Research Results: Improving the UVA First-Year Student Experience

Project Details

  • User Experience Project IDs: UX-1609 and UX-1414, Plan and Conduct First-Year focus groups
  • Purpose: To understand changes in Library usage, attitudes, and perceptions over time; and to assess the feasibility of using a panel of committed First-Year students for this purpose.
  • Stakeholders:UX team, First Year and other AE Instructors
  • Dates: 9/29/16 and 11/11/16
  • Participants: 9 undergraduate students
  • Methodology: An open session was offered to library staff to generate questions for First-Year student focus groups. Participants determined categories for the questions and UX research staff created a focus group protocol of 10 questions. Seven FY students participated. Due to difficulty in recruiting enough students for a second focus group we instead interviewed two additional FY students with a protocol revised based on the results of the focus group.


  • FY students use libraries for quiet study, meeting friends, finding resources.
  • Librarians are useful for helping to navigate stacks and find books, help with printers, and make recommendations.
  • Librarians go out of their way to help. Tours with librarians have been very helpful. Some students don’t have much contact with librarians.
  • FY students believe that no one will touch their stuff in the library because of the Honor Code.
  • Early impressions of walking into a UVA library were that there were lots of study spaces and not many books in sight.
  • Navigating in the libraries is difficult for new students. It’s not clear how to look up a book or find a book in the stacks. Stacks are “confusing” and finding a book “takes way too long.”
  • Things FY students like about the Library:
    • The late/all-night hours
    • Can always find a place to study
    • Egg chairs
    • “Librarians are always very friendly and they just want to help.”
    • Meeting rooms
    • Areas with tables and white boards
    • The absolute silence of the Harry Potter room
  • FY students in their first semester have done virtually no research in the library
  • FY students trust information that comes from professors, subject experts, upperclassmen, librarians, parents, peers.
  • FY students frequently pack for the day and bring books, laptops, pencils, food/drink, chargers, and phones with them.
  • Most take handwritten notes in class because electronics are a distraction; easier to format and organize; “can’t do math problems on a laptop”; helps to focus better; “I’m thinking as I’m writing.”

Next Steps

  • Create survey themes and questions based on above findings.
    • Possible themes to include Spaces, Navigating, Searching, Help.
  • Seek IRB approval in order to retain the option to publish results.
  • Recruit First-Year students during summer orientation to create a panel of up to 10 students committed to participating for at least one semester.
  • Plan for 8-10 online surveys, and possibly an in-person interview, during the 2017-2018 school year.

First-Year Panel Project:

Project Files (UVA only):

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