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The use of academic libraries in turbulent times: Student library behaviour and academic performance at the University of Cape Town

Karin de Jager (Department of Information and Library Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)
Mary Nassimbeni (Department of Information and Library Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)
William Daniels (Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)
Alexander D’Angelo (Chancellor Oppenheimer Library, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa)

Performance Measurement and Metrics

ISSN: 1467-8047

Article publication date: 5 February 2018

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore how an innovation in the University Management Information System was leveraged to incorporate library data by an initially sceptical strategic management team. The rationale was to extract evidence of correlations between library use and student achievement. This kind of information is of particular interest to the institution, which is at present dealing with crises popularly summarised in the slogan “#FeesMustFall” among students who suffer from the effects of poverty and exclusion in higher education. Comment is offered on some of the relationships between student library behaviour before, during and after the nationwide disruptions that destabilised universities and threatened their survival at the end of 2016, just before the final examination period.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were extracted from the data warehouse from the comparative demographic perspectives of students’ degrees of disadvantage in an effort to uncover any hitherto hidden patterns of library use.

Findings

The use of the library as expressed by footfall and loans was mapped against students’ pass rates and their collective GPA, indicating that increased library use correlates positively with better academic performance. Some of the initial correlations between student library behaviour before, during and after the nationwide disruptions that destabilised universities and threatened their survival at the end of 2016 just before the final examination period are explored. The effects that library closures (under threat of damage) at a critical time in the academic year might have had on library use and on student performance are interrogated.

Practical implications

Students on financial aid, which was used as an indicator of disadvantage, come from schools and environments where access to information technology and libraries is very limited, so that library habits are either poorly established or not at all. At the University of Cape Town (UCT), considerable support is in place for students to encourage the development of library habits. An analysis of available data indicates that students who have acquired library habits regardless of unfavourable financial circumstances do not exhibit behaviour and academic outcomes markedly different from that of their more privileged peers.

Originality/value

Combining library data with data from the university data warehouse is a new approach in South Africa. It is an approach that is of value both to the library and the institution at large and has brought meaningful insights into the role the academic library might be seen to play in promoting student academic achievement.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

P.J. Fisher from ICTS assisted in ensuring the integrity and completeness of data and to generate reports. Gerhard de Jager assisted with the statistical analysis of the data. This work is based on the research supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant No. 92749). The Grantholder acknowledges that opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in any publication presented by the NRF supported research is that of the authors, and that the NRF accepts no liability whatsoever in this regard.

Citation

de Jager, K., Nassimbeni, M., Daniels, W. and D’Angelo, A. (2018), "The use of academic libraries in turbulent times: Student library behaviour and academic performance at the University of Cape Town", Performance Measurement and Metrics, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 40-52. https://doi.org/10.1108/PMM-09-2017-0037

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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