What do faculty need and want from digital libraries?

The National Science Digital Library of NSF, institutions and other organizations are devoting significant efforts to provide access to collections of high quality materials to educators. However, the growth and use of the collections is not growing at the rate predicted by early promoters of digital libraries.

The principal investigators from the George Mason University, Carleton College, Broad-based Knowledge, and University of Wisconsin—Madison are exploring the use of digital libraries and digital learning materials by higher education faculty. We are examining factors that encourage use of and contribution to these collections. Of equal importance is assessing why faculty do not use materials from digital libraries with a particular focus on why faculty, who are aware of digital libraries, are not active users. To approach these issues, we will ask these questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of online collections that make them useful (or not useful) for teaching?
  2. How do faculty employ materials in useful collections?
  3. How can collections, resources, and services be best aligned with faculty work patterns?

We conducted focus groups with faculty from the complete range of higher education institutions, from community colleges to research universities, with broad representation across the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The focus groups were conducted at representative institutions of higher education across this broad range of institution types.

The focus groups provided data for a broad survey of faculty reflecting the geographic, disciplinary, and educational profile of higher education. This survey will be delivered in 2006. Because of the source of the funding, we specifically targeted faculty and instructors of STEM, but these issues are not unique to these disciplines, and in the survey we encourage our partner institutions to offer the survey to a sample of all their faculty and instructors.

The survey was administered to more than 4400 individuals who teach post-secondary students at more than 100 institutions from the broad spectrum of this community. Results are available from our page on publications and presentations.

Results from both the focus groups and survey are being shared with the NSDL and more widely to the digital library community, and, we believe it will be of use to both current and future digital library projects as they try to understand the needs of current users and to understand and overcome barriers identified by non-users.

Our data will serve as a baseline for the long-term monitoring of the growth of digital libraries. In addition, the survey is being prepared as a toolkit to allow other projects (including those targeting continuing education and K-12) to modify and use the survey to collect data on their target audiences and better serve them.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, award 0435398. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

For more information on this survey, contact Alan Wolf (alanwolf@wisc.edu).

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