Dordt College News

Students' reasearch makes library more usable

August 16, 2010

Students in Dr. Sherri Lantinga’s Introduction to Psychological Studies class helped bring about a number of changes in the library over the last two years.

During each of those years, members of Lantinga’s class conducted on environmental survey of the library as part of their introduction to psychological research.

“Too many students associate research with white coats and lab rats,” says Lantinga. She wanted them to think more broadly about research as service to a community, research as observational as well as experimental. The idea for the environmental survey “just happened” one day during a weekly book discussion lunch that Lantinga has with Library Director Sheryl Taylor.The library introduced a number of changes based on the observations and recommendations of psychology research students. Among them were better directions and signage.

Taylor had been reading about the customer-oriented academic library, in particular about doing an “environmental scan” that systematically assesses library spaces to get customer perceptions about the library’s usability. It was just the kind of research project Lantinga had been wanting for her students, who kept telling her they wanted to “help people—not do boring lab research.”

“This has been a highly successful project for the last two spring semesters. Small groups of students assess an assigned aspect of the library, write a brief report, and give powerpoint presentations to the library staff,” says Lantinga. They note problems, offer solutions, and praise things that are done well.

“It’s more effective than simply doing a customer survey,” says Taylor, because students are consciously and objectively looking at all aspects of the library.

“They suggested improvements that we would not have thought of,” adds Taylor, who walks through the library early every morning to stay aware of problems. In one study area, the students noticed that cold air blew directly on anyone who sat there to work. A simple change in the direction of the air vent has made the spot more usable. They also noted that it doesn’t say anywhere that reference books can’t be taken out of the library. Stickers noting “Library Use Only” now make it clear to everyone. They suggested making it more obvious to visitors where the elevator is placed. They also suggested offering patrons a map showing where to find things in the library. In collaboration with Professor David Versluis’s design classes, colorful maps are now available at several points in the building.

As the semester began this fall, Taylor informed Lantinga of the changes that had been made over the summer and even posted the library’s action steps on the library’s internal website so students could see how the library has responded to their recommendations. Taylor says that some suggestions were implemented immediately, some were explored with maintenance, some require fitting them into a future budget, and some were deemed unworkable due to physical or budgetary constraints.

“This project made a big difference in students’ opinions about research,” says Lantinga, whose favorite part of the process is the library staff’s visit to her class to hear the students’ report.

“Students act professionally, interacting thoughtfully and respectfully as partners on a project,” says Lantinga. “It becomes much more than simply an assignment.”


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