The college library is an important hub of campus life. There, you can check out books, conduct your research, find a quiet place to study, and maybe even flip through a magazine. What’s more, today’s college libraries extend their reach out into the Internet, making many services and resources accessible right from their websites.

But how are students using this great wealth of resources?

To better understand college students’ study habits, we wanted to explore how, and why, they use their school’s library. So, in our Spring 2015 Student Engagement Insights survey, we asked: What do you do when you’re at your college library? Nearly 3,000 students responded. Here are their top four reasons for spending time there.

Why Go to the College Library? Students’ Top Four Responses

1. Study alone. By far the most popular response at 77%, the clear majority of our surveyed students head to the library to focus on their studies… by themselves. To us, this response shows that, no matter what kinds of resources are offered by the library, this learning space is (and will probably always be) regarded as a great place to get serious about schoolwork.

It also means that, during peak study periods (such as finals week), students would do well to get to the library early to secure the study spot of their choice!

2. Use the online databases. More than half (51%) of the students said that they’re at the library to use the online databases, indicating that a good portion of their research work is completed at the library.

Unfortunately, many students will often find themselves in front of a looming deadline… and a closed library. Or perhaps they can’t make it to the campus library for other reasons (such as parenting responsibilities, a lack of transportation options, or a need to travel away from home). Lessen your students’ stress by reminding them that they can access their college’s databases from their own computer. Typically, all they’ll need is internet access and a username and password (which usually requires a campus e-mail account or college library card). (Of course, before mentioning this, you’ll want to double-check to ensure that this is true for your school.)

Starting your students on a research and writing project? Encourage them to review these nine tips for successfully writing a research paper.

3. Use reference materials. Whether they’re in need of general resources such as encyclopedias and dictionaries, specialized publications such as field-specific bibliographical guides and indexes, or other references that simply aren’t available in electronic formats, students visit the library to access non-circulating materials that they need to complete their projects.

Even so, given that only 39% of students stating that they use the reference materials, we recognize that many students may not even be aware of these materials’ existence. (Or, if they do, they may not know the valuable role they can play in the research process.) If your course includes a research project, encourage your students to make use of them. Students may also appreciate being reminded that, if they aren’t sure how to use these helpful reference tools, their campus librarian will be able to assist them.

To further guide your students, you may even wish to make a bibliography that lists the reference materials that would be of most use to them. But first, you might want to check your library’s website; in many cases, the librarians have already created subject guides that describe the resources available for specific fields and disciplines. Your librarian may also be able to create a course guide that lists the reference materials (and other resources) that suit the specific needs of your class.

4. Meet their study groups. Whether it’s for the luxury of having a big table, the convenience of accessing nearby scholarly and reference materials, or the simplicity of having a central place to meet that’s not their own homes, the library is a popular place for students to gather for study and group projects. More than one third (34%) of students said that’s why they visit their library.

Are you assigning group projects for your course, or do you recommend that students get together in groups to study? If you know students will use the library as a meeting space, advise them to reserve a study room. There, they can talk over the details of their projects without worrying that their conversation is disturbing other students.

How Else do College Students Use the Library?

Of course, the college library offers many benefits beyond the four explored above. Review the complete set of responses to discover more about students’ library habits. Then, consider how you might prompt your students to make full use of the valuable services and resources offered at your school’s library.

Even if your course is fully online, your students can still find ways to use the library’s services, whether by accessing databases from home, requesting books through interlibrary loan, chatting with an online librarian, or using the library’s website to discover videos, tutorials, and other tutorials that will help them conduct their research efficiently and effectively.

Full responses:

Study alone 77%
Use the online databases 51%
Use reference materials 39%
Meet my study group 34%
Check out books 29%
Use books my instructor has placed on reserve 22%
Look up job/career resources 19%
Socialize with friends 13%
Attend events 10%
Read non-circulating materials (e.g., magazines and journals) 8%
Sleep 6%
Take classes on how to use the library’s resources 5%
Other 9%

how.students.use.the.college.library.cengage.learning(Click to enlarge graph.)

What are the top ways your students use your college library? How do you make use of its resources in your courses? Share your thoughts in the comments.