Commencing undergraduate students’ prior understanding of academic libraries in Sri Lanka: A grounded theory approach

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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For academic libraries to provide services that truly meet students’ needs, academic librarians need to understand how commencing students understand the library and what they expect from it. Students’ understanding of the library can be examined after they start their university education and/or before starting university education. Although some studies have examined this after students start their education, students’ prior understanding before they start their education has not been studied before. Therefore, this study was designed to examine commencing undergraduate students’ prior understanding of the university library and the factors that contribute to shaping their prior understanding of it.

The study followed a qualitative approach through an interpretive lens using Charmaz’s constructivist grounded theory methodology. The Wayamba University of Sri Lanka was chosen as the research site of the study. Semi-structured in-depth one-on-one interviews were conducted with 30 participants via Zoom. The interviews were conducted in order of recruitment by considering two criteria: participants had not yet received a university education or not yet been exposed to their current university. Participant recruitment started with purposive sampling and theoretical sampling was continued to recruit more participants until the data saturation point was reached. Concurrent data collection and analysis were used to collect and analyse data. Constant comparative analysis of empirical data conceptualised emerging categories, properties, and dimensions based on initial line-by-line and focused coding. Three categories emerged through the data analysis: commencing students’ prior understanding of the university library, their past personal experiences with libraries, and the other sources of information through which participants gained an understanding of academic libraries. An explanatory grounded theory of how past personal experiences and other sources of information shape commencing undergraduate students’ prior understanding of the academic library emerged as a result of the theoretical coding of the data.

Participants expressed their prior understanding of five library aspects: library as a place, collection, operations, librarians, and rules. The results showed that participants bring mixed views about their university library that are positive, negative, or limited, but mostly negative or limited. Participants mostly had negative or limited experiences with libraries, shaping their limited or negative understanding of their university library. Some sources of information had direct negative or limited contributions to shaping their understanding of the university library, as past personal experiences did. However, some sources had a positive influence on shaping participants’ understanding of some library aspects, such as environmental attributes. Among these sources of information, personal interaction mainly contributed to shaping participants’ positive, negative, or limited understandings of the library. Among personal interactions, friends with experience of university education primarily shaped those understandings of the university library, compared to other personal interactions with family and teachers.

The implications and recommendations are mainly provided for library practice to enhance commencing undergraduate students’ prior understanding of the university library. The research also informs how academic librarians can improve students’ understanding of the library while interacting with it after starting their university education. As students’ past personal experiences with libraries are primarily negative and limited, implications and recommendations are given to enhance the public and school library systems in Sri Lanka to better prepare students to use an academic library in the future.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Jamali, Hamid R., Principal Supervisor
  • Hider, Philip, Co-Supervisor
  • Carroll, Mary, Co-Supervisor
Award date05 Mar 2024
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 05 Mar 2024


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