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Focused on Student Success:  The John Peace Library, University of Texas at San Antonio

by Jan Kemp

The John Peace Library is the main library at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), one of four library locations including the Downtown Campus Library, the Applied Engineering and Technology Library, and the Special Collections library at HemisFair Park.  UTSA was established in 1969 and is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. The school has been designated as a Hispanic-Serving institution, and 63% of students identify as minority while 46% are First-Generation college students. UTSA currently enrolls 32,000 students in 160 degree programs, including 24 doctoral programs. 

On busy days of the semester, over 10,000 students--one-third of the study body—visit the John Peace Library, which is known locally as JPL.  Some credit for the high traffic is surely due to the large food court located on the ground floor of the building, and many students also come to use student support services housed in the library.  The JPL partners include the Writing Center, Q-Lab (tutoring for quantitative subjects), Math Assistance Program, and Supplemental Instruction (peer-led tutoring for selected classes).  JPL also houses the Office of Information Technology’s IT Help Desk and Adaptive Technology Computer Lab. The Adaptive Lab offers two scanners and four accessible workstations.

JPL also benefits from a terrific location in the center of campus adjoining the Sombrilla, a large plaza that is a favorite gathering place.

The Sombrilla plaza adjoining the John Peace Library.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

JPL has 2,300 study seats on three floors and is open 24/5 with shorter hours on Friday and Saturday, a total of 144 hours per week. Students come to use the library collections, 500 public computers, collaborative study spaces, designated quiet study areas, and 50+ group study rooms, which can be reserved.

Quiet Computing study space.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

Faculty members bring their classes to JPL for library instruction in two computer classrooms, one seating 50 students and the other with 100 seats.  The GroupSpot room facilitates collaborative learning, providing 20 five-person tables, each with five laptops. Large monitors on the tables and collaborative software enable student groups to work together on assignments.  When GroupSpot isn’t reserved for classes, it is open as a study space.

GroupSpot classroom.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

JPL opened in 1976, and although the external footprint of the library has not changed, the second and fourth floors have been renovated through a series of construction projects over the past ten years. There are future plans to completely renovate the third floor, which currently houses the circulating print collection and most of the group study rooms. As enrollment has grown, the demand for study seating and access to computers has risen steadily, and many low-use materials have been relocated to a collections annex on campus or have been sent to a remote storage facility shared with other Texas academic libraries.

Service Points

The library currently has three service desks located on two floors.  A student-staffed desk on the ground floor provides basic information and monitors the library exit. On the second (main) floor, the Front Desk circulates materials, tech gear, 80 laptop computers, and several thousand textbooks on reserve. Textbook lending is a popular service that accounts for 50% of all circulation of the physical collection.  A third service point, the Information Desk, offers reference assistance on weekdays from 9 am – 6 pm.  In the coming year, reference service will move to the Front Desk, which will then function as a single service point. The Front Desk and the IT Help Desk are staffed at all hours when the library is open, ensuring that services are available whenever needed. 

Checking out a textbook from the Front Desk.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

The Blue Crew: Ask Us Anything 

Library staff members, including student assistants, are known as the Blue Crew, and they wear library-supplied blue shirts, sweaters, or jackets while working at the service desks.  In its marketing efforts, the library encourages users to contact the Blue Crew and “Ask Us Anything.”  Chat reference is also promoted as a Blue Crew service, and the screen shot below shows the bright orange chat box featuring an image of a Blue Crew team member.

Orange chat box with Blue Crew image.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

Proactive Chat

The Blue Crew chat widget appears on each page of the library web site and the discovery system and also provides help using databases. Chat is available until 11 pm, Monday –Thursday with shorter hours Friday – Sunday.  The system offers help in a proactive, context-sensitive manner; for example, if a user stays on the Find Databases page without taking any action for 60 seconds, a chat box pops up and invites the researcher to “Let us know if we can help you find a database.”  Sixty percent of the 15,000+ chat questions we receive each year come when we proactively offer assistance.

Different Spaces to Meet Different Needs

It has been a challenge to accommodate the wide range of user needs and preferences and to strike the right balance between collaborative and quiet spaces in a crowded building.

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The Information Commons, a collaborative study space.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

Several years ago, the students’ greatest complaint was noise, and an analysis showed that we needed to move the existing quiet spaces farther from the noisy group study rooms. We also created two new rooms to increase the options for quiet space, QuietSpot and the Quiet Study Room, where silence is requested.  The Quiet Study Room has become so quiet that a person once asked us to tell another student in the room to stop sniffling! 

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Quiet Study Room.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

Other study space options include the African American Reading Room, the Graduate Study Room, and the Laptop Lounge.  The Laptop Lounge is located near the library entrance on the main floor, and serves many purposes.  Groups often meet up and work here, but it is also a place where students can just relax between classes.

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Laptop Lounge features movable furniture.  Photo by Jan Kemp

UTSA enrolls many students who are military veterans. Recently the library collaborated with the Student Veterans Association to create a Veterans Study Room in JPL, providing a dedicated space where veterans can study together and connect on the large campus. 

Veterans Study Room.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

In addition to the student spaces, five years ago the library constructed a Faculty Center, which is located on the top floor of the library. The facility features a casual seating area, multiple conference and meeting rooms, and an assembly room that can be reserved by campus groups and departments. The Center is heavily used by individual faculty members, committees, and academic departments.

Faculty Center, casual seating area.  Photo by The University of Texas at San Antonio

User Satisfaction

To help assess and improve library services, we conduct the Association of Research Libraries’ LibQUAL+® survey every two years. Survey results from 2019 showed that users have a high level of overall satisfaction with library services, and they are especially satisfied with the “Affect of Service,” which includes having library staff with the knowledge to answer users’ questions, deal with users in a caring fashion, give users individual attention, etc.  Survey respondents rated the actual level of service we provide within .02 of a point from the maximum level they desire.  In other words, users are almost completely satisfied with the customer service they receive.

The survey also invites users to leave comments about the library, and one graduate student wrote simply, “JPL is home.”  Such comments encourage us to continue to make changes to improve the library, offering spaces and services that support student success and have an impact on the lives of our students.

Copyright 2019 by Jan H. Kemp

About the author:

Jan Kemp is the Assistant Dean for Public Services at the University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries, where she oversees access services, reference, and research and education services. She has a MLIS degree from the University of Texas at Austin and an MS in Management Information Systems from Texas Tech University. Her experience includes administrative positions at several academic libraries and prior work in reference and acquisitions. She is interested in creating library environments that encourage study and learning and foster a sense of belonging among students.