Library Services for Distance Learning: Sixth Bibliography

UNDER CONSTRUCTION ACRL Distance Learning Section

Chapter 10: User Studies

Alewine, M. C. (2012). Listen to what they have to say! Assessing distance learners’ satisfaction with library services using a transactional survey. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 6(3-4), 136-146.
This paper examines how the library at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke conducted an assessment of the effectiveness of library services to its distance learners.  As it saw student enrollment at the university nearly double over a seven year period, the Mary Livermore Library administration noticed an increase in off-campus and online enrollments.  The administration strongly felt a need to ensure the library services offered to off-campus and online students were similar to the amount and quality of those given to on-campus students.  In addition to creating an Outreach/Distance Education Librarian position, the library used survey instruments to gather feedback from the students regarding the effectiveness of the services they received.  Initial surveys that were launched either did not create enough responses due to their format or delivery or did not give the targeted responses needed to improve existing services or create new ones.  After further analysis, the library’s distance education personnel narrowed down the survey to a simple 5 question instrument emailed directly to students who had interactions with library personnel and identified themselves as distance learners. The survey focused on the effectiveness of reference services they received from the library. With a 21.7% response rate, the majority of responses were favorable. Those students who gave a negative response left comments as to why they were not satisfied, which helped provide specific information on reasons for their dissatisfaction with library services.  The survey not only provided useful information to library personnel but also provided an avenue for students to provide their feedback on library services. The survey as a feedback tool will continue to be used by the library as a way to engage students in the process of improving library services. Samples of the survey invitation and survey itself are included in the paper.  M. Venner

Behr, M., & Hill, R. (2012). Mining e-reserves data for collection assessment: An analysis of how instructors use library collections to support distance learners. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 6(3-4), 159-179.
In this paper Behr and Hill set the stage for defining why funding resources for collection development for libraries has become critical, especially in the state of Michigan. With library budgets decreasing, identifying useful materials for distance learners requires examining services distance learners use, such as electronic reserves. Electronic reserves enable libraries to see what materials faculty want their students to use, how often they are being accessed and whether they are from the library’s already existing collection.  This paper analyzes the usage of electronic reserves at Western Michigan University and Central Michigan University by conducting an inventory of those items and their usage by distance learners.  A thorough literature review has been conducted to shed light on the issues surrounding electronic reserves, such as copyright and faculty usage.  The electronic reserves services of both Western Michigan University and Central Michigan University are examined in this paper. Methodologies of their examinations are described in useful detail.  The results are categorized into formats of electronic reserve material, sources of electronic material and their scholarly statuses. Behr and Hill also examined the media publication dates of the items on electronic reserves to see how current the materials were.  Overall they found that the majority of items on e-reserve were owned by the libraries and garnered a better understanding of what materials make up electronic reserve collections.  M. Venner

Brahme, M. & Gabriel, L. (2012). Are students keeping up with the e-book evolution? Are e-books keeping up with students’ evolving needs? Distance students and e-book usage, a survey. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 6(3-4), 180-198. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2012.705109
While students seem surprised with the ease of accessing electronic books, they are frustrated with features that don’t satisfy their needs. Different vendors’ platforms offer many of the same features, but are used differently. Patrons expect the use of library e-books to be as easy as using a Kindle. However, downloading applications from various platforms is confusing to even tech-savvy patrons. In-person questions were easily identified and were primarily about downloading entire books, printing chapters and/or books, and length of availability of the book. Pepperdine librarians surveyed graduate distance students about their experiences and preferences with e-books. The survey showed most had used tablet readers, over a third had used hand-held devices, 50% had used e-books discovered through the catalog, and 14% had never used an e-book. Drawbacks identified included a lack of books on relevant titles, especially textbooks; “not all pages viewable;” navigation and printing issues; and a lack of notetaking/highlighting ability. Most preferred to use the tablet or iPad format and wanted to be able to print portions of the text. Type of material or purpose was important in opting for an e-book. While on-campus students complained about screen fatigue, the majority of the distance students indicated they could read on screen for at least an hour or longer. Most students felt that e-books have gotten easier to use and many believe the features have improved.  A third indicated they thought they had gotten better at using e-books. Over one quarter hadn’t noticed any changes in e-books. As further evidence confirming that students aren’t keeping up, a majority did not know they could highlight or take notes. Brahme and Gabriel speculate that the findings are mixed because students aren’t aware of all the features or the extensive number of formats available and because “keeping up” is challenging. B. Avery

Croft, R., & Davis, C. (2010). E-books revisited: Surveying student e-book usage in a distributed learning academic library 6 years later. Journal of Library Administration, 50(5/6), 543-569. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.488600
This is a 2009 follow-up survey to a 2003 survey of e-book usage at a university where up to 80% of students are distance students. Six years later, the number of students who used the library’s e-books increased from 30% to 51%, with 76% of students having used an e-book from any source.The primary reason for e-book non-use is lack of awareness, even though e-book use is promoted during library instruction and over half of the library’s books are e-books. The survey also delves into students’ purposes for using e-books, how they became aware of e-books, their preferred format (e-book/print), the importance of downloadable and mobile-friendly e-books, and user satisfaction with e-books. In addition, the literature review provides a useful summary of e-book collection development best practices, usage patterns, and barriers to use. D. Skaggs

Hensley, M. K., & Miller, R. (2010) Listening from a distance: A survey of University of Illinois distance learners and its implications for meaningful instruction. Journal of Library Administration, 50(5/6), 670-683. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.488946
This article discusses a 2009 library survey of the University of Illinois distance learner population, which for the purposes of the survey were defined as students “enrolled in an online or off-campus course administered by the Office of Continuing Education Academic Outreach.” The stated goal of the survey is to gain insight into how distance learners use existing library services and to identify student expectations. The authors describe the findings and articulate ways to close the assessment loop, which coincides nicely with their literature review highlighting the usefulness of surveys in informing service decisions. Their recommendations include increasing direct librarian involvement in academic courses, further developing library-related tutorials and other online learning modules for use in the course management system, training staff “who provide reference services to readily identify distance learners,” using email to market library instruction and services, creating a dedicated web portal for distance learners, and forming strong partnerships with faculty.  M. Sylvain

Isenburg, M. (2010). Undergraduate student use of the physical and virtual library varies according to academic discipline. Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, 5(1), 129-131.
This article reviews Laurie Bridges’ study “Who is not using the Library? A comparison of undergraduate academic disciplines and library use” (Libraries and the Academy, volume 8, no. 2). Isenburg succinctly and substantively summarizes and evaluates Bridges’ research, which was designed to examine undergraduate library use by class standing and academic discipline. It is important to note that while the findings may apply to distance learners, Bridges did not include this demographic in her survey. Isenburg highlights the key findings including the fact that there was no significant relationship between class standing and visits to the physical or virtual library. She also notes that Bridges’ work demonstrates differences in library use among disciplines, further stating that Bridges’ article “represents a solid attempt to provide some evidence in an area where assumptions may have dominated.” M. Sylvain

Ismail, L. (2010). Revelations of an off-campus user group: Library use and needs of faculty and students at a satellite graduate social work program. Journal of Library Administration, 50(5/6), 712-736. doi:10.1080/01930826.2010.488957
To obtain feedback from students and faculty affiliated with Marywood University’s Graduate Social Work Satellite Program, the author administered two surveys: the first to students in 2008 and the second to faculty in 2009. The surveys examine library resources and services used as well as perceived comfort levels. The article includes a detailed description of the findings as well as appendices containing copies of the survey instruments. The discussion section highlights the importance of library instruction and suggests that the current faculty-provided library orientations are not an adequate substitute for ones led by librarians. Specifically, the survey revealed that while faculty provide research instruction in preparation for research projects, students experienced difficulty locating the necessary information. The author concludes that it is possible that “a satellite student’s use and knowledge of library resources and services is likely associated with his/her faculty’s own use and knowledge of the library.” As a result she proposes librarian led orientations for both faculty and students. M. Sylvain

Meulemans, Y., Carr, A., & Ly, P. (2010). From a distance: Robust reference service via Instant Messaging. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 4(1/2), 3-17. doi:10.1080/15332901003667231
Realizing that reference services and information literacy is essential to the distance learner, librarians at California State University describe a case study of their use of a pilot IM study in the Library’s Information Literacy Program. They placed an IM chat box at the front of the library home page and tracked chat reference usage, usage duration, question types, and user satisfaction data. During the 14-month study, reference statistics increased, while traditional reference questions decreased. The busiest times centered on midterms and finals. The optional user satisfaction survey revealed a high level of satisfaction with the service. The librarians used the findings to help make operational decisions. For example, the consortial Question Point was found to be a low-usage service by the CSUSM students, so they decided to adopt IM/chat on a permanent basis instead. The IM service proved to be a viable and convenient way to provide point-of-need library assistance to distance students and satellite campuses. M. Thomas

Nadiri, H., Ali, M., & Seyed, M. (2010) Diagnosing university students’ zone of tolerance from university library services. Malaysian Journal of Library & Information Science, 15(1), 1-21.
Quality service is essential for satisfied customers in the higher education industry, and satisfaction with the library is one key factor that affects student satisfaction with the university. Thus, researchers at the University of North Cypress utilized the LibQual+ instrument to measure user satisfaction with the library’s services and facilities. The survey asked students to rate minimum services level, desired service level and perceived performance on 22 items ranging across three basic categories: affect of service, information control, library as place, and overall satisfaction. It was found that the gap between user tolerance and user perception was greatest in the two categories, information control and services, suggesting a lower quality in these areas. Regarding facilities, the quality in the library as place category rated the highest scores. Data from surveys such as this can help with the planning, assessing and improving the quality of library services at University of North Cypress. M. Thomas

Oladokun, O. (2010). A comparison of the information seeking pattern of distance learners in Botswana: A case study of four tertiary institutions. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 4(3), 119-136. doi:10.1080/1533290X.2010.506359
Researchers at the University of Botswana studied the information seeking behavior of its off-campus users. Two groups of distance students were queried: cross-border local students who are registered outside of Botswana and distance learners, who are registered with University of Botswana and residing locally. It was discovered that the three most frequently used sources were modules/study packages, the Internet and colleagues to satisfy needs for research, study and assignments. One notable discovery suggests that although a large number of students seemed to rely on the accessibility and convenience of the Internet, user satisfaction with this resource was only 57.4%. This suggests that many students did not know how to access and use the library’s resources. Recommendations for improvement include increasing the number of strategically placed study centers, enhancing collaboration with public libraries, across the country, utilizing cell phone technology, chat and instant messaging, and enhancing the University of Botswana University Library’s role as a national resource center. M. Thomas

Parsons, G. (2010). Information provision for HE distance learners using mobile devices. Electronic Library, 28(2), 231-244. doi:10.1108/02640471011033594
Based on research carried out in 2007-2008 as part of the author’s Master of Science in Information and Library Studies degree program at The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen (UK), this paper reports the results of a survey sent as an email attachment to 1,500 distance learners at this university and also made available online after being advertised in the campus-wide student newsletter. Arguing that the library literature lacks quantitative reports of direct feedback from students of their attitudes toward mobile learning devices and library online resources, the author hoped to measure student information access habits as well as their current use of mobile devices. Unfortunately, only 62 students responded. Seventy percent of them were female and 77 percent were ages 25-44. All respondents used a desktop or laptop computer, mainly at home, nearly all used mobile phones but only to contact friends, and fewer than half used mp3 players. Respondents used print books, but preferred online journals. Surprisingly, the students lacked interest in using mobile devices in the future or in places other than in their own homes. The survey results suggest no single, clear path for UK libraries to develop or to expand student mobile access to library resources. J. Wood

Rai, P. (2010). Learning resources for distance learners: A case study of BLIS learners of Indira Gandhi National Open University. Annals of Library & Information Studies, 57(1), 72-78.
This article provides a brief review of the use and effectiveness of various types of learning resources at several schools in India and then describes the results of a study undertaken in 2009 at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), one of the largest open universities in the world. Rai distributed questionnaires to students in the Bachelor of Library and Information Science (BLIS) program at IGNOU that asked students what types of resources they used for the program and how helpful they found these resources to be. Study results indicated that the majority of BLIS students used what Rai referred to as “self-learning instructional material” on a daily basis and that nearly all of the students reported that the self-learning instructional material was more useful than other material formats (audio cassettes/CDs, video cassettes/CDs, FM radio broadcasts, interactive teleconferencing, etc.). C. Thomes

Robertson, A. (2010). Using the university’s VLE to provide information support for midwifery students at the University of Bedfordshire. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(1), 87-101. doi:10.1080/13614530903240569
Robertson’s article describes her experience with creating a “one-stop shop” for information resources for Level 2 and 3 midwifery students at the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom. Upon becoming the academic liaison librarian at the University of Bedfordshire, Robertson found that many students reported wanting more resources to support their studies, and since many of the students are non-traditional and spend little time on campus, Robertson decided to focus on integrating information into Blackboard, the learning management system being used at the university. The “organization” that Robertson created in Blackboard included downloadable worksheets, demonstration videos, interactive tutorials, links to external information sources, webinars, podcasts, etc. A “Current Awareness Page” was also set up to help keep students up to date with developments in the field of midwifery. Robertson’s initiative has been expanded to other programs and has proved to be popular among students and faculty alike. C. Thomes

Roselley, H. S., & Nadzar, F. M. (2013). Evaluating library collections and support services for distance learning programme: A study of e-PJJ students’ perceptions of PTAR UiTM, Malaysia. Journal of Information and Knowledge Management, 3(1), 63-74. Retrieved from

Smyth, J. B. (2011) Tracking trends: Students’ information use in the social sciences and humanities, 1995-2008. portal: Libraries & the Academy, 11(1), 551-573.
In her article, Smyth describes the results of an analysis of nearly 44,000 citations from 457 master’s theses and doctoral dissertations at the University of New Brunwick, Canada, in the fields of history, psychology, and education, for the time period from 1995 to 2008. The analysis was undertaken in part to determine whether the types and ages of materials that students were using for their research was changing due to the introduction of online articles available through subscription library databases. Smyth and her team found that history students tended to use more monographs than journal articles for their research, while psychology students tended to use more journal articles than monographs; these categories were more evenly balanced for education students, although monograph use was somewhat higher than journal article use. Education students were more likely than history or psychology students to list sites from the free Web in their reference lists. Counter to the findings of some other researchers, Smyth’s analysis indicated that students were continuing to cite older material; they apparently weren’t limiting their research to just recently published articles that were available online in library databases. Smyth noted, though, that “the approaches to research within individual areas of study are multi-faceted, complex, and evolving” (p. 572), and she encouraged the use of citation analysis as a means by which librarians can learn about their user communities and can keep themselves informed about developments in research practices. C. Thomes

Stagg, A., & Kimmins, L. (2012). Research skills development through collaborative virtual learning environments. Reference Services Review, 40(1), 61-74.  doi: 10.1108/00907321211203630
Stagg and Kimmins (2012) developed short video tutorials to help first-year Business students develop confidence in their research skills and learn about support resources.  The videos were developed and hosted through the Learning Management System. These videos were designed for Business students, contextualizing the research skills to a specific discipline. The researchers utilized a design-based research approach, allowing for continual gathering of feedback from students and faculty and updating of content based on those findings. All videos were designed using dual coding theory.  Video content also aimed to not just demonstrate the technology, but also incorporate higher order thinking related to research. The research findings indicate highest usage of the videos occurs before assignments are due, as a “just-in-time” resolution to questions. Over a quarter of students were return visitors to the site. Web analytics also identified a wide distribution of users among Business majors. Future directions for evaluation of this project include investigating impact of these videos beyond the first-year. C. Schubert

Thanuskodi, S. (2011). Usage of electronic resources at Dr. T. P. M. Library, Madurai Kamaraj University: A case study. Journal of Library & Information Technology, 31(6), 437-445.
The author undertook the preparation and distribution of a questionnaire measuring use of electronic resources by PhD scholars, MPhil and postgraduate students at Dr. T. P. M. Library. The questionnaire was distributed to a random sample of the aforementioned student population. The areas of inquiry included computer literacy, frequency of library visits, preference of print or e-resources, why e-resources are used, the source of e-resources, usage problems, and satisfaction with the level of access. Conclusions reinforced the belief that e-resources are perceived as the best means to get current and up-to-date information. Recommendations were made to enhance access, awareness, training and e-resource availability. J. Wilson

Tripathi, M., Kumar, S., & Jeevan, V. K. J. (2012). Understanding utilization of E-journals through usage reports from aggregators in a distance education university. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 24(1), 22-42. doi:10.1080/1941126X.2012.657103
This quantitative, explanatory research study was undertaken to address the concerns of educational administrators at Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) about the return on investment of electronic resources. The authors of the study examined usage of ProQuest, EBSCO, JSTOR, and Project MUSE databases at IGNOU in 2008. Publisher-provided, COUNTER 3.0-compliant reports were used as secondary data in this study. The data was used to identify user browsing and search patterns, and format preferences for activities such as downloading and printing. Most frequently used e-journals in database collections were also identified. As a result of this research, the authors urge librarians to be sure that they understand vendor-provided reports before drawing conclusions, and they recommend that librarians not rely solely on cost per download to make e-resource retention decisions. They advise also considering uniqueness of database content, faculty research interests, the number of students and faculty in each discipline, and the impact of patrons’ research disciplines on their access behaviors. C. Barboza

White, L. (2010). Usability testing trends in library services. Intercom, 57(1), 9-11.
In this article a graduate student who depends on remote access to library resources discusses the expectation of academic library patrons that library websites be easy to navigate and intuitive and that web design and usability testing expertise is now a necessary skill set for the library science professional. The author summarizes six articles on usability testing conducted on academic library websites which include five emerging usability testing trends: help services; combining usability testing with academic orientation; creating a persona, evaluating a website independently; and using web traffic tracking and analysis software. Also addressed are some common obstacles to avoid in order to gather unbiased, meaningful data. R. Ulrey


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