According to a new study about the role the campus physical environment plays in students’ enrollment decision making, the quality of the academic library building is near the top of the list in what factors into a student’s decision. In an article titled “The Impact of Facilities on Recruitment and Retention of Students” that appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Facilities Management, the academic library was second only to “facilities in major” when students were asked what buildings were extremely or very important in the selection decision process. The library was rated higher than classrooms, recreational facilities, and even the residence halls. But the survey results reported in this article also suggest that for most students an inadequate library building might not be a deal breaker. When students actually rejected an institution it was most frequently owing to inadequate residence halls. In terms of retention, the library is also important to keeping students satisfied once they are enrolled.
I don’t doubt that our academic library community has always known that being able to offer an academic library building with quality facilities for research, study, interaction, browsing and learning makes a significant difference in the lives of our students. For one thing, it can make all the difference in the world in whether or not the students actually use the library. A great facility, or even an adequate one, can attract students who might otherwise end up doing their research and writing in computer labs, dorm rooms or even off-campus cafes. Now we may actually have some useful research data to support our anecdotal evidence of the need for high quality library facilities. I hope that some of our colleagues will be able to use this new information to convince academic administrators that an investment in a great library facility is just as important – if not even more important – than those buildings with social or recreational amenities that are often thought to be the ones that encourage students to enroll.