|Title:||United States survey percentages of college students regarding usage and opinion of library Web sites in 2011|
Start of full article - but without data
Library Web site fulfills need--when discovered
Have you ever started your
search for information using a
search engine and ended up at a
library Web site?
YES: XX% NO: XX%
Did you use
the Web site?
YES: XX% NO: XX%
Did you find the information
YES: XX% USED OTHER SOURCES YES: XX% ONLY SOURCE NO: XX%
Have you returned to the
library Web site?
YES: XX% NO: XX%
Has your library and/or library
Web site use increased?
YES: XX% NO: XX%
Note: Table made from pie chart.
OCLC has done it again. It's taken an in-depth look at perceptions of libraries and use of information resources and other technologies in its report, "Perceptions of Libraries, 2010: Context and Community" (www.oclc.org/us/en/ reports/2010perceptions/2010perceptions_all.pdf). The new study allows us to compare the 2010 findings to the 2005 report.
OCLC states, on page X, that its reports are intended to provide "a future frame for libraries by studying perceptions, not just the practices of the information consumer." Why? "If it is true that perception is reality or, maybe more accurately, perception predicts tomorrow's reality, then our goal has been to provide hard data about the current perceptions of the information consumer."
Important take-aways from this report can help us--library managers, webmasters, content developers, virtual branch heads, and library online presence managers--forge strategies for our online presence and services.
LOOKING FOR THE GOOD NEWS
Before we dive into the good news, a caveat. While broadly representative, the report's conclusions do not apply equally to all libraries in all circumstances. Local differences need to be factored in. However, the findings and insights from this study can help inform the library community as it collectively moves forward. One other note: We've only chosen to highlight selected findings. The full report contains many additional observations and is well-worth reading. Now, on to that good news ...
The age divide between technology users is disappearing. Seniors are on par with younger users with email and search engine use, and XX% of seniors use social networking sites. Is everyone online? Not by a long shot, but the majority of people are. What does that mean for library web presence? More of our library's community is online and using a wider range of services than ever before. That spells opportunity. Only XX% of seniors have used the library website while XX% use search engines and XX% use online bookstores. Are we offering services and content online that cater to the interests of seniors? If not, is it time to add them?
They love us; they really love us! Librarians, that is, and there's some indication of appreciation for the library website too, which we'll address later on. Depending on the age cohort in question, the satisfaction rates for "overall experience with librarian" ranges from XX% for teenagers to a high of XX% for XX- to XX-year-olds. Overall, XX% of respondents believe that the librarian adds value to the search process. Those are the kinds of scores we'd like to see for the library website, services, and presence--in fact, for all things "library."
But do they spend time with us? The report shows a huge spike in the use of ask-an-expert sites. In the case of American seniors, XX% use online ask-an-expert sites, a XXX% increase from X years ago. In the same X-year period, there has been a slight decline with the "ask-a-librarian" services with use at just X%. While it's true that experts respond with answers, and usually "ask-a-librarian" services provide the know-how to find the answers yourself, wouldn't usage of this service have increased somewhat? What accounts for the modest usage level?
What about spending time on the library website? When asked if they ever used the library website, college students were the most likely to use the website at XX%, while the overall rate of use was only XX%. The use of the library website has flatlined, and the penetration rate is on par with 2005. In contrast, use of the physical library has seen strong growth. Given the popularity of the library coupled with the wider adoption of internet tools and devices, all library web managers need to ask, "Why?" Thankfully, the OCLC investigators asked that for us. The No. X reason overall was lack of awareness: "I didn't know it existed" sits at XX%. Once people do make it to the library website, XX% reported success in finding the information they needed, and more than half returned to the library website.
WEB MANAGERS RESPONSES
How do we respond as web managers to these results? Do we run and hide? Do we accept that the penetration rate has flatlined? Does our penetration rate even matter? In our opinion, it matters a great deal. The library website is our XX/X service point, where you can look for books (physical or ebooks) and do research at any time you like from home with high-quality resources. With reduced library budgets, the website offers a complementary and valuable delivery model.
While it's true that library computers are more popular than ever, many members of your community who are facing hard times try not to cut back on cell phone and internet expenses. With overloaded computers in the library's branch and no resources to expand, perhaps it's time to promote access from home. Promote your services with this type of message: "Did you know you can use the homework help service and/or search most of the article databases from home?"
What do other organizations and businesses do to drive traffic to their websites? Online bookstores are used almost twice as much as library websites. What are they doing differently from libraries? One strategy that pops to mind is incentives. Special deals are available only on the website. The online bookstore has many of the same advantages as an online library: XXxX availability, downloadable content, reviews, and resource discovery. Yet bookstores go the extra mile and do special "online only" promotions to attract an audience and build awareness of the service. For other ideas, see our March/April 2011 column, "Learning From Our Online Neighbors."
To focus on college students, they had a different top reason for not using the library website--XX% said, "Other sites have better information." Interestingly, once students find the library site via a search engine and use it, nearly all (XX%) report that they are successful! That's impressive.
Is there a single magic bullet? Probably not. What's clear from the data on college students is that speed, convenience, and ease of use are critical. Those areas are where libraries falter.
College students know that information from libraries is more trustworthy than from search engines. Substantially more students in 2010 (XX%) indicated that information from library sources is more trustworthy than from search engines (XX% in 2005). So why isn't usage higher?
While trustworthiness and accuracy are cited as the most critical criteria for determining which information sources to use, user behavior indicates that speed and convenience continue to drive most search activity through nonlibrary resources. Indeed, OCLC recorded a modest drop in satisfaction with librarian search; the biggest drop on the metric was "the speed of conducting the search." They may love librarians, but they'd be more satisfied if the process worked faster.
QUESTION OF VALUES
It's essentially a question of values: College students value speed, ease of use, and convenience more than they do trustworthiness and accuracy. Furthermore, students are confident about their abilities to sort out trustworthy information for themselves. While that confidence may or may not be justified, they don't perceive themselves as needing to limit themselves to curated collections, such as library websites and resources.
What about the perception that other sites have better information? This may be a definitional question--namely, what is "the library website"? You and I know the answer, but students may not. Do they know that EBSCO and JSTOR provide content that's selected, bought, paid for, and made available via the library? Or that when they discover a journal article via Google and are magically able to access it it's because of their library affiliation?
A crucial question to ask is whether it's worthwhile getting college students to the website at all. It turns out that it is. In the case of students, XX% who start at a search engine end up on the library site. From there, XX% use the site, and XX% have success. So what happens after they meet the library website? They like us! For the students who found the library website after starting at a search engine, XX% returned to the library site, and "XX% increased the use of the library and/or library website."
Keeping your eye on the future is a given for library webmasters, and keeping our eye on future users goes with the territory. Today's teens have different technology usage patterns than the previous cohort. If you have teenagers at home, you'll have spotted the differences. Many of them eat, sleep, and would even shower if they could with their mobiles. They text like there's no tomorrow and average X,XXX texts per month, according to research from The Nielsen Co. (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobile/u-s-teen- mobile-report-calling-yesterday-textingtoday-using-apps-tomorrow). Seventy-five percent of teens have a cell phone. This is a significant shift from the previous teen cohort who intensively used IM (instant messaging) and continues to do so. In addition, "Teens are the heaviest users of ask-an-expert sites (XX%)." The OCLC report states on page XX that XX% use online expert services monthly. They also lead all age groups in their use of Wikipedia (XX%).
Public libraries have been stepping up to serve this cohort. Some libraries have been trying out text-based reference services. Even though teens are heavy technology adopters (i.e., social networking, mobile, ask-an-expert sites), they use the physical library (XX% per annum) more than its website (XX% ever). The OCLC report raises the need for a deeper look at what services teens might want, if any, via texting or smartphones. These spaces may be perceived like the early days of Facebook: They could be a social spot for hanging out with friends, and the library is not invited to the party thank you very much.
E-RESOURCES--THE LIBRARY HAS E-RESOURCES?
Libraries of all types have been investing heavily in all kinds of e-resources for well over a decade. Unfortunately, awareness of these resources, across the board, is disappointingly low. According to the report:
In our 2005 study, we found that most Americans were not aware their library provided e-resources. This low level of awareness of e-resources was evident again in our 2010 study. Most information consumers continue to be unaware [that] their library has online databases (XX%), ebooks (XX%), and ejournals (XX%).