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Journal ArticleDOI

What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library

14 Jul 2005-portal - Libraries and the Academy (The Johns Hopkins University Press)-Vol. 5, Iss: 3, pp 405-420

TL;DR: Survey data support four main traits attributed to Generation Y, which are discussed within the context of library use and satisfaction, and Implications for future directions in academic library services based on the new ways Generation Y learn and use the library are explored.
Abstract: This article presents the results of a 2003 undergraduate library user survey as a case study of Generation Y. Survey data support four main traits attributed to Generation Y, which are discussed within the context of library use and satisfaction. Implications for future directions in academic library services based on the new ways Generation Y learn and use the library are explored.
Topics: Context (language use) (53%)

Summary (4 min read)

Introduction

  • Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2005), pp. 405–420, also known as portal.
  • Copyright © 2005 by The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD 21218.
  • What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng abstract:.
  • This article presents the results of a 2003 undergraduate library user survey as a case study of Generation Y. Survey data support four main traits attributed to Generation Y, which are discussed within the context of library use and satisfaction.

Background

  • Today’s undergraduates are pushing the academic library to rethink the ways inwhich it presents its most basic services.
  • The survey found that 73 percent of the respondents were more likely to conduct research by using the Internet than by going to the library.
  • In many academic libraries, gate counts are declining.
  • This article reports the results of a 2003 library user survey conducted at an undergraduate library.
  • Most of the undergraduate respondents were representative of Generation Y students, being less than or equal to 21 years of age and also having the ethnic diversity characteristic of that generation (42 percent of the enrolled students are of Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American origin).

Methodology

  • The focus of their survey was to determine in what ways the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Library at the University of Southern California (USC) has been successful in its quest to be an innovative, user-oriented library and computing center.
  • Two of the eight questions were free response; the rest were multiple-choice.
  • For more details about the execution of the survey, please see the authors’ article in American Libraries.10.
  • For this article, since the authors are examining the results in the context of Generation Y, they are only focusing on the 64 percent who are undergraduates.
  • The authors collected the completed surveys, coded them, and input the data into Excel spreadsheets.

Great Expectations

  • Today’s students are both high achievers and ambitious.
  • 36 PM407 hard and excel, and they have been up to the challenge, also known as 5/19/05, 1.
  • Of the 514 undergraduates who responded to question 8, asking for free response suggestions for improvement of services, 63 noted a lack of enough individual and group study space, while another 66 complained that the noise level is too high (probably because they are trying to study).
  • Millennials received more attention as children than Generation X. The 1980s was the era of the “wanted child,” and the well being of children dominated national debate.
  • ”16 According to Hothe authors and Strauss, today’s college students “expect to be protected.”17 Only eight students complained about the need for more security in Leavey Library in the free response suggestions for improvement question.

Rank Activity Percentage

  • In their survey, Generation Y accounted for a large percentage of undergraduate survey respondents during nontraditional library hours; 31 percent of all the freshmen filled out their survey in the evening between 6 p.m. and 12 a.m.
  • Of the few people filling out the survey at night between midnight and 6 a.m., 45.8 percent of them were freshmen (see table 3).
  • This shows that in Leavey, freshmen use the library at all hours.
  • This raises the issue of whether decision-makers in undergraduate libraries should be prepared to better meet the service needs of freshmen after hours since this is the group with the least amount of library experience and, therefore, a potentially high-need constituency.

Customization

  • Today’s students came of age during the “mass customization movement,” which entailed being “absolute rulers of their own digital universe.”26 They now expect to control “when, where, how, and how fast they learn.
  • ”27 Students “perceive their learning environments as boundless,” and most have laptops with the same functions as the computers in the library.
  • In the Leavey survey, only 36.3 percent of the undergraduates use the library to check out a book, and 12 percent of them come to the library to use print journals and magazines as compared to the 61.3 percent who come to use a computer for class work (see table 1).
  • This suggests that students prefer doing research online.
  • These two reasons ranked second and fourth, respectively, out of the possible 15 activities (see table 1).

Undergraduates: Year versus Time of Day

  • 36 PM411 dergraduates who answered that question indicated that they want more computers, while an additional 17 respondents asked specifically for more PCs (as opposed to Macs), also known as 5/19/05, 1.
  • By far, the most asked for improvement was a request for more computers.
  • As a result, students will convince themselves that they are fulfilling all of their research needs by using the Web.
  • According to their survey, only 12.6 percent of the respondents said they came to the library to get research assistance (see table 1).
  • Such a low number might be attributed to this ATM attitude of self-serve convenience.

Communication

  • Communication modes of the millennial generation have changed dramatically from their predecessors.
  • This focus on group learning can be seen in several places in the survey results.
  • When asked why they visit Leavey Library, the third most popular response (55.2 percent) was to study with a group, while the seventh place response was to use a collaborative workroom—30.5percent (see table 1).
  • Though students in this generation tend to identify with their parents’ values and feel close to their parents, their relationships with their teachers are slightly less harmonious.
  • There was always a much higher percentage of undergraduates than graduates who reported staying in the library during the shortest durations (between zero and three hours).

Implications for Reference Services Beyond the Library

  • Many students now perceive their learning as mobile and use the library remotely, so it is imperative that libraries have an infrastructure that facilitates remote usage of their resources.
  • Libraries can provide the same level of quality service to remote sites through wireless networks using methods like password protection or IP address authentication.
  • It is crucial that the infrastructure works properly, is consistently maintained, and that any problems are dealt with swiftly since Generation Y students have extremely high expectations when it comes to technology in higher education and will not tolerate disruptions of service.
  • The best way to insure a smooth infrastructure is by maintaining solid partnerships with computing consultants who assist with the technology, software, and hardware maintenance.
  • With so many students now doing library activities in remote locations, librarians need to go beyond traditional phone reference by using services such as 24/7 and.

Length of Visit Undergraduates Graduates

  • These services, already popular in academic libraries, allow users to email their reference questions or chat in real time with a librarian when the information need arises, regardless of where they are physically located.
  • This is not the most intuitive device for Generation Y students.
  • They may prefer the simpler instant messenger (IM) services they have been using as long as they can remember.
  • Another means of helping students when they are not physically in the library is to go where they are doing their work.
  • The undergraduate libraries at Harvard University instituted a “Roving Librarian” project in spring 2003, bringing librarians to spaces on campus where they would not usually be found, such as the student union.

Implications for the Mass Customization Movement

  • The biggest recent change in colleges and universities, aside from the adoption of active learning practices to cater to new student learning styles, has been assimilating the information technology revolution into research and learning.
  • Another way to capitalize on technology is by supporting wired seating, which allows students to hook up their own laptops and still use the library research tools.
  • This allows for more study space and appeals to students’ sense of customization.
  • 57 Shill and Tonner predict that laptop loaners, as an alternative to conventional computer clusters, will be a popular new service.
  • 58 It should be noted, however, that it is a precarious undertaking due to the risks involved with theft, wear and tear, and the high cost of replacement batteries.

Implications of the New ATM Attitude

  • Students expect convenient, one-stop shopping when it comes to research, which can partially be addressed through the use of portals.
  • 36 PM415 subscription reference material, e-journals and learning and teaching material . . . presented to the user through a single interface, also known as 5/19/05, 1.
  • ”59 Portals will reduce information overload and function more like a search engine.
  • Besides the fact that students want food and drink in the library for convenience sake, there is the argument that since the authors are making the library a more social, hands-on space, “the strong customary association between food and socially shaped activities” will maintain.61 Recent trends in library redesign mirror the new presence of cafes and snack bars, although a surprising follow-up study by Shill found that this had no association with an increase in usage.
  • 62 Libraries worried about the preservation of their collections in the presence of food might try less drastic steps such as providing covered beverages or snack vending machines in designated locations only.

Conclusion

  • The authors survey and accompanying research on Generation Y offer support for the four main expectations attributed to this new generation: 1. Demand for quality academic facilities and high academic achievement 2.
  • The need for customization of technology and research 3.
  • The need for integration of technology into learning 4.
  • 267 students—the preliminary findings suggest support for previous research describing the new ways in which the current generation of students utilizes the library.
  • ”63 Susan Gardner is collection development coordinator and reference/instruction librarian, Leavey Library, University Park Campus, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA; she may be contacted via e-mail at: susangar@usc.edu.

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Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng
405
portal: Libraries and the Academy, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2005), pp. 405–420.
Copyright © 2005 by The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD 21218.
What Students Want:
Generation Y and the
Changing Function of the
Academic Library
Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng
abstract: This article presents the results of a 2003 undergraduate library user survey as a case
study of Generation Y. Survey data support four main traits attributed to Generation Y, which are
discussed within the context of library use and satisfaction. Implications for future directions in
academic library services based on the new ways Generation Y learn and use the library are
explored.
Background
T
oday’s undergraduates are pushing the academic library to rethink the ways in
which it presents its most basic services. The majority of college students are
now part of a new generation born in or after 1982 and most often labeled “Gen-
eration Y” but also sometimes referred to as the Net Generation, the Digital Generation,
the Echo Boom Generation, or the Millennials. As profiled in Neil Howe and William
Strauss’ watershed 2000 book, Millennials Rising: the Next Great Generation, the new gen-
eration is unique because they are more ambitious and optimistic than Generation X,
are the most ethnically diverse (35 percent are nonwhite), and favor different values
and learning styles than their predecessors.
1
They are the largest child generation in
American history, currently making up 34 percent of the country’s population, and they
are the most technologically savvy.
2
The implications of the Howe and Strauss study for higher education continue to
stimulate discussion, some of which touches on the implications for academic librar-
ies.
3
There is a growing perception that the physical library is no longer so essential to
5.3gardner. 5/19/05, 1:36 PM405

What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library
406
the educational experience since students increasingly rely on the Internet and technol-
ogy for their learning and communication.
4
A survey conducted among college stu-
dents in 2002 suggests that technology’s mobility is diverting Generation Y away from
physically using the library in the same way students used it in the past. The survey
found that 73 percent of the respondents were more likely to conduct research by using
the Internet than by going to the library.
5
Recent library statistics appear to reflect this
shift. In many academic libraries, gate counts are declining.
6
Furthermore, ARL statis-
tics show that there was a 10 percent decline in circulation rates between1991–2002 and
a 37 percent decline in in-house use.
7
A longitudinal study of undergraduate libraries
found that between 1974 and 1994 circulation figures for monographs decreased by 66
percent, and it seems this trend is continuing into the next millennium with Generation
Y.
8
When faced with statistics like these, how can academic libraries appeal to this new,
smart, internet-savvy generation and avoid becoming irrelevant?
This article reports the results of a 2003 library user survey conducted at an under-
graduate library. Most of the undergraduate respondents were representative of Gen-
eration Y students, being less than or equal to 21 years of age and also having the ethnic
diversity characteristic of that generation (42 percent of the enrolled students are of
Asian, Black, Hispanic, or Native American origin).
9
Therefore, the survey results will
be used as a case study of Generation Y and analyzed within the context of four pro-
posed characteristics often attributed to Generation Y to test whether our data support
these traits. There are four attributes discussed within the context of student library use
and satisfaction:
1. They have great expectations.
2. They expect customization.
3. They are technology veterans.
4. They utilize new communication modes.
Because the survey was nonscientific and sampled only a small number of stu-
dents, the survey research has limitations that prevent definitive conclusions. It serves
as a launching point, however, for the discussion of important critical issues facing the
modern undergraduate library of tomorrow.
Methodology
The focus of our survey was to determine in what ways the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey
Library at the University of Southern California (USC) has been successful in its quest
to be an innovative, user-oriented library and computing center. Leavey is the under-
graduate and teaching library on a campus of 30,000 students and one of over a dozen
different libraries and collections. At the time of its inception 10 years ago, Leavey was
considered thoroughly modern because it was one of the first libraries to merge tech-
nology, computing, and library services in an Information Commons. Now that the
highly anticipated Generation Y has arrived on campus, we wanted to reassess our
services and find out why students come to the library. Is it true that they use us only as
a computing facility and study hall? Are we meeting their unique new learning needs?
What do they like and dislike?
5.3gardner. 5/19/05, 1:36 PM406

Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng
407
The survey (see appendix A) was a paper-based instrument consisting of eight ques-
tions on one sheet of paper (front and back). Two of the eight questions were free re-
sponse; the rest were multiple-choice. Of the six multiple-choice questions, two were
not limited to only one answer; students were told to circle all that apply. Questions
were a combination of performance-based (asking for the behavior of the patron re-
garding specific services) and perceptions-based (asking for personal satisfaction levels
or opinions) and were designed with the assistance of other library surveys already
published in the literature through March 2003. Specifically, questions asked students
about their status, the frequency and duration of their library visits, their use of and
satisfaction with various library services, and suggestions for improvement. Questions
were pre-tested on a group of students and revised before implementation. The survey
administrators recorded the hour each survey was completed by the participant. For
more details about the execution of the survey, please see the authors’ article in Ameri-
can Libraries.
10
We implemented the survey during one continuous 36-hour period. Participation
was on a voluntary basis and included only patrons who were physically in the library
during the survey period. We chose two consecutive days of the week in the hopes of
capturing a greater diversity of students. The total number of responses was 1,982—of
which 1,267 were undergraduates (approximately 64 percent). For this article, since we
are examining the results in the context of Generation Y, we are only focusing on the 64
percent who are undergraduates. We recognize that this is a small sample but are con-
sidering the data only in the context of a case study. Since we did not ask for the age of
the participants, it is unknown how many are actually part of Generation Y; but we do
know from the fall 2002–spring 2003 university enrollment student profile data that
only 20 percent of all enrolled degree-seeking undergraduates at USC were over 21
(and thus outside the scope of Generation Y).
11
Furthermore, only 25.9 percent of all the
undergraduates sampled in our survey were seniors. This is the group that would least
likely belong to Generation Y. Since there is nothing to indicate that the undergraduates
we sampled from the overall USC student population are not representative of the “typi-
cal” undergraduate at USC, we feel comfortable interpreting our results as applicable
to a larger pool of students.
We collected the completed surveys, coded them, and input the data into Excel
spreadsheets. Then we entered the information in Statistical Package for the Social Sci-
ences (SPSS) to produce the raw percentages for each question, along with cross-tabula-
tions of other significant variables. We recorded and tabulated data for the two free-
response questions by hand. For general data on the characteristics of Generation Y, we
consulted the library and education literature through May 2004.
Discussion and Results
Great Expectations
Today’s students are both high achievers and ambitious. Howe and Strauss point out
that higher standards for schools have been moving to the top of the American political
agenda since the 1980s. Generation Y students face parental and self-pressure to study
5.3gardner. 5/19/05, 1:36 PM407

What Students Want: Generation Y and the Changing Function of the Academic Library
408
hard and excel, and they have been up to the challenge.
12
During the 1990s, aptitude
test scores rose, and a record number of students are now taking advanced placement
exams in high school.
13
Eight out of 10 teenagers say it is “cool to be smart.”
14
Our library user survey corroborates this notion of ambition. When asked in ques-
tion 3 “Why do you visit Leavey Library?” and told to circle all reasons applicable, the
top three responses were all related to academic achievement (see table 1). The number
one response among undergraduates was to study alone (80.6 percent), followed by
use a computer for class work (61.3 percent), and study with a group (55.2 percent).
These study-related functions usurped other less academic functions like using a com-
puter for personal reasons (51.1 percent) and socializing (8.8 percent).
Furthermore, when asked how satisfied they are with various Leavey services on a
four-point scale in question 7, the service that ranked the second lowest—with a 2.9 out
of 4.0—was study space (see table 2). Students clearly use the library as a place to study,
and they would like to see the facilities improve in this regard. Of the 514 undergradu-
ates who responded to question 8, asking for free response suggestions for improve-
ment of services, 63 noted a lack of enough individual and group study space, while
another 66 complained that the noise level is too high (probably because they are trying
to study).
Millennials received more attention as children than Generation X. The 1980s was
the era of the “wanted child,” and the well being of children dominated national de-
bate.
15
The youth safety movement increased; children were shielded from harm be-
cause they were “vital to the nation and to their parents’ sense of purpose.”
16
According
to Howe and Strauss, today’s college students “expect to be protected.”
17
Only eight
students complained about the need for more security in Leavey Library in the free
response suggestions for improvement question. This response was low despite the
fact that there were 62 security incidents in and around Leavey Library during the fall
2002 and spring 2003 semesters—including theft, battery, and vandalism.
18
Students’
expectations of protection may lead them to an unwarranted sense of complacency
about their safety.
Generation Y kids were, on average, part of the smallest families in history, which
meant they received more parental time and resources.
19
The notion that they are “spe-
cial” has been with them since birth—and with it a sense of entitlement. College stu-
dents today expect the same kind of attention their parents gave them.
20
One could
argue that students have expectations bordering on the unrealistic, as evidenced in a
1999 survey that revealed 62 percent of the 12–17 year olds believed they could be elected
president.
21
According to Stephen Merritt, they want specialized housing and food ser-
vice. Furthermore, they expect access to global information 24/7.
22
In the Leavey library survey, 23 undergraduates wrote that Leavey should allow
food and drink in the library, which lends support to Merritt’s special food service
claim. In addition, students ranked their satisfaction with the hours of operation as 3.67
out of 4.0 (see table 2)—the highest of all the services—implying that students are happy
Leavey Library is open nearly 24 hours daily during the academic year.
23
As happy as
they were, however, 27 students wrote in that they wanted to see Leavey open even
more hours when asked for suggestions for improvement. This strongly suggests that,
indeed, students “expect that services will be available 24/7 in a variety of modes.”
24
5.3gardner. 5/19/05, 1:36 PM408

Susan Gardner and Susanna Eng
409
1. Hours of operation 3.67
2. Circulation/Reserves Desk service 3.14
3. Range of materials in library 3.11
3. Computer workstations 3.11
5. Research assistance 3.03
6. Library Instruction 2.99
7. Computing assistance 2.91
8. Study space 2.90
9. Print center 2.82
Table 2
Undergraduate satisfaction with Library Services
(4-point scale)
Ranking Service Rating
1. Study Alone 80.6%
2. Use a computer for class work 61.3%
3. Study with a group 55.2%
4. Use a computer for personal reasons 51.1%
5. Check out a book 36.3%
6. Printing 35.5%
7. Use a collaborative workroom 30.5%
8. Return a book 20%
9. Check out reserve materials 19.5%
10. View DVDs or videos 12.7%
11. Get research assistance 12.6%
12. Use print journals or magazines 12%
13. Socialize 8.8%
14. Attend a classroom or auditorium session 7.2%
15. Get computing assistance 2.1%
Table 1
Percentage of all undergraduates doing each activity
(in order of frequency)
Rank Activity Percentage
5.3gardner. 5/19/05, 1:36 PM409

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