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LibQUAL+® at Northwestern

The following post is submitted by guest blogger Jessica Nelson Moore from Northwestern College.

In order to assess library service quality, the Berntsen Library at Northwestern College administered the LibQUAL+® survey to NWC’s students and faculty in 2008 and 2012. 
The LibQUAL+® survey assesses library patron’s perceptions of 22 aspects of library service quality, grouped into three major dimensions: Affect of Service, Information Control, and Library as place. 

·         Affect of Service refers to users’ perceptions of the service given by library staff.  Questions include “Employees who understand the needs of their users” and “Giving users individual attention”.
·         Information Control refers to users’ perceptions of access to information.  Questions include “Making electronic resources accessible from my home or office” and “Print and/or electronic journal collections I require for my work”.
·         Library as place refers to users’ perceptions of the library’s environment.  Questions include “Library space that inspires study and learning” and “A comfortable and inviting location”. 

One of the benefits of LibQUAL+® is that it shows not only the perceived level of service for each dimension, but also the desired level of service.  The results show not only how patrons felt about each aspect of the library, but whether or not it was important to them.  For example, in the 2012 survey undergraduates ranked their top five desired (the most important) aspects of library service quality as “Employees who are consistently courteous”, “Employees who deal with users in a caring fashion”, “A library web site enabling me to locate information on my own”,  “Willingness to help users”, and  “Making information easily accessible for independent use”.  Of these top five desired qualities, three were considered by undergraduates to be in the top five areas of highest perceived service quality.  To put it another way, of the top five things that undergraduates think the library is doing well, three of them were in the top five things they most cared about.
Survey results are plotted graphically on a circular chart, referred to as an “Antarctica chart” because of its resemblance to the polar continent.  The yellow band on the chart represents areas where the perceived level of service for that aspect of service was less than the desired level of service.  (A wider yellow space indicates that there is a wider “gap” between the desired level of service and the perceived level of service for those attributes.)  The blue band on the chart represents areas where the perceived level of service was greater than the minimum level of service, i.e., adequate service.  The green on the chart represents areas where the perceived level of service was greater than the desired level of service, i.e., superior service.  Any areas of red on the chart would indicate that the perceived level of service for that area was below the minimum accepted level of service.  

A huge benefit of LibQUAL+® is the comments that survey respondents offer with their response.  About 1/3 of survey respondents left a comment with their survey.  Many of the comments reveal suggestions for specific areas of improvement for the library, such as noise level.  Example: “Once in awhile it is too noisy, but mostly it works great!”  Other comments reveal the aspects that patrons most appreciate about the library, such as reference service.  Example: “The reference librarians at NWC are amazing. Not only are they incredibly helpful, they are also very friendly.”
After the 2008 survey, results were communicated to library staff and other stakeholders such as the campus Assessment Steering Committee.  Changes were made based upon survey feedback, including updating library computers with new software and enhanced printing capabilities, and enhancing study spaces with lighting and electric outlets.  A follow-up focus group was conducted to further understand what students wanted from their library.  The staff of the Berntsen Library is looking forward to analyzing the results of the 2012 survey, especially in comparison to the initial, benchmark survey in 2008.  

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