What? Library services for online graduate students?

I blew it! I designed terrible questions to ask  in my interviews with my online graduate student contacts. Why do I say this? I wrote the questions (and truth be told interviewed one person) before I learned about the theories we are studying this week when clearly one of the questions we need to answer is “How do your community’s perceptions of information services correspond with the user experience theories covered in the lecture and readings?” Since theory is the heart of this course I really should have had them in mind when designing my questions. This came to me after listening to Nancy Howe and Wendy Wilsher (2013) present. Design is integral to what we do as librarians, yet I neglected it as I wrote my questions for the interview and then precede to interview a person. The second person I interviewed after I had tweaked my questions to fit better with the theories and what we are learning this week. This helped me get a better idea about his user experience (UX) with the library at this university. That does not mean that my first interview was completely a dud, but it could have provided more useful information, if only, I had designed the questions better.

So, with no further ado I would like to present you with my findings about online graduate students’ perceptions of information services which they receive (or don’t receive) from their institutions’ libraries and the information they create themselves. Unfortunately, according the two former online graduate students I interviewed academic libraries are doing a poor job of providing information services to students who are studying online away from campus.

According to Aaron Schmidt, libraries need to move away from “superficial user-centeredness [… and] go deeper, meet real community needs, and deliver amazing experiences” (Schmidt, March 1, 2010). But, my two interviewees I found their universities’ libraries didn’t provide them with even basic library services and if the services were available, these two students were not aware of them. Not once did they use the services of a reference librarian. One stated that “using the services of a reference librarian is something that never came to mind” (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014). The other wished that there would have been document delivery or inter-library loan for him to receive articles that we not available via full-text databases;  if his library had this service he didn’t know about it (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014).  He has a vague remembrance of watching a video or reading about doing a more effective search, but it does not really stand out in his mind.  In terms of his university’s website he said “hated the library website [… and that] I had to retrain myself [to use it] every time until I bookmarked it” (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014).  The feeling I got from these two library users is that their library UX was not “amazing.” They were lacking a digital map on how to use the services of the library or someone guiding them to the right place.

Although, these two students didn’t use their libraries’ services they did use their online resources, particularly their online databases. Both stated that they were able to find enough of the resources they needed, although the one did say as stated above that he would have liked access to articles which were not available via full-text (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014, K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). We discussed how difficult the online databases are to use! The one student and I discussed how he could have used training on how to use the databases, because they are not intuitive. We both agreed this is one place where academic libraries could improve, but the databases lack of usability are not just the libraries’ fault (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). The designers at the companies who create them need to move away from the back end of the system and view the front end through the eyes of the user to make them more accessible .

Both of these students participated in producing their own information content.  Naturally, as students they wrote papers and as online students they wrote on discussion boards.  One of the students used wikis to compile resources to share with other students in her classes (J. Richardson, personal communication, September 25, 2014).

In his comments about discussion boards the one student said “because they were to be so academic that there was not much discussion actually going on” (K. Yaiko, personal communication, October 6, 2014). This was another bad UX incident for him, along with the library website experience I noted above.

Through listening to these two students it appears that there universities’ libraries are not following the models of UX that Aaron Schmidt and others are encouraging libraries to engage in. Yes, these libraries use technology, but their website and databases are not “useful, usable, and desirable,” (Schmidt, June 3, 2013) because they are so hard to navigate. Maybe it is time for academic libraries to put pressure on the database companies to produce something that students can actually use easily?  Also, they are not taking the time to listen to their users (Schmidt, March 1 2010). It appears I’m the first person to ask these two students about their library experiences while in graduate school even though they have already graduated.

On a positive note, personally as an online graduate student at SJSU iSchool I have found the librarians at the King Library more than helpful by reaching out to us through emails and videos. The librarians have provided excellent email reference services and wonderful video tutorials, yet as a trained library technician and a LIS student perhaps I’m too much of an “insider” to give a fair evaluation and need to view things through the lens of the average ‘everyday’ patron.


Howe, N. (2013). Customer centered wayfinding.  Presented at the Library 2.013 Worldwide Virtual Conference.  Retrieved January 18, 2014, from https://sas.elluminate.com/site/external/recording/playback/link/table/dropin?sid=2008350&suid=D.FA6441AABC5C854C6A1973D434C3A6

Schmidt, A. (2010, March 1). Learn by asking [Web log post]. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2010/03/opinion/aaron-schmidt/learn-by-asking-the-user-experience/

Schmidt, A. (2013, June 3). Focus on people, not tools [Web log post]. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/06/opinion/aaron-schmidt/focus-on-people-not-tools-the-user-experience/

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5 Responses to What? Library services for online graduate students?

  1. yllekchung@gmail.com says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post this week! I have also spent quite a bit of time considering UX and how it relates to my current position within the library. It’s an eye opener to sit back and try to see the library experience from someone who doesn’t work there! As you mentioned, people find a way to seek out the information they need, but we as library professionals can be so much more helpful if we attempt to view their experience and make some positive changes! Looking forward to hearing more about your topic.


  2. Another fabulous read, Andrea!

    I have had similar responses about library services from students enrolled in online classes for a brick-and-mortar school. There seems to be a disconnect between the course objectives and the need for information literacy. One of my interviewees said the only mention of library in his online course was, “There’s a link to the school’s library on the [course’s] sidebar.” I wonder if there’s more of a need for communication between online instructors and the library services staff than for the design and usability/user-friendliness of the library’s online resources. The students enrolled in online classes for online schools (Northcentral University and Thomas Edison State College, as examples) have had kinder words/more positive feedback for the online sources.

    Keep the great posts coming! 🙂


  3. Andrea says:


    I agree with you that academic librarians need to reach out more to online instructors and students to help with information literacy and design of library resources. Being taught how to actually use an online database opens up a whole new world of searching. That being said some of the research shows that education graduate students (and perhaps other graduate students as well) prefer the principle of least resistance and the easiest accessible resources (Earp, V. J., 2008). In other words they prefer a Google search!

    I don’t think that just having library instruction will change this tendency without overhaul of how the way databases work. Especially, for the younger generation coming up who have spent their whole lives making Google searches. In my LIBR 204 course we have been learning a lot about user centered versus system centered databases and how they should really focus on the user, which I don’t believe many of today’s databases do. Also, think of how much time it would save for other types of information literacy instruction, such as choosing the appropriate type of source, if searching the databases came naturally to the students without needing a lot of instruction on how to search them.

    Also, library instruction needs to start before students even reach post-secondary school, but that is a whole other ball game….


    Earp, V. J. (2008). Information source preferences of education graduate students. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 27(2), 73-91. doi:10.1080/01639260802194974


  4. Jenny Clark says:

    Hi Andrea,

    I don’t think you blew it – you are learning and adapting – and isn’t that the primary goal? Wow, reading your post makes me really appreciate what SJSU offers. ILL, database training, LibGuides, and especially LIBR 203 have made online learning much easier than I thought it would be. Your findings are in stark contrast to mine – the undergraduate students I interviewed prefer online resources. They have the option to walk into their library and they choose to access library databases and other resources online. Undergraduate and graduate students may have different information needs OR perhaps some online programs are lacking and need to grow to fit their community’s needs.

    🙂 Jenny


  5. Pingback: A lack of library services and training on online databases unethical? » Andrea's MILS Blog

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