Archive for the 'assessing needs' Category

fire it up with a radio show

tomorrow I do a radio segment on this show: Fire it Up (updated link) with CJ. It’s on a local talk station in the northeast, but also picked up by an subscription service called transformation radio. neat! i am looking forward to my first radio interview. we’re doing two segments, each under 15 minutes.

first, we’ll be talking about the values, principles, and roles of the public library.
second, we’ll be talking about transformations currently taking place in libraries, and the future of libraries in a digital age.

in my comments, I’ll be briefly noting what libraries have meant to me personally, and sharing stories of the impacts that libraries have had communities around the globe. I’ll share stories from Bangladesh, Africa, Denmark, and here in the U.S. I also plan to point to recent research (impact study and technology and public library study) that indicates the status and impacts of technology in libraries; if i get the chance, I’ll talk about the role of librarians in this incredibly complex ecosystem.

if it’s any good (cross your fingers for me around 1PM pacific time tomorrow), I’ll post it here.

my co-guest tomorrow is the guy who started world-reader, a philanthropic enterprise that brings digital books to areas, like Bangladesh, that may not otherwise have access to them. it’s a paradox, right, that American citizens are now barred from public access to some digital content in this country because they are not available via U.S. libraries? It’s a striking inequity, and I hope I get the chance to bring this up as well.

assessment v. evaluation

Most of the library staff we interviewed for this project talked to us about community and/or customer needs.

But I’m having a bit of a quandary as I think this through: I have the “assessment” section of my work separated from the “evaluation” section of my work, and I’m wondering if that makes sense. In my mind, assessment is a separate function. You do it first to identify customer needs (or unknowns) as well as scan the environment you’re playing in. You use this to inform your design or evolution of library services as you map it to your organization’s core competencies & maybe even existing collections and services. Evaluation comes after the first pass of service delivery – it’s the first (and ongoing) look at how you’re doing against the goals you’ve set as a part of your initial planning.

In my literature review of the needs assessment function as it relates to library service places it almost always in the context of evaluation. My question: is anyone doing one and not the other? Do you think of them as separate functions? Or, are they inextricably linked?

IL2007, Blending In, & LBC

I presented on “Blending In: librarians in our networked world” with libraryman yesterday morning at IL2007, full documentation here and presentation here. We had a great time – those of you who heard me speak at MLC earlier this month will recognize some of the ideas (and slides), as I drew out a lot of the research I’ve been doing for the book in this presentation as well. Michael Porter followed my part of the talk with a whirlwind tour of libraries doing really amazing things on the web to “blend in” to a networked community there; I concluded our program with an example that I just uncovered last week during my “writers retreat” and visit to the Bay area:

Rachel MacNeilly in the Children’s Services manager at the Mission Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. She runs a bilingual Children’s Storytime – now up to five times a week – with an average of 110 people in attendance every time. “I live in this neighborhood,” says Rachel to me during my visit to her library last week, “these people can’t hide from me for long. They WILL come to my storytime.” Over the course of less than one year, Rachel has changed children’s programming from a single session once a week with an average of 45 attendees to multiple programs per week and almost three times the attendees. How did she do it?

First, she did some weeding of the Spanish language collection in her library. “I want this place to look like Nordstrom, NOT the Nordstrom Rack,” she beams! And it works, with the following principles at play: she doesn’t have any Spanish children’s materials in the library that are “older than me;” second, she doesn’t have any books that “look junky. I got rid of everything that’s older than me and everything that looked awful,” Rachel says, and the funny thing is “with less on the shelves, there’s less on the shelves,” (meaning that people check things out more). Circulation has almost doubled, but it’s still not up to where she’d like it to be; she’d has aggressive goals for upping her circ stats in the coming year, stats that match what she’s been able to do with their program stats. “I love stats,” Rachel says, as an aside, “you can think you’re changing things, but stats let you know if you really are.”

Rachel’s impact on the programming attendance in her library is directly related to the facts that they’re bilingual, offered at appropriate times of day for their intended audiences, and have benefited from a complete and recent overhaul of the content. It’s more age appropriate, and more focused on touch and movement; “I also try to throw something in there for the caregivers,” says Rachel, every hour I do a program I give them a development tip that I think they find really helpful.

I visited one of Rachel’s story hours and was awestruck by the energy and emotion in the fully packed, standing-room-only one hour bilingual program. I was very proud to be a small part, as a fellow librarian, of the community building work that she’s doing in her neighborhood.

When I asked her (completely as an aside) about online community building, Rachel (to my sheer, absolute joy and delight) told me that she’s partnering with volunteers from a neighborhood high school to create a MySpace page for her branch. The new page (not complete yet, stay tuned) will “definitely be bilingual, just like our programs” where you can access all the storytime content, songs, and calendar of events in both English and Spanish. “My people are busy,” says Rachel, “they don’t have time to click through the SFPL website and then only find English once they get to my page.” I’ll post their page here as soon as I have a link to it!

When I asked Rachel what makes her programs and services so successful, especially in so short a time, she said very simply “My people ask me for what they need, and I just try to get it for them.” Funny thing, right? Patrons are people, and she tries to get them what they need.

Go Rachel!! You’re a rockstar!!

A Bit on Community Needs Analysis

As I read more about needs assessment and analysis, 3 themes started to develop in the articles and book chapters. While I have much more to sift through (about 50 more articles and a bunch of books), here’s what I have so far:

1) Get out from behind that desk – To me, this is a no-brainer. How can one effectively ascertain what the community needs and what types of populations to serve if the librarian stays in the library all day. Get out into the community and take part in meetings, serve on civic boards, and be a community citizen and leader. Waiting for patrons to come into the library and ascertaining their needs is only half the picture. There may be an entire piece of the population that never uses the library. It’s easier to reach patrons that walk in the door, but they already know about the library, right? There’s probably a reason why non-library users are non-library users. Figure out why.

2) Talk to the BMOCs – These are the leaders in your community. The machers, the ones who know everything that goes on within a 20 mile radius of the center of town. These are also the heads of civic organizations, book clubs, knitting clubs, mahjong groups, theatre groups, etc. These leaders are not hard to find. Everyone you ask will lead you to the same people.

3) Community needs analysis is a study in and of itself. Instead of guessing what your community needs, use the methodology already established in the literature. I will be writing more about this in the final chapter. My point is, though, make it point to study the literature on needs analysis.


Know Thy Patronage

I just finished reading this article from the Muskogee Phoenix about ways in which local libraries deal with overdue materials. There are countless numbers of ways in which libraries attempt to get items returned…at all, let alone on time. Here’s an interesting snippet.(Sorry for the long quote)

“There are good reasons libraries in this area don’t charge fines for overdue books, according to Marilyn Hinshaw, executive director, Eastern Oklahoma District Library System.”

“You have to look at the demographics of a community,” she said.”

“When a good percentage are struggling to make it, the worst scenario is that a kid would have an overdue book, then we would have to communicate with the parent. A kid in that situation feels trapped. We do use a lot of diplomacy because our business is to help them.”

“Hinshaw said libraries have an important role in society and need to be mindful of the basic humanitarian values they represent.”

“In this part of Oklahoma, there is a significant amount of poverty,” she said. “We’re offering educational resources they need to lift themselves up. They may be looking for books about jobs or low-cost foods. The best approach is not to penalize them, but to politely say at the desk ‘You’ve got three to six books checked out that are several months overdue.’”

We’ve heard it time and time again. Don’t base your policies on what other libraries are doing. The make-up of the community will help define library policy. In this case, charging for overdue items will only hinder the library experience. In fact, I know of a few libraries in my county (Suffolk, Long Island) that don’t charge late fees at all (The Netflix approach) and they have a very low late returns.

Chrystie and I are delving into the process based approach section of the book and this article made me wonder about assessment more (assessment is teh first step in community building). Before setting up policies in libraries, taking a look at the make-up of the community will asisst in forging good relationships with patrons. Most patrons don’t mind paying overdue fines, but we also need to look at those communities who don’t have the means to do so. Assessment is key when trying to form relationships.

Also of interest, there is a new Pew study titled, Home Broadband Adoption in Rural America:

“Rural Americans are less likely to log on to the internet at home with high-speed internet connections than people living in other parts of the country. By the end of 2005, 24% of adult rural Americans went online at home with high-speed internet connections compared with 39% of adults in urban and suburban areas.”

Yet something else to take into consideration when assssing needs of patrons and deciding who to partner with to assist users in getting the most out of library services.

Lots to think about…

When I say library, you say…

Nice timing Steven. Guy has some useful points about how to build communities around products and services that I think we can learn from. (Did you leave out the thunderbirds (#2) on purpose? I think it’s an excellent addition!) I do think Guy’s missing something there in terms of who’s ultimately “in control” of this process. Guy has business decision-makers and staff “creating a kick-ass community” around whatever product or service they have to offer (point one – create something worth organizing around). But to me, the people should come before the create. So, how about this for point one – identify your community and figure out what they need. In all of my thinking about community-building for libraries, I find myself squarely on the “we’re facilitators” side of things. We can’t create community – we can only facilitate.

Speaking of, I just finished this short article (thanks Alane) on “Building Brand Communities: how customer communities are transforming the way successful companies build their brands and business.” See the difference there? Customers transforming business, not the other way around. An excerpt:

Brands are relationships, not collections of marketing tactics…For companies that are building brand communities, the key driver of growth is not the abstract measurements of eyeballs, click throughs … but in recurring top-line revenue driven by the enthusiasm and longevity of customer relationships. The most successful companies breed lifelong affinities with their customers…(they) do it for an entire lifetime by constantly evolving the products and services they offer in support of that community. Successful community builders develop products and brands through a dialog that allows the customer to define their needs over time.

Again, the people come in before the products and services. Further, the products and services change as the community needs change. I love the idea of a library thinking about themselves as a community-based (not service-based) brand. I think there’s a lot to work with here, as long as week keep our eyes on the prize: it’s the people, not the products or services we offer.

What is your library’s brand? Or, what does your community think about when they hear “library”?

FOLs and Community Building

One of my favorite new bloggers is an old school technology guy. Guy Kawasaki is a technology guru turned VC executive and his blog was first recommended to me a few weeks ago (Thanks Gus). The other day, Guy wrote a wonderful piece about companies creating communities and spells out ways in which they should do so, and do it well. Here’s the list without the explanations (read the blog entry for that):

+ Create something worth building a community around.
+ Assign one person the task of building a community.
+ Give people something concrete to chew on.
+ Create an open system.
+ Welcome criticism.
+ Foster discourse.
+ Publicize the existence of the community.

I’m thinking that we need to address the role of the “Friends of the Library” (FOL) in our book because these organizations address many of the facets of creating communities that Kawasaki touches upon. Number 2 on the list (assigning one person the task of building a community) fits FOLs perfectly.

FOLs are there for support, evangelism, PR, emergency fund-raising, community outreach and more. FOLs are to libraries what developers are for the open-source movement and API releases (Google, Flickr, Amazon). We don’t need to look far to see how programmers have helped to push company products and I know that there are many stories in which FOLs have assisted in bringing library programs to the forefront of the community.

What do you think? What are the best ways in which FOLs have helped to build communities? Are FOLs necessary for libraries to succeed? What else could they be doing? Should FOLs be critical of library services in order to portray honesty and transparency to their constituencies?


Princeton’s Place Planning

Last fall, LJ published a supplement titled “Library by Design” (thanks Rebecca) that I totally missed because we had accidentally let our print subscription to LJ run out (it’s back now – and I’ve learned a valuable lesson about what I get from the printed page – but that’s another story). Reading through today, I see there’s a great article about the Princeton (NJ) Public Library and the process they used to develop plans for their new building (opened in Feb 2004).

First, and perhaps most importantly, the library board and director Leslie Burger, had a vision for the new library, but they knew that they needed community input before they moved forward with that vision. Instead of saying here’s our new library (visionary as it may have been) they said here’s what we see in a new library, what do you see? From the article:

This helped stir the imagination of numerous residents … Through focus groups we learned that the amenities most desired are cozy areas, lots of comfortable seating, a place to eat and a place to meet, and, most of all, special spaces for children and teens – along with plenty of research technology.

Remarkably, library leaders took community input alongside librarian input. Librarians wanted “quiet places to work” and “visible centers to interact with patrons – both at traditional service desks and at quick hit spots throughout each collection area.”

When planners looked at the input from the community and from library staff, they realized that everyone had the same goals: to see and be seen, but to have quiet and undisturbed space as well. They approached these needs in the new building design with a mix of colors, materials, and furniture that helped create separate environments that encourage different types of activities … “and embrace a diverse community.”

The outcome? A community-informed realization of the board’s original vision: the warmth of a family living room, a friendly “bookstore” environment, and a “community space” to gather in the information age. According to the article, library visits have more than doubled. I also hear they have one of the best Technology Librarians that side of the Mississippi (hi Janie!).

A few things pop out at me here: visionary leadership, a design process that makes community feedback central, and a feedback gathering approach that places library staff as peers to the patrons they serve.

Have you been to the Princeton PL? What were your impressions?