was that service provided by the main campus library?)

Development of the new service model

Traditional and current services were assessed under the framework of  facility based, collection based and expertise based services:

– previous research by the author identified that business students saw the facility based service as most crucial. Tthere was no strong loyalty by business student so the ir library – they would move to other libraries on campus with better physical facilities for individual and group studies.

An assessment of current core values based on these services a discrepancy in terms of significance for different stakeholders was identified:

– students saw the library as a place that provided facilities for individual and group study

– the university promoted the library system for its collections

– meanwhile librarians were focused on asserting their value as subject experts

Positioning for the future

The author used a four quadrant model (proactive partner, proactive provider, reactive partner and reactive provider) to represent how the Library could be positioned. I am not sure if this model is the author’s own – but it is not attributed to a source.

This was then used to assess the current position and to determine if a new positioning was required. The conclusion was that the Library filled the “proactive provider” quadrant and that it should move to a position of “proactive partner” with the College.

Because of the decreasing use of its collection and physical space it was determined that the new model would be expertise based. After using a number of survey methods the Library determined that students needs for information were focused on securing a job, and thus an area where the library could contribute value to the COB success would be providing relevant and up to date information on careers.

Further investigation of this value proposition revealed that students needed to know how to apply the information they located. So “the Library identified the need for guidance in applying information to individual needs as an area where a value can be created”.

The question then became – could the Library deliver this value? A librarian with corporate and student recruitment experience determined the Library had access to electronic resources that would be necessary to initiate individualised career advice. Feedback from the College and the career services office was positive.

The new service model involved a business librarian providing  an individualised career consultancy service based on identifying relevant information and applying such information to personal situations.

My thoughts

I wonder how Library staff would have reacted to this, but the article only goes as far as mentioning some librarians felt uncomfortable with the potential blurring of roles between the careers office and the Library.

I was intrigued to see that the author said the Library would not have considered offering the service if it did not have the appropriate expertise internally. Apparently the Library hires business specialists who have corporate and hiring experiences so presumably this service will be sustainable if such skilled staff are available. It is not clear from the article how many Librarians there are in the Business Library and how many of them are involved in this new service. It is interesting to consider how their service model might have developed if they didn’t have this expertise in-house already. It certainly would be unlikely such a skill set is common in NZ! Given this there is probably not much that can be taken from the specific initiative, but certainly the service delivery model would be a useful way to analyse where a Library’s service delivery is currently positioned and reflecting on this could generate some ideas as to how a Library might move into a quadrant of “proactive partner” where its value is more highly recognised.


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