If you have succeeded in persuading your city/county/township to initiate a community survey of public services, you will have learned that your library is ranked among its most valuable. This information will help you build a compelling case for decision makers. To further build your case you will want some additional data. Statistical data you already keep is vital in any discussion about budgets, but it can’t convey the inevitable personal impact of reducing library services. For that reason, new data must round out your case. This is the time to use every tool in your toolbox to build a strong foundation for your advocacy message. Once laid, that foundation - and your craftsmanship- will create the most effective and best-delivered advocacy message.
Your library, at its essence, is a community place. It is something special to everyone in your community who uses it, and even to those who don’t. In 2009, over 25 million Americans reported using their library more than 20 times in the last year. (source: [PDF] ALA Office for Research and Statistics: "A Perfect Storm Brewing")
Libraries and their communities enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship: The library provides resources to support the community, and the community devotes a portion of its resources to support the library. Building a foundation for your library’s advocacy message means connecting library services directly to the issues that your community feels are the highest priorities.
Ten BIG Reasons Your Library Is an Essential Place
- It’s your community’s best pre-school learning place.
- It complements your schools and is the parent-preferred after-school place for children and teens.
- It’s the place that many people in your community know has all the resources need for job searches.
- It’s a place to access information in a variety of formats, from print to electronic and everything in between.
- It’s a place where community member gather: for story times, book clubs, community meetings, classes, job counseling, and so much more.
- It’s the place for adult literacy needs, from getting a GED, to college information, to resources for immigrants learning English.
- It’s the place to access e-government services.
- It’s the place for equal Internet and information access for anyone in your community.
- It’s the place to get professional help if you want to assess the accuracy and relevance of information you find.
- It’s a place for lifelong learning for everyone, on an equal basis and free of charge.
When you look at the list above, you’ll realize that a great deal of library usage is tied to the Internet. ALA has published a series of “Issues Briefs,” to help you think about the connection between big community issues and Internet accessibility through public libraries. Visit the link below to learn how to tie your library to some of your community’s most pressing needs:
“Supporting Learners in U.S. Public Libraries”
“Job-Seeking in U.S. Public Libraries”
“Internet Connectivity in U.S. Public Libraries”
“U.S. Public Libraries and E-Government Services”
What data matters most if you are trying to preserve as much of your library’s budget as possible?
1. Use the data you already collect, and examine it over the past few years. This data is one of the best tools in your toolbox. For example:
- How has your collection grown? In size? In format?
- How many visitors do you have annually?
- How many items do you loan annually?
- How many library card holders do you have?
- What is the size of your staff?
- How many requests for assistance do they fulfill each year?
- How many hours are you open each week?
- How many public access computers do you offer?
- How many times a year are they used?
- How many job seekers used your library last year?
- What kind of special services and/or programs do you have for children and teens?
- How are those used?
- How many adult programs do you offer?
- How are those used?
Think about collecting new data. It’s not difficult or time-consuming, and it can yield you some valuable insights because it will bring you some “softer” data.
2. Gather new data easily. Launch a community survey of your own, asking residents to help you plan library services by giving you personal feedback. The survey should be available for a two-to-three week period on your library’s website, and you should have paper copies available for people to complete in the library as well. Professional-looking online surveys can be easily compiled using online resources such as http://www.surveymonkey.com/, http://www.zoomerang.com/, and http://www.freeonlinesurveys.com/, for example.
What do you want to know? Here are 15 ideas to get you started:
- How frequently do you or a family member use [your library’s name]?
- Why do you use the library?
- Which branch(es) do you use most (if applicable)?
- What services are the most important to you?
- What kinds of materials are most important to you?
- Are you able to get help from staff when you need it?
- What kind of staff help matters the most to you?
- Is the library clean? Safe? Welcoming?
- Do you have to wait for a computer?
- How important are classes or programming to you?
- Do the library’s current hours meet your needs?
- Which hours are most important to you for the library to be open?
- Where would you like to see the library focus its resources – collection, staff, computers & software, classes & programs?
- How would you rank the benefits of [your library’s name] compared to other tax-supported services: top/middle/bottom?
- General demographic information (age, gender, ethnicity, zip code, income)
3. Encourage testimonials from library users. Tell people’s stories! If your statistics are hard numbers, and your survey of residents is a little softer, then people’s personal stories are softer still. They put a face on all the other kinds of information. Most people enjoy talking about their experiences. Invite individuals of all ages to express what the library means to them. They can express themselves in any way they wish – prose, poetry, art, music, video. Talk to:
- The parent or grandparent who brings a preschooler in for books and stories and who remembers his or her parent or grandparent doing the same.
- The kids who consider your library the perfect after-school hangout place.
- The teens who flock to your social networking sites or your bean bag chairs.
- The teacher who uses your library’s collection to supplement her school library.
- The middle-aged man who attended your class on resume writing and then found a job.
- The family who saves money by renting their music, games and movies free at your library instead of paying rental fees elsewhere.
- You get the idea. Now add your own ideas here.
Share these stories as you develop your library’s plan for the future, and create an effective advocacy message at the same time.