Category Archives: Assessment

Understanding the experiences and needs of 1G students at Duke

How can the Duke Libraries support the needs of first-generation (1G) college students at Duke?

A team of library staff became interested in this question after noticing that 1G students’ responses to a survey question about the Libraries were different from those of continuing-generation students. While many 1G students are successful in and out of Duke classrooms, we wondered how their experiences might differ from those of continuing-generation students.

To begin our project, we read existing research on academic libraries’ support of 1G students and spoke  with offices on campus that support 1G students, such as the Duke Office of Access & Outreach. Then, we conducted six focus groups with 1G students, in addition to analyzing responses from the Libraries’ 2018 user survey (which included 2,381 student responses) for 1G and continuing generation students. Our full report discusses this process and our findings in more detail, including concrete recommendations for improving library services.

While the experiences of 1G students are not monolithic, we identified nine core findings, which speak to challenges students experience and suggest specific points for intervention and support. One important overall finding is that 1G challenges are student challenges: support or expansions of campus and library services targeted toward 1G students will help all students succeed.

Finding 1. 1G students perceive a dearth of academic and social information capital.

We asked all focus group participants the following, “Have you ever felt like other people around you know things about college that you don’t know about?” Each time, the response from the group was an overwhelming expression of, “Yes, of course, all the time.” One student captured the experience of her continuing-generation:

“Who told you that? Have you been told your whole life you have to do this? Was there an info session I missed?”

Students repeatedly referred to Duke’s demanding academic environment and the abrupt transition from their high school habits to the expectations of Duke classrooms. At times Duke staff may also take for granted how much knowledge incoming students have.

Information capital is not limited to classrooms; it is also used in social contexts and in navigating college life. 1G experiences are diverse: while some students reported feelings of isolation, others described feeling supported through orientation programs and a lively community on Duke’s East Campus, where many undergraduates live.

While 1G students perceive that continuing generation students are able to rely on family to guide them through the myriad of informational and financial challenges encountered in college, 1G students do not have access to this information from their parents. In addition, they sometimes feel unable to share the stress of college with their parents.

“You have the pressure of pretending ‘I’m okay.’  My parents are so proud of me that I can’t tell them what’s really going on.”

Finding 2. Finances are stressful, and an early source of feeling unwelcome.

Our past research suggested that feeling that one doesn’t belong is a global concern for first-years adjusting to life on a college campus, and one particularly poignant for 1G students. Duke is no exception. Several focus group participants shared comments they received from their peers after revealing that they were the first in their families to attend college:

“Oh you’re smart for a first-generation student. I never would have known!”

First-year focus group participants quoted other early encounters with roommates or colleagues that continued to sting. Many of these comments reflect the fact that financial security is one of the starkest differentiators between many 1G students and their peers at Duke.

“There’s definitely a mentality that exists at Duke that middle class is poor and lower class is even worse. Not that everybody is like that, but it certainly exists.”

When 1G students reveal aspects of their own financial circumstances to their peers, they receive blowback in several ways. For example, a few students shared that their financial aid was stigmatized, with other students suggesting that those who receive aid are very “lucky” to pay so little, or stating explicitly their own significant costs of attendance, possibly to engender shame or guilt. These experiences are formative, alienating, and angering.

Finding 3. An ecosystem of supportive offices and people on campus is critical, but knowledge of and willingness to access resources takes time.

The landscape described above is important to understand because it is the one 1G students step into when they arrive at Duke. However, peer attitudes and financial impediments are difficult intervention points. In contrast, faculty, older peers, and staff are better positioned to be support systems native to the institution:

“When you go to Duke resources, people are more than happy to help you. Adults at Duke are much more receptive and much more understanding of our issues as first-generation students.”

In general, students spoke warmly of the many services, programs, and offices offered on campus. This included the Office of A&O, resident assistants (RAs), peer advisors, a close community on East Campus as freshmen, pre-orientation, the Women’s Center, the Financial Aid office, Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), Duke Reach, and cultural student groups.

Word cloud of campus spaces that 1G focus group respondents identified as safe and welcoming

The staff in the Office of A&O were mentioned frequently. Students praised staff members, citing their open door policy, knowledge, and willingness to offer genuine and consistent support.

Unfortunately, some students reported feeling stigmatized by others when they were known to have used campus resources such as CAPS, the Academic Resource Center (ARC), the Women’s Center, and identity centers.

Finding 4. The cost of textbooks is a special pain point.

In most focus groups, students shared the challenge, stress, and fear of purchasing expensive textbooks. This anxiety about textbooks rests on top of an ongoing concern about finances. Students described extensive efforts to find affordable copies, taking great pains to maintain their workbooks so they could re-sell them at the end of the semester, and to locate upper-level textbooks that were not available through Textbook on Reserve.

“[Laughter] I’ve never researched so hard as when I’m looking for a digital version of a textbook!”

Students who knew about and utilized the Libraries Textbooks on Reserve made special note of its impact and importance in alleviating some financial burden.

“The textbook rental program has been really important and impactful for me… To get them here and be able to rent them out for 3 hours has been perfect. It’s really important to have that.”

Results from the Libraries biennial student survey also support the idea that the Textbooks on Reserve program is particularly important for 1G students.

Finding 5. 1G challenges are challenges common to many Duke students.

Broadly speaking, 1G students’ responses to our 2018 survey did not differ from those of continuing-generation students. Both groups are generally confident in their ability to use library resources and report that they have successfully used the library and/or the library website to find research articles and books for class assignments. They find the website easy to use, believe that the library is welcoming, that library staff are helpful, and that the library is an important part of their experience at Duke.

1G students were more likely to report that expansion of the Textbooks on Reserve program and the device-lending program (for borrowing equipment such as laptops or cameras) would improve their library experience a great deal.

Overall, the four areas in which more than 50% of all undergraduates responded that expanded services would improve their library experience “a lot” include:

  • More spaces for quiet/individual study
  • More textbooks to check out for my classes
  • Additional specialized spaces for honors researchers, graduate students, or other student populations
  • More spaces for collaborative study

Survey data indicated a few differences between the services that 1G and continuing generation students believe to be important to their academics. The chart below shows services that 1G students more frequently listed as “important” than continuing generation students.

Survey responses of services that are important to students. Items shown are those that reflect a greater than 10%-pt difference between 1G and continuing generation students

Finding 6. It is sometimes hard to find existing resources at the Libraries.

When asked about services they wish they had known about earlier, our 1G focus group participants mentioned the Textbooks on Reserve program, library workshops (e.g., Matlab workshops), subject librarians, lockers available for short-term use, and the ability to reserve study rooms. Students described numerous library resources they have discovered seemingly by chance or long after their first semester at Duke. At multiple points during the focus groups students expressed that important services are not adequately marketed or shared with all 1G students. First-year 1G students reiterated the feeling of “unknown unknowns”: of understanding that many resources are available, but often finding it difficult to locate specific points of access.

Finding 7. Getting help from experts at the Libraries is important, but difficult.

1G students indicated that reaching out to library staff can be intimidating or even frightening. They described an initial barrier to asking for help, even while knowing it is likely the best way to receive assistance. Students noted feeling that their questions are “silly,” and they believe they have “gaps” in their knowledge. Students also reflected that it would be helpful for the person providing guidance to understand students’ lack of familiarity with library resources and services.

“We have a librarian for an English department, and for the Linguistics department… but it would be awesome to have a 1G librarian. Just someone who already knows that we don’t know anything, and it’s okay.”

Finding 8. Checking out books using call numbers is daunting.

Focus group participants frequently noted difficulty finding and checking out books using call numbers. 1G students did not pin this difficulty on library staff, but rather on their own lack of knowledge.

“The assumption is that we’ve been in libraries before.  They [library staff] were helpful after I admitted I didn’t know my way around.”

The stacks are an understandably daunting environment, especially for those unfamiliar with academic libraries. Students reported feeling supported once they made their confusion clear. Previous assessments have shown that the difficulty of understanding call numbers and finding materials in the Libraries is one experienced by many students, regardless of 1G status.

Finding 9. While students generally view the Libraries as a safe space, 1G students feel less strongly that this is true.

Some of the most striking differences in responses between 1G and continuing-generation students relate to the survey question asking the extent to which both Duke Campus and the Libraries feel like a safe space. For the purposes of the user survey, a “safe space” was defined as a place in which people can feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and any other emotional or physical harm.

Only 20% of 1G students “strongly agree” that Duke Campus is a safe space for them, compared to 36% of continuing-generation students. While it is a small percent, four times as many 1G students (4% compared to 1%) “strongly disagree” that campus is a safe space for them. Duke University has some work to do before all students, and especially 1G students, feel that it is a safe space.

Both 1G and continuing generation students feel strongly that the Libraries are more of a safe space than Duke University. This is encouraging, as a major goal of the Libraries is to provide a welcoming space for all. Differences in feelings about the Libraries as a safe space between 1G and non-1G are less stark but still present: 52% of 1G students “strongly agree” that the Libraries are a safe space compared to 61% of continuing-generation students.

Summary

First-generation students are resilient and successful members of the Duke community. The early years on campus, which involve finding the right communities for support and learning new academic skills, can be a difficult transition for some. While all students experience challenges in college, 1G students may not have access to certain sources of information capital and can have significant financial stressors that are difficult for many peers to understand. The Duke University Libraries are well poised to support the success of 1G students on campus. Library staff can help reduce the burdens associated with transitioning from high school to college by making academic and research support known to students early and often, providing access to cost-prohibitive textbooks, and continuing to make the Duke Libraries a welcoming space for all students.

What’s next?

These findings became the basis of the 19 recommendations outlined in the research team’s full report. For example, one important recommendation was to expand the Textbooks on Reserve program. Though the library already had a pilot program, it became clear that all students would benefit from expanding the program to include more textbooks and increasing marketing of the program. This fall the program expanded to include textbooks from the 100 largest courses on campus, and the Libraries has already seen an increase in student use of these books. There was also a recommendation that a librarian be designated as a 1G Student Success Librarian as a way to build the ecosystem of supportive offices and people described in focus groups. Arianne Hartsell-Gundy is currently serving in this role as a way to coordinate the libraries’ efforts, make connections with other programs and departments providing support, and serve as a point of contact for 1G students.

Additionally, The Libraries formed a 1G Study Recommendations Implementation Team (headed by the 1G Student Success Librarian) to prioritize recommendations and work across the Libraries to improve services, library instruction, and marketing/outreach to 1G students. One of the team’s first projects was to increase the library presence during the Rubenstein Scholars summer program. In addition to providing a library instruction session and one-on-one appointments with the students in this program, librarians attended a poster session and a mixer as a way to increase their presence. Also, the team is engaging with the staff dedicated to working on our service desks to find ways to help students feel more comfortable asking questions and navigating our book stacks. The team is pleased with their progress thus far and looks forward to finding new ways to connect with and support 1G students.

By: Joyce Chapman, Brenda Yang, Arianne Hartsell-Gundy, Emily Daly

Textbooks and Bean Bags: The 2018 Student Library Satisfaction Survey

This spring, Duke University Libraries conducted the 2018 biennial user satisfaction survey, a large survey of students and faculty at Duke. The goal of the survey is to gauge overall user satisfaction and to gather specific ideas for improvements to DUL materials, services, and spaces. In this post, we’ll share some of the trends within the student responses.

Survey methodology

Since 2013, DUL has created custom surveys rather than use generic survey products, allowing us to customize questions to different patron groups and even different parts of the campus libraries system. Developing and analyzing the results of a customized survey, however, is no small feat! The survey is run every two years, in part because the full cycle of survey development, dissemination, analysis, and follow-up takes the entire two years.

The 2018 survey was deployed in January 2018. A sample of students and faculty received personal invitations over email, but the survey was also advertised on the DUL website and open to anyone. We received responses from 2,610 students. We don’t have full demographic information for everyone, but approximately 54% of the students for whom we have demographics were undergraduates. The survey took approximately five to seven minutes to complete.

Two pie charts. One pie chart shows the distribution of the total 2,610 student participants (48% undergraduate, 41% graduate, 12% unknown). The second pie chart shows the distribution of the 2,307 participants that don't include unknown (54% undergraduate, 46% graduate).
After the survey closed, a group of seven staff at DUL divided up approximately 3,600 free-text responses and manually coded them for topic and, where appropriate, whether they were a request for a new service or change in existing policy or a compliment. The survey data have been visualized in a series of public dashboards. To gather additional information about some of the results, the Assessment & User Experience department also hosted several follow-up focus groups with both students and faculty. The focus group results, while not incorporated into the survey dashboards, have been incorporated into summary reports and recommendations.

The good

“I think the library is one of the places of greatest mutual respect on campus. There is less social stratification and freer flow of interaction. I enjoy my time in the library quite a lot.”

The survey included questions that everyone answered and questions that were specific to different libraries. All survey participants identified which library they visited most frequently. For students, 77% selected Perkins & Bostock as their primary libraries. Only 3% (76 students) reported that they don’t physically visit a library.

A bubble chart showing the libraries visited most frequently by students. Perkins & Bostock Libraries are highest with 77%, followed by Lilly Library with 11% and Divinity Library with 6%.

The libraries are considered an important part of the Duke experience by over 80% of participants. Focusing on the students who picked Perkins & Bostock as their primary libraries, we can look at usage of and satisfaction with the library. Of the 1,978 students who responded, over 80% visit Perkins & Bostock at least once a week. And by and large, students are quite satisfied with Perkins & Bostock. Less than 1% of responses fall in the “not satisfied at all” or “not very satisfied” categories, and the vast majority are very satisfied.

Three related bar charts. The first bar chart shows responses to a question asking students to agree that the library is an important part of their experience. 30% of students selected "somewhat agree," and 51% selected "strongly agree." A second chart shows that, for the Perkins & Bostock Libraries, 18% of students visit once a week, 38% visit more than once a week, and 25% visit daily. The third chart shows that for overall satisfaction with Perkins & Bostock, 14% are somewhat satisfied, 65% are very satisfied, and 21% are extremely satisfied.

The Duke University Libraries value diversity of thought, perspective, experience, and background and are actively committed to a culture of inclusion and respect. Beyond gauging user satisfaction, this year we also asked students about their impressions of Duke and DUL as safe spaces. (In the survey, “safe space” was defined as “a place in which people can feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and any other emotional or physical harm.”) We were excited to find that overall students agree that DUL is a safe space (92% respond with “agree” or “strongly agree”), even more than they agree that Duke University as a whole is a safe space (78% response with “agree” or “strongly agree”). Similarly, when asked if the library is a welcoming place, almost 90% agreed. Despite these encouraging numbers, we are committed to continuing to improve in this area wherever we can.

Three related bar charts. The first chart shows that when asked if Duke University is a safe space, 44% somewhat agree and 34% strongly agree. The second chart shows that when asked if the Duke Libraries are a safe space, 32% somewhat agree and 60% strongly agree. The third chart shows that when asked if the library is a welcoming place, 35% somewhat agree and 53% strongly agree.

The So-So

“I use the libraries a lot to study (esp Bostock) with friends, which is both helpful for me academically and comforting for me socially. The libraries fills up pretty often during busy times, so I wonder if more chairs would help accommodate more students (not even more tables, just more seating). Thanks!”

Even though by-and-large students are satisfied with the libraries, they were not afraid to let us know what areas could be improved! They gave us their constructive criticism in a few ways. First, we asked students to offer their opinions on the possibility of expanding different types of library services. Next, we asked how important specific services, materials, and spaces were, as well as how they were meeting the students’ needs. Finally, we gave them the opportunity to offer additional comments about DUL and suggestions on how to make DUL more of a safe space.

When we asked students what services should be expanded, students were most likely to vote for more spaces for individual study, more spaces for collaborative study, and more textbooks to check out. A second tier of requests include better signage, delivery of items between campuses, lockers, and help with digital scholarship.

A stacked bar chart showing the results to a question about the desirability of various specific services. The most desirable service is "more spaces for quiet or individual study," which 88% of responding students said would improve their experience either a little or a lot. Second is "more spaces for collaborative study" with 80% of responding students. Third is "more textbooks to check out for my classes" with 71% of responding students.

Looking at library-specific responses, we can find a bit more detail about these requests. When looking for services that are both important and not meeting students’ needs, we can see that reservable project/study rooms, a variety of seating options,  adequate quiet study space, and textbooks on reserve all appear in the high quadrant for both importance and not meeting students’ needs.

A scatterplot showing that four services are high on importance and on the percentage of students whose needs are not met: adequate quiet study space; variety of seating options; reservable study/project rooms; and print book, textbooks and articles on reserve for classes.

While not every student followed up on these questions with free-text explanations, the analysis of the free-text comments are consistent with these results. Of the 769 student comments that included requests for new services or a change in policy (rather than compliments), the top code was study/research space, which accounts for approximately 12% of the total requests. The second most frequent code was noise (about 9.5% of the requests), clarifying some of the complaints about “adequate quiet study space.” Requests often include a desire for the Libraries’ quiet space policies to be better enforced. The third most frequent code was atmosphere/sense of welcome – e.g., how inviting the library feels, feelings of “stress in the air.” This code was applied to just over 8% of the requests.

A bar chart showing the top 10 topical tags for requests, including study/research space (about 12%), noise (about 9.5%), and atmosphere/sense of welcome (just over 8%)

Security, furniture, advertising, and signage also ranked highly among requests. Students seem especially desirous of “comfortable” seating; write-in comments mention several types of comfortable seating by name, including couches and bean bags.

The Unknown

“Having taken this survey, I have realized that there are many things which the Duke University Libraries offer which I am not currently taking advantage of…”

While student needs and reactions change over time, one thing remains the same: they unknowingly request services we already offer. Sometimes the survey itself alerts students to particular services.

When we ask students how certain services are meeting their needs or which services should be expanded, we offer a choice labelled “I didn’t know the the library provided this.” Here are some of our most pressing “marketing opportunities,” according to the number of people who were unaware of the service.

A dumbbell plot showing the percentage of students who didn't know about a service, split into those who did find the service important to their research, coursework or teaching and those who did not. Regardless of importance, the service with the highest percentage of students who did not know about it was "support for using, analyzing, and visualizing data." Second highest was "self-checkout stations," followed by "scheduled assistance from library staff."

For each service, there are two values – one for the students who marked the service as important and another for those who didn’t. As might be expected, awareness is always lower among students who don’t find the service important, but there are also services that have lower awareness overall. Services like support analyzing data, self-checkout stations, meetings with library staff, and reservable interview rooms may be good candidates for increased marketing. (If you look at the previous scatterplot, you’ll see that reservable interview rooms also had a high value for students whose needs weren’t being met, even though it’s not rated very highly on importance.)

Another good indicator of marketing opportunities is our analysis of the students’ free-text comments. Some of the major requests from students actually match up well with some of our existing but possibly under-advertised services.

We already know that students are always on the lookout for quiet study spaces. This need is especially pronounced for graduate students, who seem to feel outnumbered by undergraduates, who need quiet space for long periods to work on independent research projects, and who don’t always have private office space elsewhere on campus. When we asked students about services they would like us to expand, we offered them the opportunity to comment on “Additional specialized spaces for honors researchers, graduate students, or other student populations.” Out of 281 total comments on additional specialized spaces, 142 (or almost 51%) mentioned graduate students. In analyzing the comments and in follow-up focus groups with graduate students, however, it appears that many are not aware of either one or both of the dedicated graduate student spaces in Perkins Library.

Riess Graduate Student Reading Room

a photo from outside a room, showing 2 large tables with 8 chairs each and outlets along the top. The room has windows along the back wall and a keypad on the door.

The graduate reading room is a shared reading space for graduate students on the 2nd floor of Perkins. It has a key pad entry code that can be obtained from the Library Service Desk. The room is has good natural lighting and is an “absolutely quiet” zone. Some of the requests indicate that students would like more individual desks, however, so some students may be unsatisfied with this as the only dedicated space open to all graduate students.

Graduate Research Commons

a photo of a room with many cubicles and lockers and a few windows in the back

In the spring of 2016, a large room on the second floor of Perkins was converted into the Graduate Research Commons. The space has 27 individual cubicles of two different heights, adjustable sit-stand desks, and dedicated lockers for all users. The room also includes a technology center with an e-Print terminal, a scanner, and a desktop computer with the Adobe software suite.

Unlike the Graduate Reading Room, however, students must apply for access to the Graduate Research Commons. Despite its many features, the space has been underutilized, and it appears that many students are not familiar with it and have never tried to apply for access. A review of this space could reveal ways to market and set policies for the space.

Next Steps

To determine the most needed and feasible improvements for follow-up, the Assessment & User Experience department will host a DUL-wide staff workshop in July to review the results and make specific recommendations to improve the experience of all of our users. Contact us if you would like information more about this workshop.

We look forward to sharing more of our progress on this and other assessment projects for DUL in the future!