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Commons Environment


The objective of this study is to assess the value of library resources and services in a Commons environment in support of the instructional mission of the University. Gaining a better understanding of how students make use of the library Commons and its services will provide much-needed guidance for planning and decision-making related to allocation of resources, staffing, publicity, and other efforts, as well as support for demonstrating the library’s value to the university.

Gaining a better understanding of how students use resources and services in the Commons in relation to both coursework and college life will aid in the decision-making process when determining how to allocate resources, as well as demonstrating the value of the Commons environment to the University’s efforts in learning, student engagement, retention, and graduation. Understanding the value of this space in support of the teaching and learning mission of the university compared with other campus spaces (classrooms, student unions, etc.) will help the library define its unique value to the university.

Teresa Walker, University of Tennessee
Gayle Baker, University of Tennessee
Steven Smith, University of Tennessee

Students, both in the Library and in the classroom, are invited to participate in this study in three surveys: in-library survey, in-class survey of students who use the Commons, in-class survey of students who do not use the Commons. For this study, we wish to collect student responses to questions about Library/Commons services and resources to assess the effect of those resources on student success and retention. The results of this survey, along with student demographic data, will help the researchers identify underserved populations, which resources/services contribute most to student learning, which resources/services contribute to the learning of skills that contribute to ethical use of information and information technologies, and the acquisition of undergraduate research skills.

  1. A research participation management system is used to handle student participation in the survey in a general education course with many sections. Students in the course are required to participate in research projects as part of their course requirements.
  2. When students log in to the system, their instructor is notified that they have met the requirement of taking a survey for class.
  3. The students are then passed to the survey in a separate system.
  4. The first question in the survey asks for the student to enter his/her university ID (but not password).
  5. After the survey has been closed, the university ID for each survey response will be pulled from the survey responses and put into a table along with the record number of the survey response.  The table with the unique survey record number attached (Survey ID) to university IDs will be sent to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.  That office will create a table with the Survey ID as well as demographic information and progress towards degree data for each university ID. At that point, university ID information will be dropped from the survey data so no demographic information will be tied to a particular identity.
  6. That office will return to the project team the demographic data and current data about progress-towards-degree along with the Survey-ID as described below.

    Admissions and demographic data (ADD)
    • Associated Survey ID
    • Year of birth (YYYY)
    • Sex
    • Ethnicity
    • Year started at UTK
    • ACT and/SAT or equivalent score
    • Transfer student? (Y or N)
    • Year and Term of survey (YYTT with “12SP” meaning Spring 2012 )

    Progress-towards-degree data (PTDD)
    • Associated Survey ID
    • Major
    • Cumulative GPA
    • Cumulative Credit Hours
    • Class Standing
    • Year and Term of posting and downloading of progress-towards-degree data (YYTT)

Key variables of interest:
Two critical areas of interest to universities are student retention and graduation rates. There is evidence that a major factor influencing student success is a student’s sense of place in the university community.  This study seeks to track retention and graduation of students who use the Commons compared to those who use other spaces.

The surveys will be available to be deployed at any interested university.  There are 3 distinct surveys, any or all of which may be used.

  • Commons-InClass-Survey-No asks students to identify places on campus they use for services similar to those in the Commons and to give an indication of how much time they spend using those services.
  • Commons-InClass-Survey-Yes asks students to indicate how much time they spend using Commons services.
  • Common-InLibrary Survey asks students to indicate which services they use in a typical visit to the Commons

Utility in this study may come from the comparison of student reported use of services and resources in the Commons with student demographic data on retention, success, and year to graduation. Usage data as well as reported value of services and resources as reported by students may also aid in Libraries and university decision-making regarding funding for resources.

Distributed in-class survey to Communications Studies 210 students Spring 2012 with 146 respondents. Distributed in-library survey Summer 2011 and Fall 2011 with 957 respondents.

Usage data and reported value have already influenced decisions regarding funding for types of equipment as well as types of spaces to provide in renovation projects. The decisions have occurred at the library and university level.

In-class Survey
Exit Survey