Engaging students: feedback in libraries and universities

Ian Clark shares lessons learned at three UK universities on gathering and using student feedback.

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The David Wilson Library, Leicester University - cont'd

One of the complaints from students was that there weren't enough books (a familiar complaint!) so the library invested in a significant volume of e-books and ran a 'more books' campaign, asking students to advise which books were missing and purchasing them as appropriate.  Listening to students and understanding the problem was not enough.  The library has to be seen to deal with feedback.  If feedback exercises are conducted without any tangible for the student, the effort put into obtaining feedback is wasted.

Feedback was obtained in a wide variety of ways.  The team meets regularly with the President of the Student Union to consult on whether the library is meeting the needs of students.  The library's website statistics are analysed to understand what students are using and how; and mystery shoppers have also been utilised.  The library has also introduced 'happy cards' which are handed to students when dealing with queries to provide feedback.

The library makes a concerted effort to communicate what has been done to address feedback, demonstrating that engaging in the feedback process is worthwhile and benefits students.  It is important to renew and refresh the approach, employing new techniques to encourage feedback so that the feedback service isn't overlooked by students.

The International Student Barometer at the University of East London

The University of East London won the 'Outstanding International Strategy Award' at The Times Higher Education Leadership and Management Awards 2012.  Niru Williams spoke about the International Student Barometer (ISB) (independently surveyed by i-Graduate) which surveys the entire international student journey through a confidential, customised online questionnaire.  The information obtained from this questionnaire is benchmarked globally, nationally and regionally, reviewing all aspects of the student experience.  For UEL the data is also broken down by schools to enable them to clearly identify any issues across the university.

The information taken from the questionnaire is fed into school and service plans.  As a result of the work with the ISB, awareness has been raised across the institution.  This has a knock-on effect in terms of a greater focus on the needs of international students and has resulted in greater engagement in the process by academics and support staff.

My thoughts

This was a really interesting and thought-provoking event.  I think it is so important to do more than just listen to students.  It is all about both engaging with students and also communicating with them in a way that demonstrates their feedback is listened to and, where possible, action is taken.   If it is not possible to take action then the reasons why not should be explained openly and honestly. 

Engaging with students and creating a truly user-centric library service in higher education has never been more important than it is now.  We need to make every effort to ensure that we work closely with students to ensure we meet their needs.

Ian Clark is co-founder of Voices for the Library and currently a Library Systems Officer at Canterbury Christ Church University, prior to that, he gained extensive experience in the commercial sector. Ian has been invited to present at a number of events on communicating beyond the library sector and writes on a range of information issues at infoism.co.uk.   A version of this article appeared on Ian's blog Infoism.

Photograph courtesy of .reid. via Flickr.

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