In February 2021, 2,967 respondents completed PLA’s Survey of the Public Library Field. The survey was designed to inform PLA’s strategic planning process and to better understand the current needs of our members and the field.
A selection of the survey results are presented below. Results for each question (shown in chart and table form) are based on the number of respondents who answered that question (N), rather than the total survey respondents overall.
The top three library priorities identified are public awareness (55%), COVID-19 challenges (51%), and access to digital resources (49%).
|What are your library’s top three priorities?||N=2,372|
|Access to digital resources||49.3%|
|Addressing equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice||44.3%|
|Other responses include: community engagement, digital literacy, early literacy, lifelong learning, outreach, and workforce development.||10.7%|
The top three areas in which libraries seek to create partnerships within their community are: economic recovery (55%), EDISJ (54.6%), and civic engagement (52.7%).
|Thinking about your community's priorities, around which topics are you partnering, or see an opportunity to create partnerships with your community?||N=2,356|
|Addressing equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice||54.6%|
|Climate change and sustainability||18.2%|
|Economic recovery for job-seekers and small businesses||55.0%|
|Education achievement gaps||47.0%|
|Finding/gaining skills for jobs||51.6%|
|Serving people experiencing homelessness||29.0%|
|Other responses include: education, the environment, health, and literacy (of different types).||6.4%|
These library priorities relate closely to areas in which respondents reported interest in learning more to improve their own competencies. The top three areas are community partnerships (56%); equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice (50%); and public programming (48.2%).
|In what areas/topics are you interested in developing better competencies for your work?||N=2,450|
|Advocacy and stakeholder communications||24.5%|
|Data for decision making||31.6%|
|Early childhood literacy||23.4%|
|Economic development and job seeker support||22.9%|
|Equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice||50.0%|
|Fundraising and development||19.4%|
|Health literacy and consumer health information||19.1%|
|News literacy and combating misinformation||27.3%|
|Working with vulnerable populations (such as those experiencing food insecurity, homelessness, addiction)||39.8%|
|Other responses include: collection development, management, outreach and marketing, and technology.||5.9%|
The Impact of COVID-19
Library staff have faced a range of challenges in their work as a result of COVID-19. Most common among them is burnout (57%). 22% reported having reduced work hours, the same percentage as reported increased work hours; the two are not mutually exclusive. 9% of respondents reported having been furloughed and 5% laid off. 11% of respondents have taken family or sick leave, 8% have changed jobs, and 35% have had their roles change within the library.
|Which of the following have you personally experienced in your workplace during the pandemic?||N=2,188|
|Changed job duties within the library||34.7%|
|Increased work hours||21.9%|
|Reduced work hours||21.9%|
|Taken extended family or sick leave||11.1%|
|Changed roles, i.e. remanded to other municipal department||8.3%|
Asked to evaluate how well their library’s policies support staff during the pandemic, worst rated was remote work, with 19% of respondents saying the support they receive is inadequate (72.5% say their library’s remote work policies are adequate or exceptional). By contrast, 87.5% of respondents say their library’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols are either adequate or exceptional, while only 10.5% say their library’s protocols are inadequate. [Q25-chart]
|How well do you feel your library’s policies serve to support staff in each of the following areas? (N=2,343)||Inadequate support||Acceptable level of support||Exceptional support||N/A|
|Health and safety protocols for COVID-19||11%||39%||48%||2%|
|Limited public access||11%||40%||46%||4%|
|Staggered shifts or increased distancing||13%||42%||37%||8%|
|Staff access to family or sick leave||9%||36%||49%||5%|
Results from this section of the survey are discussed in greater detail in a series of three articles available from Public Libraries Online:
- “The Impact of COVID-19 on Library Staff: Supporting Health and Well-Being”
- “The Future of Remote Work Is Flexibility”
- “Library Staff In and Beyond The Workplace”
About the Respondents
Based on the respondents who answered the demographic questions:
- 78.6% of respondents reported they are female (this figure aligns with existing data about the library profession). 17.6% said they are male, and 1.4% indicated they are non-binary. The remainder preferred not to answer.
- 70.6% of respondents have a MLS degree or equivalent.
- About half of respondents have been in the library profession for 10 years or less, and half have been in the profession for more than 10 years.
- 35% of the respondents reported that their primary role is in administration.
PLA member leaders and staff are reviewing the data and considering how to strengthen and/or develop new resources to these needs and priorities, including:
- Revisiting and updating the PLA Strategic Plan 2018–2022;
- Adding partnerships as a new topic area for PLA 2022 Conference proposals; and
- Exploring options for updating or expanding current PLA initiatives, including advocacy, EDISJ, and digital literacy.
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