Over the past few months, Kevin and I have gotten together with a few sets of students to conduct some informal focus groups. The students we have spoken with, though a small group, have been from all years and from varying majors. Our aim is to better understand how our students find information, how they use our website to do so, and what we can do to make it easier for our students to get to the best information more quickly. As one of the participants said, “I mean, we live on our computers,” so understanding what they do on their computers can help us do our jobs better. These conversations have proven to be really valuable, so I thought we could share some of the themes and interesting ideas here.
The first thing we found was that the students don’t clearly separate the library as a place from the library as a web presence. We’d start talking about something on the site, only to find ourselves talking about the building a few minutes later. One library fact that a student shared was that “the state of the atrium defines the state of the library.” She said that if you walk in and the atrium is crowded, that you know there won’t be an outlet anywhere. The popularity of this (and other) space shows how much the students value the library as a place. Across the board the students we spoke with also valued serendipity, and liked looking as books shelved together. We also heard positive things about the periodicals move: one student even said, “now I will use them!”
We found that students often are confused by library speak. As we know, many of the terms we say, or write on the website, make sense to us, but not to all of our users. One group continued to come back to interlibrary loan, first asking what it was, then asking several follow up questions. Once they knew what it was, they were really excited about it, but it showed us how even a term that sounds like what it means might still be confusing to users.
Once we were able to address the design of the website, we heard pretty clearly that there are too many links on the homepage. People look at the main tabs, but are overwhelmed by the amount of text on the page. One student said “design is content” and in this sense, we heard that the design obscured the content. We also heard that the catalog is one click away rather than no clicks, which would be preferable. Students also said they’d like to see library and technology news displayed more prominently, even news about the new Firefox or Zotero. Across the board they love the covers in the catalog and the new text message call number feature.
We also learned that the students would like a more simplified way of getting started. They suggested a Getting Started button on the website for those who have never written a college level research paper before. Hopefully, we’ll be able to easily do this with the Toolkit. We also received a request that librarians compile top research blogs and think tanks in a wiki, letting the students contribute as well. This student found many blogs by professors in their field and use them in their academic work. He thought a list of these blogs would have been very helpful when he was getting started in the field.
The students also spoke to a need to make things very easy and well publicized. One student described her classmates as “very intense, they need simple information and lots of marketing.” Over and over we hear a need for simple, bulleted news. Students like what we have to offer, but want an easy way to find out about it.
And perhaps the best quote of them all: “The library going 24/5 was the most beautiful thing that ever happened.”
These focus groups have given us a lot of work to do, but they’ve also given us work that we know will help our students. We hope to do more of these types of meetings, but first we need to create a Getting Started page… list some relevant research blogs… find a way to market library news……