A survey of user perception and satisfaction with reference services in University Libraries of Punjab.

Author:Rehman, Shafiq Ur
Position:Punjab, Pakistan - Report


Despite the processing and propagation of library resources, a key trait of a university library is the services based around personal interaction between users and the library staff. Libraries should make sure that these services show proper levels of customer care and that the information given to the users is useful and at the right level(Loughborough University Library, 2005). Retting (1993) has pointed out that the distinguishing features of reference include a staff designated to provide the service; a collection of reference works accessible to the public in an area set aside for the provision of the service; adequate guides to the library's resources; and a high degree of interaction between the staff and the clientele.

Although in today's world the term reference service encompasses more activities than mentioned by Retting. In this context Mitchell (2008) has rightly said that today's reference librarians are actively engaged with the many emerging new processes by which learning occurs. Further, reference librarians in academic and research libraries are actively engaged with the many emerging new processes not only by which learning occurs, but also by which research is done. To be successful, today's reference librarians need to not only understand but also embrace current and emerging technologies affecting reference functions and the information needs of library users. Indeed, wherever or however we provide reference service, we are all cognizant of the major changes in libraries--changes that stem from countless cultural, economic, legal and social developments that have impacted, and continue to impact, our work. Similarly King (2005) and Hiller (2001) have mentioned that the information needs and expectations are continuously changing in the rapidly changing information scenario. Libraries need to re-orient their collections, services, and facilities to keep pace with these advancements. User feedback is considered as a more reliable factor in measuring the utility and effectiveness of any library. This is the reason that library user surveys have become widespread in academic libraries during the past twenty years. Surveys have often been used as a tool to assess service quality and user satisfaction. By making user surveys a regular part of the library's functions, librarians can provide a comparative 'snapshot' of usage in various temporal contexts.

Background of the Study

The provision of reference services has been, and still is, at the heart of all libraries in every sector be it academic, public or special. Until the internet changed forever the way we access information, it was the exclusive preserve of the "Reference librarian" to provide information directly to the client (Weddell, 2008). Evaluation of library reference services began in earnest in the late 1960s and early 1970s when budgetary situations required justification of the existence of all services in the library. A close examination of a reference service provides library administration and involved librarians with a clear understanding of how well the service is meeting its intended goals, objectives, and outcomes, how well the service is helping users fulfill their information needs, and whether the expended resources are producing the desired results (Pomerantz, Luo & McClure, 2006). Evaluation of reference services from different point of view serves different purposes. For example Saxton & Richardson (2002), has pointed out that most reference evaluation studies employ either "the query-oriented approach primarily concerned with testing the accuracy of answers to reference" or "the obtrusive user-oriented approach primarily concerned with testing levels of user satisfaction with the service". Similarly Whitlatch (2000) has mentioned four primary features of reference services for evaluation such as "economic feature", e.g. cost effectiveness, productivity measure; "service process", e.g. measures of satisfaction with the service provided; "resources", e.g. measures of quantity and quality of materials, staffing, equipment, and facilities supporting the service; and "service outcomes or products", e.g. measures related to the quality of answers or information delivered. Grossa & Saxton (2002) reported a secondary analysis of a user survey administered in 13 public libraries and examined user ratings of reference services by transaction type. Transaction type is defined dichotomously as self-generated (users transacting questions they have determined for themselves) or imposed (agent users in the library seeking information on behalf of someone else). Users with self-generated questions rated library services lower than did users with imposed questions. Both groups rated the library experience lower than their reference desk experience, and imposed queries were responsible for proportionately higher ''first time'' use of the reference desk. No significant difference existed between groups for ratings of finding useful information in the library, finding everything wanted in the library visit, frequency of library use, or levels of attained formal education. There were significant differences found for ratings of the reference librarian's service behaviors, user satisfaction with reference service, and frequency of reference desk use.

User satisfaction and optimization of resources have become important areas for libraries to maintain awareness of. Many libraries esp. the university libraries are focusing on evaluation of the users' needs and their satisfaction with their services. User surveys can provide useful perceptions of service quality in libraries. For example Texas A&M University libraries conducted focus group studies in 2001 with graduate and undergraduate studies in order to gather specific information related to their satisfaction with and confidence in the assistance provided at library service points. The sessions revealed that users were generally pleased with the assistance provided them by professional staff at reference desks and that they found librarians to be usually patient and helpful although there were some elements of dissatisfaction identified by the respondents. The findings of such studies are being used to improve library directional tools and to improve staff training for public service staff (Crowley & Gilreath, 2002).

Similarly, Loughborough University Library decided the annual user survey for 2004/ 2005 academic year. The purpose of the survey was to gather a broad understanding of how users perceive the service they receive at the various desks. The focus specifically was on perceptions of the customer care they receive and the level of information provided (Loughborough University Library, 2005). Loorits & Dubjeva (1997) have reported the satisfaction of the users with reference services at Tartu University Library. The results of a user survey carried out in the framework of a Baltic-Swedish joint project at the library in spring 1995, and the statistical data gathered at the same time were analyzed by them. According to them the same autumn another survey was organized to gather statistical data to follow the dynamics of reference services. Similarly Novotny & Rimland (2007) have...

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