In this post last month, I indicated that I had invited a group of non-library workers to complete a SurveyMonkey survey of 23 open-ended questions (no multiple choice except for the question about level of education completed) regarding perceptions/thoughts about public libraries. The survey has closed, and I have reviewed the results. Before I reveal them, let me say a few things:

First, I drafted this survey very spontaneously, impulsively even, using questions that I had already outlined in a previous blog post (linked to above). In hindsight, I wish I had given the questions a bit more thought. I am perhaps not the best survey designer.

Second, please know: this survey is in no way meant to represent any sort of significant or measurable finding. It is more like revealing the script from a casual conversation among friends.

Third, since I had such a small sample group anyway, I’m just going to go over the responses question by question, in a more narrative fashion rather than do any kind of statistical analysis. While I can analyze data in that way (and I’ve done it before), it’s not really necessary here. The survey questions and answers are in bold (with the exception of the demographic information). Everything else is my commentary. If you find any typos or other mistakes, please accept my apology. This was a long, tedious post to create.

As for what it all means? Well, that’s for you to decide. I’m sure there are corollaries to be drawn and comparisons to be made; conclusions to be debated. And I may very well do just that and revisit this survey in another post after I’ve had more time to digest the answers.

Or it may mean nothing at all–just a snapshot of the random thoughts and beliefs of a relatively small group of people on a given day. One thing I do know for certain, though: On that given day, this survey got 40 people to take 10 or 15 or 20 minutes out of their days to really think about the public libraries in their communities So, for just that reason alone, this was well worth my time and money.

My sample group:

Size: 40 people began the survey; 33 answered all 23 questions (plus 4 demographic questions). So as you review these results, keep in mind that not everyone answered every question, which is why the numbers don’t always add up.

Age range: 15-85; average age: 50; ages represented: teens: 3; 20s: 4; 30s: 1; 40s: 4; 50s: 7; 60s: 6; 70s: 2; 80s: 2

Gender: female-22; male-10;unidentified: 8

Occupations: Student-6; homemaker-7; retired-4; the rest: realtor, safety consultant, freelance writer, management, technology, leadership & organizational change consultant (I want this job); interior design consultant; executive, library assistant (this person sneaked in!); education; library director (another no-no); higher education administration; self-employed

Annual Income: Most participants declined to answer, but the range of those answering (15) was from $25,000-250,000 with an average annual (individual and/or household) income of $77,000.

Education: Less than high school diploma: 1; high school diploma: 4; some college but no degree: 6; bachelor’s degree: 8; graduate degree: 6

The Questions:

1. Do you ever think about libraries?

  • Yes: 29
  • No: 3
  • Sometimes: 2
  • Not very often: 3
  • Rarely: 1

2.  If the public library in your community was gone tomorrow, would you miss it?

  • Yes: 25
  • No: 8
  • Probably not/I don’t think so: 2

Other/more specific answers:

  • I personally would not, but it would be a huge loss for the community
  • I would for my children
  • It matters to the heart of the community
  • I love my library–for all the books, activities, lectures, gatherings and just for the sacred, quiet space it offers me
  • It is a great source of free materials and a central meeting place in our community
  • Every community should have a library
  • Not only does it provide books, programs and entertainment, but it’s a community gathering spot

3.  Do you know whether your public library offers ebooks? Does it matter to you?

  • Yes, they do. But it doesn’t matter to me: 7
  • Yes, they do. And it matters to me: 7
  • I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter to me: 17
  • I don’t know, but it does matter: 2

Some specific answers:

  • I don’t have an ereader: 6
  • Sounds like a good idea. Seems as though that is the direction things are going
  • I need more than 2 weeks to finish a book!
  • I would rather have real books: 2
  • I’m against ebooks

4.  What would force you to visit a library? (This is one of those questions that shows my survey-design weakness–bad question)

  • I don’t need to be forced; I like to go: 9
  • Nothing: 3
  • Free books: 9

Specific answers:

  • A report that was due
  • Books for kids for a school project
  • Movies for free, free magazines (for my dad in nursing home); quiet area to study; special events (I took a painting class there once).
  • Books on techniques like quilting that I could not access on the internet
  • Boredom
  • Research with the computer has eliminated much of the need. Maybe if there is a current newspaper I want to read
  • A free half hour in my day!
  • The police? (Ha)
  • A book club
  • Not sure anything–I can pretty much get what I need online
  • Free coffee
  • Finding something that couldn’t be found online
  • A quiet place to think, write, or do homework

5.  Do you believe your public library provides any essential service that your community cannot live without? If yes, what?

  • Yes: 27
  • No: 5
  • Not sure: 2

Specific answers (generalized):

  • Computers and internet: 6
  • Research tools: 4
  • Programs and children’s story time: 4
  • It’s a hub, a home…a community base: 2
  • Place for meetings: 3
  • Equitable access to resources and information: 5
  • Haven for knowledge and literary development: 5
  • Quiet: 3

Two heartfelt answers (and not from the two library workers):

  • A library tells me that I live in a community where knowledge, learning and sharing ideas is important. It means I am surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful individuals. People need to be informed and books are the best way
  • The public library exists for the public good. It’s both accessible and equitable to all members of the community. Offering access to computers, the internet, and thousands of books helps those that cannot afford or wish to buy such services. Libraries also offer a large history of their respected towns and cities. With children’s and teens programs and lectures for adults, a place where community can meet and feel a sense of community and an abundance of knowledge waiting to be discovered. There is no other environment that offers personal and communal growth.

6.  Who do you think uses libraries? Why do you think they use them?

  • Parents/families with children: 11
  • Homeschoolers: 2
  • Students: 9
  • Seniors: 4
  • Everyone: 8
  • People who cannot afford to buy books and movies or computers or internet service: 3

Two specific answers:

  • Everyone except rich people who can just buy every book and movie
  • People who love to read because it’s like the mothership! (I like this answer!)

7.  If you were asked to vote on whether public libraries should continue to receive government funding, would you vote yes or no?

  • Yes: 29
  • No: 4
  • Don’t know: 1

8.  What is the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word, “library?”

  • Books: 21
  • Knowledge: 1
  • Information: 2
  • Education: 2
  • Peace: 2

Others:

  • Love of reading
  • Fines
  • Home
  • Contentment
  • Haven
  • Calm
  • Adventure
  • Old-fashioned
  • Smart
  • School
  • Old smelly books

9.  What is the first word that pops into your mind when you hear the word, “librarian?”

  • Helpful: 7
  • Knowledgeable/Intelligent: 3
  • Library: 1
  • Woman: 4
  • Book-lover: 2
  • Quiet: 2
  • Guide: 2

The rest (gotta love some of these):

  • Stern
  • Dedicated
  • Resource
  • Caring
  • Snooty
  • Always shushing…dour faced
  • Legs (?)
  • Stuffy
  • Marian
  • Kind facilitator
  • Over-educated
  • Bookish
  • Books
  • Older, gray-haired woman
  • Prim
  • Single woman

10. What is your first thought upon being asked to donate to your community’s public library?

  • Sure/yes/It’s important: 20
  • Maybe: 3
  • No: 3

Other answers:

  • I’d rather contribute elsewhere
  • What’s it for?
  • How much?
  • I would donate books
  • It depends on where else I’m asked to contribute
  • The church and the library are two institutions I’m happy to support

11. Do you consider your library an unofficial part of the public education system?

  • Yes: 24
  • No: 8
  • Never thought about it: 2
  • An official part!: 1

Interesting, two people said that they think school libraries and public libraries duplicate efforts and should work together more closely because we cannot afford both in the community. One person suggested that school libraries should simply be open after school hours and that public libraries and school libraries should combine for greater efficiency.

12. Have you ever used one of the library’s public access computers (not the online catalog)? Do you know if your library offers wi-fi? Does it matter to you?

  • Yes to using computers: 12
  • No to using computers:  21
  • Yes to knowing if the library offers wi-fi: 14
  • Don’t know if the library offers wi-fi: 14
  • Wi-fi at the library matters to me: 9
  • Don’t care if it has wi-fi: 14
  • Never considered the possibility that the library offers wi-fi: 2

13.What salary do you think a public librarian should be paid?

  • Commensurate with teachers: 7
  • No clue: 11

Other answers:

  • Enough to live comfortably
  • $25,000
  • $35,000-45,000
  • Enough to live without having to do something else
  • $35,000-55,000
  • Depends on where you live
  • At least $45,000
  • $40,000-50,000

14. Is everyone who works in a library a librarian?

  • Yes: 3
  • No: 30

Specific answers:

  • A librarian differs from those that work security and those that purely re-shelve books. Librarians are those that competently deal with information in all formats while they provide other information services
  • Many are volunteers and some are paid but do not have the education/training of a librarian
  • A librarian should have a somewhat formal education and be knowledgeable about many things “book related”as well as a good business sense.
  • Yes, but the head librarian is the one in charge
  • I realize that being a librarian, technically, requires a degree, but I consider all the library volunteers to be librarians

15. What is the main function of a librarian?

  • No idea: 2

Some of the rest:

  • The liaison between the community and the library; helping patrons find and use resources; programming; fundraising and grant-writing
  • To help guide those who need help finding anything; putting books in the system and on the shelves
  • Oversee and administer
  • To see that the library is operated in an orderly manner & to stay abreast of latest issues
  • To oversee the library in terms of organization, program offerings and funding
  • Resource to customers and organizer of materials
  • To love books, know books, to share knowledge and sources with the patrons
  • To help people find books, to keep the library stocked full of good books
  • To help patrons negotiate and learn the many services and resources offered in the library
  • Run the business, stay with the times as far as content and technology in the library. Be an excellent fundraiser and spokesperson for the community
  • Plan programs, keep inventory current, organize materials
  • Overall director of the functions of the library
  • To serve the literary needs of the community
  • Long-range planning of services
  • Get grants and organize community events
  • Building collections that are of use to all. Helping/guiding users to find what they want, need, or even may not think they want or need
  • Manage the library
  • Take control of the entire operation

16. Does the thought of public libraries closing or cutting back hours all across the country keep you awake at night? (Another dumb question)

  • No: 24
  • Yes: 1

The rest:

  • A lot of things keep me awake at night. Yes, the thought of government sponsored ignorance is one of them
  • No, but I do believe it is an important enough matter that it should be discussed and raised with government officials
  • Well, it doesn’t keep me awake, but it does not make me happy. I would miss it terribly
  • Not yet but that’s probably because I’m not well enough informed
  • No, but it makes me sad
  • No, but it really does worry me
  • It concerns me. Public libraries are the mark of a civilized society. Losing them would be a tragic loss for society at large as well as individual communities
  • Many PORK projects should be cut to protect libraries
  • Not necessarily, but it bothers me that libraries could close for good

17. Finish this sentence: “The public library is_________________”

  • A great asset/essential/integral/necessary to the community: 11
  • A thing of the past/becoming obsolete/outdated: 3
  • Wonderful: 2

The rest:

  • My favorite building in Pittsburgh
  • A vital part of our children’s future
  • A great source of information
  • A treasure trove of information, ideas, and possibilities
  • A great place to relax, learn, and grow
  • A real convenience
  • A cool place to visit
  • A human right
  • Essential to happiness
  • Fun
  • Actually pretty great
  • Helpful to some people
  • Irreplaceable
  • Worthy of support from tax dollars
  • Nice
  • A wealth of information that people couldn’t afford otherwise

18. If public libraries went away, what would the people who use them, use instead?

  • Internet: 13
  • Book stores: 2
  • There is no substitute: 3
  • Nothing. They would just do without: 4
  • No idea: 4

Others:

  • Perhaps the schools could work something out
  • What else? The internet. It is a wealth of information about absolutely anything you can think of
  • Trade books with friends and neighbors
  • Ebooks, or they would be dumb and stop reading
  • No idea but they would find something else
  • Some of them would probably be out of luck

19. Do you believe that public libraries are out of touch with today’s world? If yes, how?

  • No: 22
  • Yes: 6

Specific answers:

  • Not at all. A public library connects the past and the future. One can find both old and new material in a library. Many are in the midst of e-conservation, replacing microfilm and photos with more accessible computer programs. Ebooks are available as well as countless other digital services
  • Quite the contrary. I think they are looking ahead.
  • Not as long as they keep updating themselves
  • Yes because technology and devices are advancing so quickly that it would be impossible to keep up and compete
  • In some instances, yes, because our world is so cyber oriented
  • No. The people are (I guess by people he/she means “librarians”)
  • Yes, I believe they have lagged, not in technology, but in understanding how the culture uses technology and how rapidly that is changing
  • Can’t answer that as I haven’t stepped foot in one for many, many years
  • Yes because there is so much reading material in our homes with the internet resources
  • They can’t afford to be current
  • Yes. They need to change the perception that it is only an outlet for books
  • Yes. Books are not available when I want them
  • No way.

20. When was the last time you visited a public library building? Why did you go there?

  • 8 months ago to help with an auction
  • Yesterday to use an available book to complete a project
  • During the summer; I needed books for a class
  • About 3 years ago for a special program
  • A  year ago to borrow a book
  • Last week to return a book and donate some magazines
  • 1 month ago for a book for my daughter’s class
  • 2 years ago for a book for my young child
  • Last Spring for a community event
  • Last week for a book for my child
  • Last month for a lecture
  • Last week to pick up books and magazines and to check on their current programs
  • 3 months ago for a presentation
  • Last month
  • Six months ago for the book sale
  • A few weeks ago to rent a movie
  • Today to return movies from the weekend, which my kids checked out for the snowstorm!
  • Don’t remember, at least 10 years
  • Two weeks ago to return books
  • At least 14 years ago
  • 15 years ago–was looking for an audio book for a trip
  • Today
  • Last week for an author presentation
  • Five days ago to check out books
  • Can’t remember
  • November 2011 for a meeting
  • 4 years ago for a project
  • I went there to check out a book and they didn’t have it

20 people had visited the library within the last 6 months

21. When was the last time you used a public library resource or service? What did you use? Could you have gotten the same resource or service someplace else? If yes, what would it have cost, if anything? (These answers ended up being fairly repetitive of the answers to the previous question. Many people cited checking out books or DVDs that would have cost them money to buy.)

A few specific answers:

  • I tried using the online book service but was unsuccessful at the download
  • Used OverDrive to pub holds on ebooks
  • Story hour
  • Never used a public library resource
  • I borrowed a telescope twice over the summer to view the moon and star clusters. That was great!
  • I used the online catalog
  • To get a journal article for class, which I could not have gotten otherwise because it was part of a subscription database

22. In your opinion, is your public library a good investment of taxpayer money? Why or why not?

  • Yes: 24

Reasons:

  • Compliments our educational system
  • Helps the working class
  • I’d rather the money go to the library where everyone can benefit than to a football field at the high school
  • Levels the playing field in the community
  • Offers a useful source of information
  • Yes, as long as it stays competitive technologically or people can easily find the same information on their own devices
  • Troubling part is that those who most need it have no access or means to visit. In a broad community with rural pockets of economically disadvantaged families, there is a gap for those folks (I should have asked a question about the Bookmobile! Sorry, Ed)
  • A smarter and well-informed community makes more knowledgeable decisions about their lives
  • Depends, not all libraries are created equal
  • Yes because using your brain is important…and connecting with your community is vital
  • Yes, because I see a kid with a stack of books who are excited about reading and education and that is a good investment for everyone
  • It benefits everyone
  • It is truly an egalitarian institution
  • It helps people who can’t afford to buy books

No: 4

Reasons:

  • Communities have historically had libraries. I would need to understand why tax money should be used to continue a “tradition” that is an outdated method for finding information
  • No, but I think libraries should charge for their services
  • They have been superseded by the internet

23. If my library had/did____________, I would use it.

  • Not sure: 9
  • Nothing: 1
  • Anything: 1

Specific answers:

  • Textbooks I need for class
  • eReaders
  • More courses
  • All the latest technology
  • A mobile library….I would help take it to people…(We do have a mobile library!)
  • Comfortable/slouchy seating area and a larger variety of national magazines and newspapers
  • Coffee
  • More programs I was interested in
  • More recent music to borrow
  • How about a resource pool of retired citizens from different professional backgrounds? (Nice!)
  • If I lived in an urban environment, I could see it as more of a 3rd space. Comfortable, like Barnes & Noble
  • A coffeehouse
  • More copies of recently released novels
  • Fitness equipment (Okay, first this made me laugh, and then it made me stop and think. Is this funny or brilliant? What do people do on those machines at the gym? Read! Throw a couple of ellipticals in a room and hold a book discussion group!)