Undergraduate Students Who Use Library Resources Are Also More Likely to Stay Enrolled

Cari Merkley

Abstract


Objective – To determine if there is an association between library use and student retention.

Design – Quantitative analysis.

Setting – A large research university in Australia.

Subjects – 6330 new undergraduate students.

Methods – The researcher obtained a data set on all new undergraduate students registered at the institution in April 2010 from the student enrolment system. The data set included students’ identification number, age, gender, Australian postal code, and country of residence. Using the students’ identification numbers, the author then retrieved information from the library’s systems on the number of physical library items borrowed, and the number of logins to authenticated electronic library resources by this cohort at three points in the first semesters of 2010 and 2011. These three points in the semester fell after the course withdrawal date, mid-semester, and after exams. The author obtained additional data sets from the student enrolment system at the end of the first semester of 2010, and after the course withdrawal date and after exams in the first semester of 2011 to determine which students from the original sample were retained over the 18 month period. The researcher then compared library use data for students still enrolled at each date to those who had withdrawn from their studies.

The researcher also coded students’ data according to age and socio-economic status to allow further analysis. All students in the sample were grouped into two age categories: students under 21 years of age, and mature students, which included all students aged 21 years and over. Those students with a permanent Australian address (5125) were coded as low, medium, or high socioeconomic status using the 2006 Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas. Postal codes were also used to determine if a student resided in close proximity to the university library in Western Australia, and could be expected to access the physical collection.

Main Results – Students who withdrew by the end of their first semester in 2010 were more likely not to access online library resources at all (39% versus 20.4% of retained students). By the end of the first semester of 2011, retained students still showed higher use of library online resources. Over half of those leaving their studies did not login to library resources by the end of the first semester of their second year of study, compared to 17.6% of retained students. Borrowing rates for physical library items was very low among both retained students and those who withdrew from their studies in both years.

The data did not demonstrate a strong association between a student’s socioeconomic status, library use, and their retention. The findings regarding age were more significant when it came to retention, with mature students more likely to withdraw from their studies by the end of their first semester than those under 21. In terms of their library use, retained mature students were more likely to borrow physical items from the library than younger students in both their first and second years of study.

Conclusion – While students who remained enrolled over the 18 month period did demonstrate higher use of the library’s electronic and physical collections than those who withdrew, the low use of the library’s physical and electronic resources even by those retained undermines any conclusions that could be drawn about the positive associations between library use and retention. Mature students may benefit from targeted library supports, as their library use seems to be more positively associated with their retention than with younger students. Socio-economic status did not appear to play a major role in library use and retention, according to the study’s findings.

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