LJ’s College Student Library Usage Survey Reveals Positive Views, Inconsistent Engagement

Library Journal’s recent survey on College Student Library Usage, sponsored by ProQuest, looks at how students in American colleges and universities use their institutions’ libraries, and whether those libraries are meeting students' needs. Most are pleased with the quality of resources provided, and more than three quarters feel the library contributes to their academic success. However, the number of visits, whether in-person or virtual, are hit-and-miss—as many students use the library more than 10 times a semester as never use it at all.

cover of College Student Library Usage survey, with image of students walking through large academic libraryLibrary Journal’s recent survey on College Student Library Usage, sponsored by ProQuest, looks at how students in American colleges and universities use their institutions’ libraries, and whether those libraries are meeting students' needs. LJ surveyed more than 400 U.S. undergraduates from community and four-year colleges. The results are broken down by type of institution; online, in-person, or hybrid learning environments; and broad fields of study: humanities, STEM (science, technology, electronics, mathematics), and business/education.

The overwhelming takeaway was that college students have a very positive view of their institutions’ libraries. Most are pleased with the quality of resources provided, and more than three quarters feel the library contributes to their academic success. However, the number of visits, whether in-person or virtual, are hit-and-miss—as many students use the library more than 10 times a semester as never use it at all.

 

USING THE LIBRARY

Students visited the library in person an average of 4.7 times during the fall 2021 semester; 14.9 percent of them visited more than 10 times. Four-year college or university students were more likely to visit the library in person than community college students. Online library use was only slightly higher, with students visiting the library online 4.8 times and 13.7 percent visiting more than 10 times. That frequency dips when accessed through course reading lists; students connected to the library 3.9 times during the semester through that access point, and another 20.9 percent didn’t access library resources via course reading lists at all.

Breaking library use down by subject matter, nearly a quarter of the students surveyed (24.1 percent) used the library for applied sciences studies in the past year, with English/literature (21.4 percent) and business and psychology (both 21.1 percent) close behind—although 12 percent of STEM majors stated that they didn’t use the library at all. Far fewer student used the library for languages other than English, environmental or earth sciences, and engineering—all selected by only 4.7 percent of respondents. Eleven percent selected “none of the above,” which suggests that they didn’t use the library for classwork at all during that time. This number jumped to 16.2 percent for online-only students.

Several cited barriers to in-person use, such as one comment from a four-year hybrid student in Texas recommending that the library “extend open hours to allow time for late-night studying, which is a more reasonable time for me to get my work done.” A hybrid community college student in Michigan stated, “I don't think the library could really help me because it's on the main campus which is really far from me, about 30 minutes. I go to an annex of the college that is about five blocks from me and they don’t have a library.”

The three most common library interactions students reported were accessing digital resources (61.2 percent), using the physical library as a study space (47.8 percent), and conducting research for an assignment or project (43.8 percent). Four-year students were most likely to use the library to conduct research or study in person. The least common interactions included using or borrowing equipment, at 13.9 percent, and requesting materials or holds, at 10.9 percent.

More than half of the students (52.3 percent) reported accessing ebooks through their campus library; another half used textbooks or course reserves, and nearly half also used databases. Print usage was notably lower, at 34 percent for books and 20.9 percent for journals. Electronic journal usage was more than twice as high, at 43 percent, with community college students far less likely to use e-journals than their four-year counterparts—29.6 percent vs. 48.4 percent—although they used print journals slightly more than students at four-year schools. Digital repositories saw the least action, with only 16.9 percent of all students using that material.

Several write-in comments expressed a wish for better library instruction or wayfinding. “I would have liked a bit more of a tutorial on how to us my library better,” wrote a hybrid Illinois community college student. “I didn’t expect there to be so many resources in it until I visited.”

 

LIBRARY PERCEPTIONS

Students were generally pleased with the quality of the electronic resources they used, with 86.1 percent stating that they were excellent or good. The quantity of relevant articles and content were deemed excellent or good by 84.2 percent of students, although community college students were less likely to say so. And 83.8 percent felt similarly positive about the ease of use of electronic platforms and features. They were slightly less satisfied with how e-resources integrated with coursework; most (45.9 percent) felt that integration was good, rather than excellent (34 percent). Only around one percent of students felt any aspect of e-resources at their libraries were poor.

A majority (78.3 percent) also felt that their library’s e-resources were adequate for their research needs. A similar number stated that their library contributes to their success as students

Students said they learned about library services primarily through the library website, emails, and class syllabus links. The library’s mobile app only accounted for 9.7 percent of service discovery. Despite popular perceptions that younger generations prefer texting or What'sApp—although not all undergraduates are Gen Z—their preferred method of communication, 69.2 percent noted, was email, and several wrote in that the library could do a better job communicating with students about available services.

Nearly half (46 percent) described their library as “welcoming,” followed by “helpful” (42.3 percent. Responses then dropped off, with “quiet” selected by 29.5 percent, “engaging” by 28.5 percent, and “reliable” by 22.5 percent. Humanities students listed “helpful” as their number one answer, and business/education students most often chose “innovative.” Negative descriptors such as “boring,” “inconvenient,” or “irrelevant” were at the bottom of the list.

When asked to weigh in on what more the library could do to help them, recurring comments included asking for more open hours, updated technology, better navigational aids (both in-person and online), bilingual Spanish instruction, more resources, more staff—particularly to handle special requests or inquiries—and providing both quiet and group study areas.

One write-in comment, from an online four-year student in Ohio, recommended “encouraging student engagement online more, for those of us that can’t access the library in person. A full ‘replica’ online kind of thing.”

Others ran the gamut from requesting more library-based instruction and materials to less: “I would appreciate having more open spaces to read that feel cozy and less overwhelmed with books all around,” wrote a four-year in-person New York student. And many wrote that they couldn’t think of how the library could improve its services. “I would say that is great in there,” wrote a four-year hybrid Missouri student.

The complete report can be downloaded at https://storeapi.libraryjournal.com/magento2-ib/customform/form.php?name=College-Student-Library-Usage-Survey-Report.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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