Help Yourself to Student Impact Data: Conducting a “Help” Study to Explore Academic Library Value

The Value of Academic Libraries Comprehensive Research Review and Report calls on academic librarians to take active steps toward demonstrating the impact of library resources and services. It encourages academic librarians to investigate ways in which libraries change the lives of the users they serve. To this end, the report makes many recommendations–one is to conduct a “help” study (pages 12, 95, 120). Not long ago, Michelle Millet and I deployed a pilot help study modeled on previous library “critical incident technique” research, especially Ross Todd’s research conducted in the school library arena and Joanne Marshall’s research in special libraries. Library help studies gather information about a user’s experience of library interactions.

Essentially, the user is asked to describe a time when they received help from the library or a librarian, then discuss what that help enabled them to do. At Trinity University, our small-scale help survey was distributed to students who participated in library instruction courses during one semester. Two survey items are included below. These items were followed by a few brief demographic questions.

1. Think about a time when the library or a librarian helped you. What help did you receive?

2. What did that help enable you to do?

In response to these questions, students recounted services and sources that helped them. In our study, students cited services such as interlibrary loan, circulation, writing and technology centers, coffee bars, study space, reserves, printing, and laptop rental. Students identified the following sources as helpful: databases, books, articles, individual librarians, the library website, LibGuides, and primary sources (listed in order of frequency).

Perhaps most interesting, however, is what students said these library services and sources enabled them to do. Students stated that the library (or librarians) enabled them to access information, conduct research, write better papers, complete projects, use technology, identify quality sources, use sources, understand materials used in class, complete presentations, get advice on keywords, receive assistance understanding class projects, do homework, and cite sources.

While our study was limited in scope, the results illustrate the kind of information that can be gleaned from very basic help studies. In the VAL Report, I wrote, “One fairly simple way to isolate library value is to “collect from individual [library users] specific examples of beneficial information that they know came to them with the aid of your service. They will tell you about the advantage to their work, and you will write it down” (Whitehall 1995, 8).” Using help studies based on critical incident techniques are one straightforward way to begin to “write down” an academic library’s impact on users.

– Megan Oakleaf and Michelle Millet

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1 Response to Help Yourself to Student Impact Data: Conducting a “Help” Study to Explore Academic Library Value

  1. Pingback: How to conduct a “help” study to explore academic library value | Librarians Teaching & Learning

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