Librarians, How Can You Improve Your Students’ Learning Experience With Data?

by: Emma Warren-Jones

This week the RefME team attended LILAC 2016 (#lilac16) in Dublin, meeting and talking to an audience of over 300 librarians and learning services staff from across the globe. Yaz El Hakim and I ran an interactive workshop, which explored the growing significance of Learner Analytics in Higher Education.

Our workshop focused on the central role that the library and learning services play — not only in analysing reference data to help inform investment decisions — but also in improving the student’s research experience and overall performance. We discussed both the historic and future role of data in Higher Ed and, in particular, the trend towards using data to enrich the learning experience as opposed to merely monitoring performance.

As the workshop progressed, we were intrigued to gain insight into two areas:

  • What data are libraries regularly collecting and analysing?
  • What kinds of decisions are being made based on the data collected?

The responses were varied and some participants observed that there is generally insufficient data being actively collected and analysed within the library. While others said that they have very limited knowledge of the activities and learning habits of students inside the library, due to the narrow focus on physical resources rather than the digital.

When asked which data they collect, analyse and use, it was interesting to find that for many institutions the emphasis of data collection focuses on the usage of the physical library space. For example, measuring room counts and regularly looking at space management data to understand how the library space is being used, but also how much collaborative working spaces are growing in terms of demand. Monitoring turnstile data and footfall is a measure that most librarians in the workshop are actively doing, but some people commented that getting more detail from this gauge (e.g. departmental and student year data) would prove more useful to them to gain an in depth understanding of library user habits and thus, respond effectively.

Obvious quantitative data regularly monitored by libraries include content (e-book and journal) download data and discovery services usage statistics. Again, many librarians felt that there was a lack of granularity in these types of datasets, though noted that it would be useful information to them.

“How many downloads come from a specific department?” and “Which sources are students studying a particular subject most regularly citing?” are the kinds of questions they would like to be able to answer.

There’s no doubt that content downloads and discovery services usage statistics are the primary driver in determining what a library decides to subscribe to the following year — and what they cancel. But there was a definite consensus that this data could be more detailed, and as a result, more informative. Reservation numbers and turnaway counts seem to help the library better plan for future demands in content; however, the potential for student reference data to better inform resource planning is a huge opportunity.

Additional qualitative data measures reported by the group included:

  • Feedback forms from library-run training sessions
  • Campus wide surveys every couple of years to indicate satisfaction with library services
  • Demand for improvements, such as longer opening hours

Several people in the workshop also reiterated the importance of good communication between other departments and the library to enable continual improvement of user-satisfaction.

Our main takeaway from the question posed: ‘Are there better datasets you could benefit from to inform investment in the library and the user experience?,’ was that data extracted from Library Management Systems and content platforms is already proving to be useful to a certain degree, but lacks the granularity needed by the library community to make real inferences around how to improve student engagement. In the future, it will become more important to not only look at the library as a physical space and learning hub, but also as a key element towards helping enhance the student learning experience.

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