Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wait. Stop. What is a photocopy? Three insights from our Library Student Advisory Board

September 10, 2014, 4:04 pm  By Brian Mathews The Ubiquitous Librarian
The mission of our Library Student Advisory Board is to help us gain a better understanding of the student experience at our university. We talk about a lot of different ideas and issues. I want to share three that surprised me.

Photocopying? We were talking about printing and I asked the students if they ever photocopied (we have all-in-one machines that do printing, copying, and scanning) and the students were silent. After some strange looks someone finally asked what’s a photocopy?
Apparently everything is a print these days. Reproduction of a page of paper doesn’t seem to be a very common activity. I explained what it was and felt like I was describing a telegraph. I guess with journals migrating to predominately digital formats that most undergrads do not need to photocopy articles. Most of their own content is digital as well — so there is no copying notes, forms, or anything like that. Next time I might tour them around the microfilm and VCRs.
Note: the grad students knew about photocopying
Reservable study space? No thanks. Last semester I asked them about offering a few desks or study carrels that students could reserve. Instead of hunting around for a quiet place to read, what if you could schedule it? The group was unanimously opposed. They felt this was fine for group spaces because people needed to assemble at an appointed time, but they didn’t want to see this for individuals. They preferred the first-come-first-serve approach and said that it is hard to predict in advance exactly when you might study; the logistics involved didn’t seem worthwhile.
Share my data, please. Another theme we discussed was personal data. Students said it would be helpful to have a simple dashboard where they could see how busy the library is at a given time. They were not particularly interested in desktop computer availability (which is easy to provide) but more focused on the inventory of quiet area seating and group tables. An engineer in the group started mapping out how we could do this with sensors but with 1,000+ seats that could be challenging.
The suggestion that received the most traction was requiring students to swipe their ID cards when they accessed the building. They do this now at the gym, residential halls, and various computer labs: it’s not usual. I brought up the concept of privacy but that didn’t resonate with them. The consensus was that if the data could be compiled and shared in a meaningful way (generally displaying the busyness of the building) that it would be valuable to them.
Secondly, they thought it might be useful for the library and other campus planners to gather accurate demographics: how many first-year students are using the library, how many engineering students, how long people tended to stay in the library, etc. We talked a bit about the value of these analytics— they brought this up, not me.
The eye-opener for me was how surprised they were that we were not already collecting this information. We do require students to swipe their ID after midnight, but they were advocating for something more. It’s always interesting to see things through the ever-changing eyes of the user.

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