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In spring 2002 the University of Alabama participated for the first time in the LibQUAL+ survey administered by the Association of Research Libraries. University Libraries was one of 164 libraries nationwide (with more than 78,000 respondents) participating in the survey. The Web-based survey consisted of 25 questions in four areas: access to information, personal control, library as place, and affect of service. In addition, users were asked demographic questions and questions about their degree of satisfaction with 1) the way they are treated at the library, 2) with library support of their teaching, learning, and research needs, and 3) the general quality of service provided by the library. Survey respondents also answered questions about how often they use library resources on the premises and how often they use library electronic resources.
To encourage response to the survey, the Library Services Assessment Group at University Libraries sent e-mail notes to 600 faculty, 600 undergraduates, and 300 graduate students. Announcements also appeared in Dialog, Dialog Extra, and the CW to inform local library users about the survey and to encourage participation. Selectors contacted faculty to inform them about this opportunity to provide feedback about library services. Signs about the survey were posted in the libraries. As incentive to respond to the survey, University Libraries provided two $20 Supply Store gift certificates, five $6 Bravo dining cards, and six $5 copy cards for random winners.
Including library staff, a total of 295 individuals at the University of Alabama responded to the survey: 63 undergraduate students (21.36%), 66 graduate students (22.37%), 147 faculty members (49.83%), 15 library staff (5.08%), and 4 university staff (1.36%). A random sample of 295 from a population of 21,951 yields a confidence level of 95% with a confidence interval of 5.67, i.e., there is a 95% probability that the results fall within a plus or minus 5.67% margin of error.
Users were asked to indicate on a scale of 1 to 9 (low to high) their minimum and desired levels of service quality for each of the 25 questions. They were also asked to indicate for each question their perception of the quality of service provided by University Libraries. Scores for all user groups together and for each user group separately were plotted on a radar graph. Gaps between the levels of service quality were indicated in color—red for perceived service quality less than minimum, blue for perceived service quality greater than minimum, yellow for perceived service quality less than desired, and green for perceived service quality greater than desired. A chart with blue and yellow is considered desirable—greater than the minimum expectation even if less than the desired level of service (within the zone of tolerance).
The results of the survey indicated that University Libraries did not exceed the desired level of service quality in any service area.
Among individuals taking this survey, service quality for University Libraries was perceived as below minimum expectations for the following:
• Complete runs of journal titles (all users, faculty, graduate students)
• Comprehensive print materials (all users, faculty, graduate students)
• Timely document delivery/interlibrary loan (graduate students)
• Employees who have the knowledge to answer user questions (graduate students)
• Readiness to respond to users’ questions (graduate students)
• Employees who understand the needs of their users (graduate students)
• Interdisciplinary library needs being addressed (graduate students)
Two service areas—complete runs of journal titles and comprehensive print collections—scored below minimum expectations at the national level as well. Nationally at 4-year institutions, the same user groups as those at the University of Alabama (faculty, graduate students, and all user groups together) scored complete runs of journal titles as not meeting their minimum expectations. Also at the national level, faculty at 4-year institutions scored service quality in comprehensive print collections as below their minimum expectations.
At the University of Alabama each user group assigned a high level of importance to being able to locate information on their own (electronic resources from home or office; equipment for accessing information; easy-to-use library website and other tools that enable users to locate information on their own; making information easily accessible for independent use; convenient access to library collections). Users indicated a desired level of service above the score of 8.00 for all questions within the personal control section of the survey.
For faculty at the University of Alabama, the desired level of service indicated for library as place was lower than for the other sections in the survey. Graduate students indicated high scores for the desired level of service for all areas in the survey—questions in no area scored lower than 7.14 (the library as a place for reflection and creativity) in desired level of service. Among undergraduates the perceived level of service in all areas scored within the zone of tolerance. Undergraduates assigned the lowest scores to affect of service, especially employees who deal with users in a caring fashion and employees with the knowledge to answer user questions.
A majority of graduate students (63.64%) visit the library on the premises at least weekly; fewer faculty (31.51%) and undergraduates (30.16%) use the libraries weekly.
Four faculty members (2.74%) indicated that they never use library resources on the premises; only one student (an undergraduate) indicated that he/she never uses library resources on the premises. Some users indicated that they never use the library’s electronic resources: nine undergraduates (14.29%), two graduate students (3.09%), and seven faculty members (4.79%).
One-half (50.00%) of the graduate student respondents indicated that they use the library’s electronic resources weekly; fewer faculty (41.10%) and undergraduates (25.40%) record using the library’s electronic resources weekly.
Among all user groups at the University of Alabama the degree of satisfaction with the overall quality of service provided by the library scored 6.96 out of 9.00.
There were approximately 120 comments made by users. Negative comments centered on the need for more resources online and in print, print materials missing or shelved incorrectly, lack of knowledge and expertise of some employees (especially student assistants), customer service, difficult search strategies for accessing information electronically, ambiance in facilities, and hours of operation. A summary of the user comments may be found in Appendix 1.
University Libraries received positive comments about the existing level of service, the helpfulness of library staff, and improved ILL service.
Users responding to the 2002 LibQUAL+ survey indicated that at University Libraries improvement is needed in collections (print and electronic), customer service, training for library employees, and timely ILL service. Library actions which correspond to the 2002 LibQUAL+ survey findings are outlined in Appendix 2.