The University Libraries recently completed a third round (2001, 2002, 2004) of a survey designed to assess and improve library services, change organizational culture, and market the library. The instrument used was an email questionnaire that evolved from a conceptual model based on the SERVQUAL instrument from the service industry and offered by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL). The ARL and Texas A&M University Libraries partnered to develop, test, and refine LibQual+TM. This effort was supported in part by a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE).
The goals of LibQUAL+TM are to:
- Foster a culture of excellence in providing library service
- Help libraries better understand user perceptions of library service quality
- Collect and interpret library user feedback systematically over time
- Provide libraries with comparable assessment information from peer institutions
- Identify best practices in library service
- Enhance library staff members’ analytical skills for interpreting and acting on data
The LibQUAL+TM survey measures library users’ perceptions of service quality and identifies gaps between desired, perceived, and minimum expectations of service. The final 22 LibQUAL+ items used in the 2004 survey were developed through several iterations of quantitative studies involving a larger pool of items. The items were identified following qualitative research interviews with student and faculty library users at several different universities.
LibQUAL+ was administered in the spring of 2004 to 204 participating institutions, many of them members of the ARL. The results measured three areas: Affect of Service (9 items), Information Control (8 items), and Library as Place (5 items).
At the University of Colorado, Boulder, the survey was sent to email addresses for 1232 faculty, 1501 graduate students, and 2500 undergraduates for a total of 5233. These numbers represent all faculty and all graduate students. A random sample of undergraduates was used. Subjects were contacted with one introductory message sent prior to the survey and three follow-up reminders. 14.5% of our sample completed the survey. Of the 757 respondents, approximately 29% were undergraduate, 40% graduate, 29% faculty, and the remainder were staff.
LibQUAL+TM allows us to compare user perceptions of service delivery against user expectations, so that the final scores indicated how well CU Libraries do in meeting our users’ expectations. From the survey results, it is possible to compare how our users perceive our services to the national data set of how users in the 204 other institutions perceive their service in relation to their expectations.
In all of the three categories mentioned above, the CU-B Libraries more than met our users’ expectations. On a scale of 1-9, our users rated their minimum level of service for the combined three categories at 6.17 and their desired level of service at 7.82. Their perceived rating of our actual performance in the three areas was 6.60. Thus our overall performance exceeded expectations by 0.43.
The first of the categories, Affect of Service, refers to our interactive relationship or, in other words, our public service desk interaction such as reference, circulation, Interlibrary Loan, etc. The desired rating was 7.64 with a perceived performance of 6.68 which exceeded the minimum expectation of 5.98 by 0.70.
In the Library as Place category, which rates physical settings and facilities, the difference between the perceived performance of 6.09 and the minimum of 5.65 was 0.44. The desired rating was 7.34.
The third category of Information Control, which rates ease of use as well as the adequacy of the library’s collections, showed a minimum expectation of 6.67 with a perceived performance of 6.81 which yields a difference of 0.14. The desired rating was 8.27.
Data concerning two kinds of library use by patron type yielded some very interesting results related to Personal Control. A large majority of faculty, 88.74%, use the library’s electronic resources from home or office daily or weekly. Almost as many graduate students, 78.48%, do the same. However, a smaller portion of undergraduates, 48.86%, choose to use the library in this manner. More undergraduates, 53.88%, prefer using the library on premises daily or weekly. A comparable proportion of faculty and graduate students also use the library on premises daily or weekly, 60.36% and 63.58% respectively.
The results from the ARL libraries showed a similar, though not identical, zone of tolerance. In all three categories, respondents’ view of their libraries’ performance fell within their range of expectations. In the Affect of Service category, the “gap” by which the perceived score exceeded the minimum was slightly larger at CU-B than for the collective ARL libraries.
This survey also contained questions for three areas of general satisfaction. Patrons were asked to rate on a scale of 1-9 their levels of general satisfaction, with 9 representing “strongly agree.” Again, while CU-B’s scores here fell slightly below those of the combined ARL libraries, they show that CU-B, while having room for improvement, still serves its patrons well. Our score for Satisfaction with Treatment was 7.17 as compared to 7.31 overall. Satisfaction with Support was 6.49 contrasted with 6.88, and Overall Quality of Service had a score of 6.73 compared to 7.08 for all ARL libraries.
While the CU Libraries have room for improvement, particularly in the area of Library as Place, it is encouraging that our patrons do not feel we are falling below the minimum in these three categories. While it is impossible to determine the reasons for CU-B failing to exceed the ARL average, there are obvious culprits. The primary one is the condition of the Norlin library building itself which is gravely in need of a major renovation, not just to improve looks but also to improve telecommunications infrastructure, wiring, accessibility, ease of use, safety, and comfortable/reflective work space for individuals and groups. The 2004 LIBQual data hints that other reasons for CU-B failing to exceed the ARL average probably include low staffing levels and an inadequate materials budget.
LibQUAL+(TM) is a registered trademark of the Association of Research Libraries.