The Quality of Academic Library Building Improvements Has a Positive Impact on Library Usage

Julie McKenna


A review of:

Shill, Harold B. and Shawn Tonner. “Does the Building Still Matter? Usage Patterns in New, Expanded, and Renovated Libraries, 1995-2002.” College & Research Libraries 65.2 (Mar. 2004): 123-150.

Objective – To measure the impact of academic library facility improvements on physical library usage.

Design – The facility improvement data used for this study were previously collected through a 68-item Web survey for the companion article “Creating a Better Place: Physical Improvements in Academic Libraries, 1995-2002” (Shill and Tonner). The measurement of library usage was by exit gate counts before and after library improvements.

Setting – American academic libraries in which: facility improvement projects were completed between 1995 and 2002, the project space was not smaller than 20,000 square feet, the project space did not include off-site storage or non-public space, and gate-count statistics from before and after facility changes were available.

Subjects – Ninety of 384 identified academic libraries were able to provide usable data on: exit gate count, total circulation, in-house collection use, and reference transaction data.

Methods – The data collection was undertaken in 2003 for the companion study (Shill and Tonner). A population of 384 libraries potentially able to meet criteria for the study was gathered and each library was invited by e-mail to complete a Web-based survey. Through this initial contact, 357 libraries were confirmed as meeting the study criteria, and responses were received from 182 of those providing a 51% overall response rate.

Respondents were asked about institutional characteristics (public or private, Carnegie classification, etc.); project specific features (year of completion, nature of project, etc.); nature and extent of changes (seating, wiring, HVAC, etc.); presence of non-library services in the facility; collection arrangements; before and after quality changes in lighting, seating and a range of services (as assessed by the survey respondent); and before and after project completion gate count usage statistics. Respondents were asked a set of eleven questions each with a five-point scale about facility quality and librarian satisfaction with the former and the changed facility.

A further criteria requirement of the availability of pre- and post-project gate count was implemented, reducing the number of libraries to be studied to 90. Facility usage changes were calculated by subtracting the gate count total for the last complete year pre-project from the most recent year gate count post project.

Main results - Eighty percent of the 90 libraries reported increased gate count post-project, and 20 percent reported a decline in usage. The median increase across the libraries was 37.4 percent with 25.6 percent of libraries experiencing a post-project increase of 100 percent or more. Renovated facilities were more likely to see usage decline, but there was no statistically significant difference in usage change between renovated and new facilities. Libraries more recently upgraded saw greater usage growth than those renovations completed earlier in the study period, although 75 percent of the facilities continued to experience higher post-project usage levels. Nearly all of the private institutions (93.1%) experienced usage increases and almost half experienced growth of 100 percent or more.

No statistically significant relationship was found between changes in post project usage and:

  • The proportion of facility space allocated for library functions
  • The physical location of the library on campus
  • The size of the library facility
  • The level of degrees offered at the institution
  • The availability of wireless access
  • The number of computers in the instruction lab
  • The number of public access workstations
  • A larger number of seats
  • The number of group study rooms
  • The shelving capacity, the use of compact shelving or off-site storage
  • The presence of coffee or snack bars
  • The presence of any non-library facilities

There was a statistically significant correlation (Pearson’s r) between increased post project usage and:
  • The institution type (public or private) (p=.000)
  • The number of data ports in the facility (p=.005)
  • The percent of wired seats (p=.034)

Ten elements relating to improved quality emerged as statistically significant in relation to increased usage, although the correlation for quality of artificial lighting was not statistically significant (p=.162 n.s.). The statistically significant correlations (Pearson’s r) between quality and increased usage in order of strength of correlation were: the quality of the instruction lab (p=.000); layout (p=.001); public access workstations (p=.006); natural lighting (p=.007); user workspace (p=.008); telecommunications infrastructure (p=.014); overall ambience (p=.020); collection storage (p=.026); heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning system (p=.026); and service point locations (p=.038).

Conclusion – This study confirmed that 80 percent of libraries experience usage increase after a library improvement project. The study revealed those investments that cause increased use, and also found that a number of variables previously predicted to cause usage growth were not significant. The study also found that quality of the improvements, additions, and the building are a significant driver of increased use. The median 37.4 percent increase demonstrates that, contrary to reports in the literature (Shill and Tonner 460), overall library usage is increasing in these institutions.

Full Text:


Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (EBLIP) | EBLIP on Twitter