First, let me say this: I have been blogging for only 6 months, reading other library blogs for about a year, and really paying attention to big issues that affect libraries for about 3 years. So…if titles/themes like this have been used to death, or what I say has been said many times (perhaps years ago), well, then you’ll have to forgive me. I can only write what I think and believe based on what I know from these last 3 years and based on my 8 years of library experience and on my 50 years experience as a human being.
Not that anyone has complained, but if someone out there reading my blog is thinking “same old, same old,” or “I’ve been working in libraries 3 times as long as she has!” or “she doesn’t know what she’s taking about,” hey, you could be right! But part of the foundation of what I believe is that public libraries should pay more attention to newbies, detractors, and outsiders. We need all opinions on the table in order to pave the way for a successful future. We especially need to listen to the people who aren’t using libraries because we should want to know why. And we should want to know if they think no one else should be using them, either. There was a great post/ discussion about this recently on The Annoyed Librarian.
In fact, it is because of the great discussion over there that I came to realize that much of what I have been saying here has been said before. And said so much better and with so much more vision. I’m so glad to discover Jean Costello at The Radical Patron. It appears that she is no longer writing current blog posts, but the archive is full of great posts that I haven’t even begun to touch yet. And her views match my own in many ways. I’m happy to keep making discoveries like this that are new to me even if they aren’t new to others.
That said, I decided to draft my dream survey, which everyone would be required to answer or face a fine–no rating on a scale, no multiple choice, only yes or no or open-ended questions. And no electronic surveys, either–no SurveyMonkey or LibQUAL. This would be a paper survey mailed to every household in the country (I think a global survey is a bit much, and yes I know such a survey is probably unrealistic, but I did use the word dream!)
I know library surveys are not new, either. I’m sure there has been every kind of survey done–usage, perception, wants, needs, complaints, etc. I’ve read the results of many, particularly big ones like the ones conducted by OCLC. But if I were drafting a survey of my very own without considering any other surveys that have been done, these are a few of the questions I would ask:
1. Do you ever think about libraries?
2. If the public library in your community was gone tomorrow, would you miss it?
3. Do you know whether your public library offers ebooks? Does it matter to you?
4. What would force you to visit a library?
5. Do you believe your public library provides any essential service that your community cannot live without? If yes, what?
6. Who do you think uses libraries? Why do you think they use them?
7. If you were asked to vote on whether public libraries should continue to receive government funding, would you vote yes or no?
8. What is the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word, “library?”
9. What is the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word, “librarian.”
10. What is your first thought upon being asked to donate to your community’s public library?
11. Do you consider your library an unofficial part of the public education system?
12. Have you ever used one of the library’s computers? Do you know if your library offers wi-fi?
13. What salary do you think a public librarian should be paid?
14. Is everyone who works in a library a librarian?
15. What is the main function of a librarian?
16. Does the thought of public libraries closing or cutting back hours all across the country keep you awake at night?
17. Finish this sentence: “The public library is______________.
18. If public libraries went away, what would the people who use them, use instead?
19. Do you believe that public libraries are out of touch with today’s world? If yes, how?
20. When was the last time you visited a public library building? Why did you go there?
21. When was the last time you used a public library resource or service? What service or resource did you use? Could you have gotten the same resource or the same service someplace else? If yes, what would it have cost, if anything?
22. In your opinion, is your public library a good investment of taxpayer money? Why or why not?
23. If my library had/did _____________, I would use it.
Of course answers like these, if received from every person across the country, would be impossible to compile and analyze statistically. But I often favor qualitative methodologies, which are more subjective. And in this case get to the heart of perception. And I believe that perception will end up being just as (more?) important than statistics in determining the future of libraries.
I’m sure this has been said more than once, too, especially since the passing of Steve Jobs. But we need an “Apple vision.” We need to give the public something they don’t even know they want or need. Maybe by asking the right questions we could stumble upon something extraordinary.
What are the right questions?