Briefing paper

What do our users need? An evidence-based approach for designing new services

Research libraries Academic performance Online learning Higher education Evidence-based policy
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What do our users need? 234.75 KB

In the face of evolving user needs, many academic libraries are reimagining the services they offer. As instruction moves online, how can libraries best provide support for teaching and learning? As research becomes more reliant on data, computation, and collaboration, where can libraries best add value? As colleges welcome more diverse student populations and greater contingent faculty labor to campus, what is the library’s role? As budgets shrink, how should a library prioritize which resources and services to provide?

For many years, Ithaka S+R has provided strategic intelligence to libraries about the changing needs of their faculty and students. More recently, within the context of an IMLS-funded project focused on students across seven community colleges, the Community College Libraries & Academic Support for Student Success (CCLASSS) project, we have developed a methodology for designing and evaluating new library services: service concept testing. Service concept testing is a mixed-methods market research process, guided by a participatory decision making framework, and entails gathering data on user needs, generating possible offerings, and testing those offerings.

At its core, service concept testing is driven by evidence and bolstered by creativity. We start with discovery by identifying the expressed needs of a target community. Discovery is followed by service concept development where libraries brainstorm specific service ideas that address the needs uncovered. Finally, these concepts are assessed by surveying the target community to gauge their potential value.

This methodology was initially piloted with multiple college partners over the course of two years, and we believe that a similar process could be implemented on a much smaller scale within a single institution, across a group of four-year institutions and/or mixed institution types, or beyond the library with additional types of service providers in the higher education sector. This issue brief serves as an introduction to our methodological approach, walks through the phases of work in the CCLASSS project to illustrate in practice the steps involved, and suggests how others can adapt this process for their own context.

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