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WAAL 2008: User Surveys: Cost-effective Marketing Strategies

Posted by on Thursday, April 17, 2008 in WLA Blog Archive

  • Larry Duerr and Dolores Skowronek, Alverno College

Cost-effective Marketing Strategies

  • Both of us are on campus library marketing committee
  • Previous committee members were more interested in promoting internally through bulletin boards, etc.
  • International Encyclopedia of Information and Library Science: "Marketing represents an organized way of offering library services cost-effectively and efficiently, baesd upon user interests, communication methods, imaginative design of service and products, and feedback that improves what the library is doing."
  • Rather than pulling an idea out of a hat and saying, "let's try this" - we needed data on our users
  • Last time we'd gathered data like this was 10 years ago
  • Info we wanted to gather: frequency of library use, demographics, reality of student tech proficiency vs. their self-assessment, satisfaction level with library

Data gathering & statistical analysis

  • Probability sampling - better option but requires more understanding of statistics, and more funds - everyone has same chance of being surveyed - yields statistically measurable results
  • Non-probability sampling - tends to be biased and not representative of whole population - not generalizable - convenience sampling (try to get as many people as possible who come into library on certain day/time to take survey) - handy when you aren't sure if there's a problem or not
  • Most librarians don't have the research methodology skills to do probability sampling
  • We had both taken a research methods class, but had never used in practice - we chose non-probability sampling
  • Used same categories in our demographic survey questions, as those used by college - could then compare
  • Educational institutions have tons of data on students - very helpful
  • Attempted to minimize bias when distributing surveys - handed out to absolutely everyone who passed by, whether or not we knew if they were students
  • Larger the sample size, the better - our goal was 331 (minimum sample size for our overall study body, if we'd used probability sampling)
  • You're welcome to use our survey questions - contact us

Our questions + results

  • We adopted a definition of a non-user: "somebody who uses the library once a year or less" - turned out that it wasn't good definition - very few people fit into that category - but it was good that we didn't seem to have the problem of non-use that we suspected
  • Identify and separate 1st-year students, because of course they didn't use library last year...
  • When analyze open-ended questions, need to go through "open coding" process - group into categories and assigned code to enter into analysis software - librarians are good at this!
  • Try to reduce bias by having more than one person work on open coding, separately
  • SPSS is great qualitative analysis software, but not intuitive - seek someone out with know-how
  • 377 usable surveys, 322 were students, 8 nonusable, 124 chose not to answer survey [a data point most people don't collect]
  • Happy to get small differences in percentage between our sample, and overall population by year in school, etc.
  • Grad students - higher non-use of physical facility, but higher use of website; don't necessarily know why
  • "Liked best about the library?" - generating talking points we can use with the administration - why have a library, why continue to staff it - leverage value-added component - high = library staff, quiet space
  • "Liked least?" - too few computers (we had anecdotal evidence about this, but now real data to use in requests for funding); too few hours (have made some changes)
  • "Where do you go first?" - internet (no surprise, not trying to compete there); library building 21%; library website; library databases

What changes have we made?

  • 1st/2nd year students don't use website - more focus by Librarians in Residence, and tutorial videos
  • Students say staff are friendly and easy to work with - confidence for librarians to serve on more curriculum committees, extend staff outside the building
  • Want more computers - budget request, opened nearby computer lab for drop-ins from 12-1pm during week
  • Focus group: more classes in how to do research - offering more workshops on APA citation format - got 5 people at each of 3 workshops [hmmm... not sure this is the right tactic]
  • Low use of web2.0 (blogs, wikis, rss) - continuing workshops on learning technologies, want to purchase Captivate license
  • High use of Facebook - created page, want to create link from website - communicating resources/services/events - gray area about crossing the line into student online communities - but we know it's being used, so good place to spend library time
  • Faculty focus groups: expect library to keep them informed about new technologies and research


  • Do more frequent surveys - not wait 10 years between
  • Target grad students
  • Short-term goals: more laptops, more embedded librarians for specific courses - "Librarian in Residence," promote website to freshmen
  • Long-term: new library building 4-5 years (ours is from 1950's) - get librarians involved, include Information Commons; create information literacy general education course taught by librarians (ACRL IL competencies); staff training - using technology

Lessons learned

  • Find and use experts on campus (ex: SPSS experts)
  • Redefine non-user = someone who uses library once a semester or less
  • Verify college data - use master set/codes, rather than info on the open web which might not match (oops!)
  • Detailed timelines would have been more helpful - tried to go back to analyze data after a semester, had lost momentum - this is common - loss of morale for staff as well as users who have answered survey
  • Offered online survey version after refused paper survey - not many takers - has to be exactly the same
  • Followed up survey with one focus group with students, one with faculty - wanted more, but very hard to schedule - good information - wanted to know what librarians "really do"
  • Need IRB approval, admin buy-in, above-board
  • Without funds for outside expert consultant, wanted to become good researchers - wonderful experience - will understand the literature better now - positive change - total cost was under $600


  • Let users know results? Haven't yet much; some info in annual report. Will make formal report to admin. Notepad at next "Institute" event where faculty meet - giveaway with facts about library.
  • Memorial Library at UW-Madison did a "know your librarian" display - what they do when they are and aren't on the job
  • Non-usable surveys? Filled out front and not back of survey.
  • Amanda's reaction: Yay! Assessment as part of marketing!
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