For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
November 21, 2001 - Survey a Treasure for Library Planning
A couple of weeks ago, we asked everybody coming in to the library to fill out a brief survey.
We tested all library hours - morning, afternoon, evening, and weekend. To our great pleasure, we got over 700 responses in just a few days. In the jargon of data gathering, this is enough to be statistically significant, truly representative of the people we serve.
We learned some interesting things. First, some demographics. The most striking figure here relates to gender. Roughly 70% of our patrons are female; 30% are male. That matches our library cards registration. The mean age of our patrons is 39, and that person has lived in Douglas County for 7.72 years.
We asked how many of our patrons had various pieces of technology. A whopping 87% of our patrons have Internet access at home. 82% of them have a cassette player in their car, and 66.2% have a CD player in their car. Douglas County, incidentally, can hardly be said to be typical of the rest of the state.
Less pervasive are other emerging technologies: just 43.5% have DVD players, and a paltry 15.2% have MP3 players. Here too, though, we are no doubt ahead of the curve.
Then we asked how satisfied people were with our collection, our inventory of library holdings. By combining responses to Very satisfied, Satisfied, and Somewhat Satisfied, we get the following satisfaction ranking:
* Online databases - 96.9%
* Reference - 96.2%
* New materials -94.8%
* Books on tape - 93.8%
* Video tapes - 89.6%
* Older materials - 73.3%
* Children's materials - 66.9%
* Magazines and newspapers - 62.1%
* Music (whether on cassette or CD) - 37.8%
Then we asked people how satisfied they were with the quality of our various services. Here's the ranking of those, again by combined total of "satisfieds."
* Staff - 98%
* Reference staff - 98%
* Computer catalog - 97.3%
* Adult programs - 96%
* Hours - 95.3%
* Facilities (study,meeting) - 95.1%
* Children's staff - 94.7%
* DPLD website - 94.5%
* PR info about the library - 94.4%
* Children's programs - 51.1%
* Teen programs - 27.5%
It's worth noting here that in the case of children's programming, only 52 of our population responded to the question at all. For teen programs, only 29.5% marked it. In other words, those who used it, were satisfied. (This applies to several of the collection areas, too.)
Finally, we asked, "How important are these services to you personally?" These are the top 19 services, ranked in order of "votes," that people put in the top five of their most important.
* Staff assistance/reference
* New materials/best sellers
* Children's materials
* Older materials
* Reference materials
* Video tapes
* Staff assistance/youth
* Books on tape
* Magazines and newspapers
* Family programs
* Community/government info
* Adult education programs
* PR info
* Library staff active outside the library
So in broad terms, we have close to a 90% approval rating for most of our collection, especially when matched to the folks who are interested in those collections. The key exception is music, the ONLY category of our collection in which dissatisfaction rises above 10% (all the way to 70%, in fact).
Regarding our services generally, the clear winner is staff, at a 98% satisfaction level. (Thank you, staff!) The only areas where we fall below 50% satisfaction (teen and children's programming), satisfaction ratings almost exactly match the number of people who were interested in the service to begin with.
It's worth highlighting that despite today's buzz about technology, the greatest single value of the library to our patrons is people, the extraordinary folks who staff our facilities. AFTER staff, people ask for materials, most of which, incidentally, are books. But it's also clear that there is a distinct and growing interest in other formats. Finally, a few caveats. There's a difference between "very satisfied,"and "somewhat satisfied." So even in those areas where the library "scored" very well, we still have some work to do. Also, this survey only measures the opinions of those who use the library. We're working on another survey to find out more about those who don't.
The library has been working on a new long range plan. This information provides valuable insights into where we are, what our patrons think of our offerings, and where we need to go next.
I want to thank all the patrons who took five minutes to give us such a treasure trove of planning information. Now ... back to work!