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Users Perceptions Of University Library Websites Essay

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Library & Information Science Research 33 (2011) 63–72

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Library & Information Science Research

Users' perceptions of university library websites: A unifying view Yong-Mi Kim
School of Library and Information Studies, University of Oklahoma, Schusterman Center, 4502 East 41st St., Tulsa, OK 74135-2553, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Available online 10 December 2010

a b s t r a c t
University libraries have invested a large amount of resources into digitizing information for the Web, yet scholars and practitioners question the value of this investment due to a lack of use of university library website resources (ULWR). Addressing this concern, researchers have investigated the use of ULWR and offered insights into the problem. However, studies have employed a single perspective rather than a comprehensive approach; as a result, the findings shed light on only part of the use issue. Also, existing studies have consistently reported that users with different academic roles have distinct usage patterns of ULWR and information sources. But they have not considered a wide range of users or systematically investigated such differences. This study examines these differences. This study examines (a) the user perspective, derived from technology adoption literature; (b) the website design perspective, embedded in human computer interaction literature; and (c) the library service quality perspective, based on information science literature. The second area is addressed by surveying a wide range of users, categorizing them based on their academic role differences, and then comparing their use of ULWR and information sources, thereby highlighting distinctive usage patterns. Research based on the responses of 315 participants shows that while users favorably rated factors derived from the perspectives of user and library service qualities for ULWR use, they perceived university library websites as somewhat difficult to use. Also, distinct user patterns are observed in this dataset.

© 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
One major area of applied library and information science (LIS) research is the systematic investigation of library website users. These studies can be valuable in assisting information managers, website designers, and other partners in library service provision (Hemminger, Lu, Vaughan, & Adams, 2007). The intersection between users and library resources in general has been studied from a number of different perspectives, one of which is the nature of the user. Researchers have reported that users are receptive to good advice from librarians (Haglund & Olsson, 2008), and this is especially true for new users (Bostick, 1992). Because new users, such as undergraduate students, are unfamiliar with library settings, they are likely to experience library anxiety (Bostick, 1992; Fister, Gilbert, & Fry, 2008; Mellon, 1986). They therefore often need substantial help when using library resources. On the other hand, faculty members and doctoral students are experienced, self-sufficient library users who have searching skills and domain knowledge that help them

formulate search terms to retrieve customized information (Linde & Bergstrom, 1988; Marchionini, Dwiggins, Katz, & Lin, 1993; Meadow, Wang, & Yuan, 1995; Wildemuth, 2004). These findings suggest that different usage patterns exist across different user groups.

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Information managers face new challenges now because users are required to have a certain level of technical skill to use university library website resources (ULWR). Users who perceive the website as difficult to use may resist using ULWR (Nov & Ye, 2009). As university libraries increasingly deliver information online, technical skills have been one of the required qualifications for librarians to fulfill their roles (Adkins & Esser, 2004; Heinrichs & Lim, 2009). Additionally, in order to better serve patrons, university libraries increasingly adopt emerging technologies such as Library 2.0 functionalities (Kim & Abbas, 2010). It is therefore timely to explore how such technologies affect the use of ULWR.

2. Problem statement
Because university libraries have invested resources into building digital and electronic libraries and have increasingly delivered information via library websites, it is important to ask how the use of ULWR could be enhanced (Hong, Thong, Wong, & Tam, 2001-2002; Hsieh-Yee, 1996; Thomsett-Scott & May, 2009). Research in this area has been conducted in a piecemeal manner rather than in a holistic or comprehensive one. This poses three problems.

First, investigations of ULWR usage have mainly been explored from three independent perspectives: the user perspective, which is derived from the technology adoption model (Heinrichs, Lim, Lim, & Spangenberg, 2007; Kim, 2008; Kim, 2010; Li, 2009); the website design perspective, which is drawn from human computer interaction


Y.-M. Kim / Library & Information Science Research 33 (2011) 63–72

literature ( Chao, 2002; Yen, Hu, & Wang, 2007); and the library service quality perspective, which is embedded in information science literature (Adkins & Esser, 2004; Graham, 2003; Xie, 2006). These three streams of research have enhanced understanding of ULWR usage on their own, but have not resulted in a good understanding of how these perspectives can be integrated and compared within a single research context. Furthermore, in the information science field, discussions of library quality, including librarians' competency, have emerged, but have not been efficiently integrated into studies of ULWR use. In addition, university libraries have recently adopted new capabilities, such as Library 2.0 features, that can enable users to customize and simplify website complexity. These three perspectives, including this new set of technological tools, need to be integrated into library usage studies and evaluated.

The second problem is that research samples have been problematic in terms of generalizing the findings to a wide range of users. More specifically, research findings are reported based on a single user group (e.g., either undergraduate students or master's students) or a combination of undergraduate and master's students, while doctoral students and faculty members, the heaviest users of ULWR, are overlooked. A user whose academic role consists mainly of research and teaching is likely to consume more library resources. In fact, there is a stream of research on the relationship between academic tasks and technology use that shows that different groups use digital collections for varying reasons (Kim, 2008; Li, 2009; Li & Belkin, 2008; Lin, Chan, & Wei, 2006; Tombros, Ruthven, & Jose, 2005). In spite of these role differences, research on ULWR has not surveyed diverse user groups, considered role differences, or investigated such roles in relation to online usage patterns.

Third, research shows that different user groups seek out
information from different information sources apart than university library websites, such as printed materials (Finn & Johnston, 2004) or commercial websites (Scoyoc & Cason, 2006). Nonetheless, this issue has not been not been investigated along with ULWR.

3. Literature review
3.1. Users' academic roles and library usage
Library resource usage patterns are different across groups
because users have distinct academic roles that require various levels of information seeking and consumption (Janes, 1994; Spink,
Greisdorf, & Bateman, 1998). Compared to undergraduate and
master's students, doctoral students and faculty members are more likely to use library resources in order to perform tasks such as research and teaching (Borgman et al., 2005). This argument is supported by Vakkari's (2008) finding that the availability of digital resources increased the number of scholarly publications produced by doctoral students (Vakkari, 2008). It is expected that doctoral students and faculty members are more likely to use library resources due to role relevancy (Hong et al., 2001–2002; Kim, 2008; Nov & Ye, 2008; Park, Roman, Lee, & Chung, 2009). Also, doctoral students and faculty members, who are considered experienced users, perceive library websites differently than novice users. Perceptions of website design complexity vary greatly among experienced and novice users (Nadkarni & Gupta, 2007). Doctoral students and faculty members may perceive university library websites as simpler to use than inexperienced users (e.g., undergraduate students), and they may not seek out help as much as novice users.

Compared to doctoral students and faculty members, undergraduate students have a lower rate of information consumption because they are new to their subject areas and are at the stage of learning domain knowledge (mainly through textbooks). Undergraduate

students possess rudimentary information searching skills and need significant help (Atwong & Taylor, 2008; Bowers, Chew, Ford, Smith, & Herrington, 2009). Due to their lack of library experience, undergrad-

uate students often suffer from library anxiety (e.g., Bostick, 1992; Fister et al., 2008; Mellon, 1986). Studies show that as familiarity with the library increases, library anxiety decreases (e.g., Gross & Latham, 2007). Undergraduate students rely on information sources such as Google because they perceive them to be easy to use (Scoyoc & Cason, 2006). For master's students' information consumption and information seeking might be expected to fall somewhere between the doctoral student/faculty and undergraduate student groups. Because of these role differences, it is not surprising to observe significant user variances in digital library usage (Fister et al., 2008; Jiao & Onwuegbuzie, 1999; Rutledge & Maehler, 2003; Thompson, Kyrillidou, & Cook, 2008); consequently, user differences need to be considered for library website usage studies. Based on the literature, user groups are categorized as follows: (a) undergraduate students, (b) master's students, and (c) doctoral students and faculty members. 3.2. Three perspectives of library website usage

3.2.1. User perspective
This perspective is derived from technology adoption studies (e.g., Karahanna, Straub, & Chervany, 1999; Venkatesh, 2000) and has two elements: usefulness and convenience. People are likely to use a system when it is useful (Davis, 1989; Davis, Bogozzi, & Warshaw, 1992; Karahanna et al., 1999; Tarafdar & Zhang, 2008; Venkatesh, 2000). In the context of library website usage, relevance to academic tasks has been found to be a consistently significant factor (Hong et al., 2001–2002; Kim, 2008; Nov & Ye, 2008; Nov & Ye, 2009; Park et al., 2009). If library users perceive online resources as helpful, they are more likely to use the resources. Doctoral students and faculty members, whose academic roles require high information consumption, are more likely to perceive the resources as useful. Websites offering convenient services enable users to economize on time—saving travel time to a physical location and providing access to information whenever and wherever needed are pronounced

benefits that have been reported in e-commerce website studies (e.g., Keeney, 1999; Schaupp & Belanger, 2005; Torkzadeh & Dhillon, 2002). This perspective has been actively explored in e-commerce research and has been found to bear a positive relationship to use of a website (e.g., Tarafdar & Zhang, 2008). Library users also expect to access library information anytime, anywhere (Thompson et al., 2008). More specifically, university library websites empower users to economize on time and effort by making it easy to locate information, find items, and save them for later use without ever stepping into a physical library. This element, however, has not been considered in ULWR use studies; it is therefore timely to investigate the extent to which library users enjoy these benefits. Because doctoral students and faculty members greatly rely on ULWR for their tasks, they might be expected to rate convenience as more important than the two other user groups.

3.2.2. Website design perspective
If a website design is simple, people are more likely to use it (Nadkarni & Gupta, 2007; Schaik & Ling, 2007). It is not difficult to find positive relationships between website design and usability. For example, the easier it is to navigate a website, the less likely it is that users will become disoriented (Webster & Ahuja, 2006) and the more likely it is that users will use the website (Schaik & Ling, 2007). The easier it is to find information, the more a website's use will increase, especially with novice users such as children (Walker & Reynolds, 2000). Since such elements make it easier for users to search for information or interact with the website, design is an important element influencing users’ intentions to revisit a website (Nadkarni & Gupta, 2007; Tarafdar & Zhang, 2008). Certainly, users prefer website simplicity (Moss, Gunn, & Heller, 2006), logical information layouts, customization, and easy browsing (McKinney, Yoon, & Zahedi, 2002; Tarafdar & Zhang, 2008).

Y.-M. Kim / Library & Information Science Research 33 (2011) 63–72

Website designers organize information and present it to users, and users have little power to customize or modify website design. The perception of how well a website is designed will differ among users. Users judge website design based on criteria that are not innate to the website itself. This perception is directly related to a user's experience. Users spend cognitive resources to decode website cues and decide how to respond to them; if users then gain experience with the website, decoding it will be much easier (Nadkarni & Gupta, 2007). As a result, experienced users in the library setting are better able to navigate and search for information (Tabatabai & Shore, 2005). From this line of reasoning, doctoral students and faculty members will perceive the university library design as easy to navigate and use. With the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, website design can also be viewed from the user's perspective. Web 2.0 features for lib...

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