Working with Faculty to Meet Their Library Collection Needs  

Scholarship and teaching about the performing arts is continually changing. Temple Libraries’ new librarian for Music Performance, Becca Fulop, has worked hard to get to know her faculty – in particular their needs in library collections. She wanted to learn more about the formats they found most useful for their research and teaching, asking: 

  • Are there gaps in the collection?  
  • Would digital sheet music be of use for your teaching?  
  • If the library doesn’t have what you need for your research (or teaching), where would you go? 

This spring Becca came to me to help her craft a survey for faculty in her liaison areas of dance, theatre and music. We determined together that a survey made sense, given the questions she had.  After multiple drafts, Becca developed survey questions that were clear and she was good to go – launching the survey to about 147 faculty members in music and dance, and 40 in theatre.  

We sat down recently to debrief about the process of conducting this survey, as well as the findings. 

NBT: Tell me about how the survey came about?  

BF:  I was getting frustrated with not having a clear idea of what kinds of materials and formats my faculty preferred, especially in theater and dance, which are two subject areas I’m still learning about. I thought if I could get them to talk to me about what they wanted, my job would be so much simpler! But that’s easier said than done. I had also recently attended the virtual Music Library Association (MLA) conference and seen a presentation about a music library that did a big initiative to acquire and integrate digital scores into their collection. I realized that it was possible that my music faculty wanted more access to digital scores, or that they would become more interested once they learned about the benefits to their teaching that digital scores could offer. But I didn’t know if that was even something they wanted. So I got the idea to just ask them all these questions and hope to get some useful feedback. 

NBT: What did you find most interesting?  

BF: I included several open-ended questions allowing the faculty to describe to me their teaching and research areas, and I was most interested to see what kinds of topics they would mention. Obviously these responses indicated personal interests and teaching areas rather than trends that I could build from, but I enjoyed learning a little about the kind of work our faculty do and it gave me ideas for topics and areas I should watch out for in my selecting. 

NBT: Anything that surprised you? 

BF: Even though the response numbers were fairly low, there was a surprising amount of variation in feelings about ebooks. Some people preferred ebooks for research, some for teaching, some for both, but it was kind of all over the place. I’d be interested to learn more about these views, but for now I’m taking away the idea that the faculty will use whatever is available. 

Another thing that I shouldn’t find surprising is that I am still getting faculty asking me to buy CDs. I didn’t even include them as an option on my list of preferred formats, since we don’t buy them for the collection anymore except in special circumstances, but someone still managed to write it in! 

NBT: Any future plans for assessment of faculty needs? 

BF: Soon after the survey was concluded, I got an email from a representative of nkoda, a digital score library and e-reader, offering us a free trial. I liked the look of it and the survey convinced me that digital scores are something my faculty are interested in, so we will be doing the free trial in the fall. I am currently recruiting faculty members (and I hope to include some students as well) to take part in a focus group to assess their usage of and satisfaction with nkoda, in the hopes that we might be able to continue our subscription in the future. I always encourage anyone who uses a service we’re trying out to send me their feedback, so I hope that between the faculty and students at large and the focus group, I’ll get some useful data on nkoda. 

I do intend to survey the faculty again in the future, using what I learned the first time to improve. For one thing, I think the timing of the survey wasn’t ideal, as the faculty were busy and distracted during the end of the term. They might have been more receptive had I produced the survey at the beginning of the semester. 

NBT: Interesting. While you may have been disappointed a bit with the response rate, you’ve got some good information to work with, like knowing that needs vary across the departments. Building on your findings with a focus group is a great idea. And you’ve made a valuable connection with the faculty.  That’s an important outcome of this work.  

Thanks, Becca, for sharing your experience with us. And thanks for doing this assessment work. 

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