Explorations into Undergraduate Use of Collections

A collage of some of the book covers for titles recommended by incoming Wolverines.

A collage of some of the book covers for titles recommended by incoming Wolverines.

The U-M Shapiro Undergraduate Library (UGL) collection serves the course-related and extracurricular information needs of U-M undergraduate students. This collection encourages students to explore new ideas, gain research skills, and become lifelong learners. How can we tailor this small collection (approximately 175,000 volumes) to meet their current needs?

In 2016-2017, a small team explored how our undergraduates are using collections through a series of microassessments. Our team included Helen Look, Collection Analyst, Pam MacKintosh, Coordinator, Shapiro Undergraduate Library collection, and Faith Weis, a recent School of Information graduate who worked with Pam on a 360-hour internship focused on collection development. Our goal was to evaluate the use of the UGL collections specifically, and more broadly, use by undergraduate students of collections in general.


You might ask: “What are microassessments in this context?”

A microassessment refers to an assessment tool or technique that is:

  •   Focused on a small, discrete area (service, resources, etc.) and/or

  •   Quick and easy with minimal resources needed to design, implement, analyze and inform decision making

To help illustrate our plan of microassessment efforts and methods, we provide a few examples below.  


Browsing Collection Research

Favorite Readings- On the second floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, there is a Browsing Collection, which is designed to support learning and exploration outside of the academic classroom, and which consists of current and bestselling fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and travel guides. Do we have the right stuff? Is this what they want?

In attempt to answer these questions, we hosted a fun activity at the fall welcome week library event (Party for Your Mind). Incoming students were encouraged to share titles of their favorite reads from the summer months. It resulted in a beautiful collage of colorful Post-It notes, and a wonderful opportunity for the new students to connect with each other. The team gathered 312 responses from 1,100 attendees. What did we learn from this microassessment activity?

  1. Students like to engage in conversation about what they are reading, and,
  2. Comparing these titles with our holdings allowed us to expand the relevance of our collection to a new generation of students.

It was great to know that we already owned most of the titles, and Pam was able to add some more. Check out Faith’s We Know What You Read This Summer!  blog post for more details, including the recommended titles.


Magazine Collection Research

Circulation reports - We ran circulation reports to evaluate the use of the current magazine collection. Current, unbound magazine issues circulate, and the Shapiro stacks staff scan all items that are picked up prior to re-shelving, so we were able to retrieve counts for loans and in-house use (excluding the items reshelved by patrons). This effort allowed us to get an idea of high use titles, and which titles had the most use per issue. The information helped us verify the appropriateness of the content mix and led to the cancellation of a couple of magazine titles.

Online opinion polls - Because some other library colleagues conducted a successful polling effort in the Shapiro Library Lobby, we decided to also try Poll Everywhere to ask two questions about the magazine collection. These questions were displayed on one of the large four-plex screens in the Shapiro Lobby for a week, but we only received one response. Although this approach was successful for another group, it did not work for us. We heard from others that they also had encountered problems getting responses, so there needs to be more exploration of when online polling works well. A benefit of this microassessment was there were no cost for the poll except the staff time in developing the online poll and visual display.

Online polling display at the Shapiro Library Lobby

Mini-survey combined with lobby tabling - Learning from our failed attempt to use an online poll, we switched to gathering feedback using pen and paper. We posed the same two questions as in the Poll Everywhere survey, but this time it was a paper survey at a table in the Shapiro Lobby. As an incentive we offered a piece of candy for each survey completed. We received 165 completed surveys in 8.5 hours of tabling over several days. We were able to verify preferences for the format and loan periods of the magazine collection. This effort helped inform future purchasing decisions. The personal interaction with the librarians and students at the table, combined with the candy, may have helped persuade students to fill out the brief survey.


General Collection Research

Focus groups - After a series of microassessments, there was still more to learn about student preferences and perspectives about collections. Our team conducted two separate focus groups with ten undergraduate student participants. They represented only a small part of our 29,000 undergraduates, but we encouraged them to respond both for themselves and their classmates. We identified groups that had some connection with/interest in the library, but did not target groups that would be naturally heavy library users. We had participants from the Central Student Government, the Diversity Committee of LSA Student Government, Wolvereads (student organization book club), the library’s Peer Information Counseling (PIC) Program, and undergraduates who work as Library Engagement Ambassadors. In addition to representing a diverse group of campus constituencies, the individual participants came from diverse backgrounds including classes (first year through senior), genders, majors, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. For incentives we offered pizza, candy, and a few branded library products (water bottles, pens, Post-It Notes, etc.).


Lessons Learned

  • None of these methods, except perhaps the focus groups, provides a great deal of information on their own, but cumulatively we were able to learn quite a bit about the use of the undergraduate collections.

  • The methods mentioned are low cost, easy to implement, and for the most part, don’t require extensive expertise to use.

  • In terms of incentives, cookies or candy work well for activities that are quick and require a minimal commitment of time and energy (e.g. What Did You Read Last Summer and the two-question surveys). For longer activities (e.g. focus groups or long surveys), the students felt they either would need to be personally interested in the library or receive a monetary incentive. They would participate for $5.00 if everyone was paid for a survey, and $25-$50, or more, if the participants are put into a lottery to win. Although we offered library branded swag, we learned that most of the focus groups participants were not interested in it and left it behind. With our focus groups targeting students with an existing relationship to the library, they were willing to participate for pizza.

  • The knowledge gained from conducting the series of microassessments will help inform our next steps which includes developing an online survey and updating our prior research on undergraduate borrowing patterns.

(Submitted by Pamela MacKintosh and Helen Look.)