Research Results: Graduate Students and Their Needs

User Experience Project ID: UX-2368, Facilitate two focus groups with graduate students

Purpose: Investigate sources of dissatisfaction among graduate students
Stakeholders: Academic Engagement, Administration & Planning, Collections, Access & Discovery and other Library areas
Focus group dates: 11/29/17, 11/30/17
Participants: 11 graduate students (including one session with five international graduate students)

Low ratings by a small subset of graduate students in the 2016 user survey were a cause for concern, but root causes were elusive. Two focus groups were offered to assist with identifying issues. One focus group was limited to international students to learn of their specific needs. Most students were recruited from usual avenues (web banner on the Library home page; contact cards left at print stations). Others had participated in the 2016 user survey and agreed to future participation in user research, and several were invited based on past feedback they’d given. UX research staff created two focus group protocols probing on problems and resolutions, confusion or difficulties, type of communication preferred, and how the Library can better contribute to graduate student work and to their overall positive experience. The international students were also asked about specific challenges they face.

Major findings

  • Communication and connectivity are important elements to a positive graduate student experience. Graduate students want us to market to them early and often, and want communications and workshops that are geared toward them.
  • Graduate students want document delivery service and they want us to be proactive, try harder, and care more about getting the paper and electronic materials they need.
  • Library systems and policies are confusing and frustrating, especially to incoming students. Many navigate with the help of their peers. They want DIY short online video tutorials for online tools that can be found and viewed at point-of-need, but like in-person assistance with subject specialists for in-depth research.
  • Graduate students want space for work and storage in libraries. Physical comforts impact willingness to use and stay in library spaces.
  • Students with mobility issues can be negatively impacted by collection decisions that split call number runs between multiple libraries.
  • International students matriculate with few expectations for library services beyond checking out books and comfortable study space; there were no notable differences in library experience with their peers from the U.S.


  • Create a communication plan, to include physical materials, for incoming and other graduate students to convey services, policies, and contacts.
  • Create workshops to engage graduate students in library services and research resources.
  • Create short online video tutorials for services and processes.
  • Consider providing scanning and electronic delivery of print journal articles to all graduate students.
  • Explore possibilities to expand dedicated graduate student space in all libraries.
  • Increase efforts to convey information about critical systems, services, and policies to graduate students, particularly incoming. Include basic information about online catalog, Interlibrary Loan, policies (borrowing, recall, course reserve), off campus access to online research materials, printing, obtaining a carrel, how to reserve a classroom, and stacks navigation.
  • Increase in-person communication with graduate students about subject liaison program.
  • Review tight stacks areas that may provide poor accessibility.
  • Consider revising collections policies to keep all materials in the same subject together to enhance accessibility for students with mobility issues.
  • Do further research to gather more complete data on the following:
    • assess how the Library should communicate with graduate students;
    • gain a deeper understanding of the specific needs of international students;
    • determine graduate student priorities for document delivery, paging from other libraries, and other delivery services;
    • assess what current graduate students wish they’d known as incoming students.

Final Report and protocols (UVA only):

One thought on “Research Results: Graduate Students and Their Needs

  1. This is great! Thanks for sharing.

    I started a conversation with Teaching & Learning folks a few months ago about training materials (video and otherwise). We brainstormed a few ideas for ways to coordinate/plan this across Library departments to make sure we’re a) not duplicating work, and b) creating materials for areas of actual need/confusion. Lots of good work to be done!

    Thanks again for this study, it’s illuminating and I look forward to turning some of these recommendations into concrete deliverables.

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