Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By the numbers

We're doing our annual patron survey, both in-house and online. I always look forward to the results -- not because I believe that individual numbers have terrific significance, but because I want to see the trends, and read the comments.

We look at all the numbers and comments, but we are aware this is not a scientific survey. Participation by people picking up a survey form in the library, as well as those clicking a link on the website is voluntary. Participants are thus self-selected, and those who take the time probably have a mixture of motivations: some enjoy the opportunity to share their perceptions and participate in a public process, some want to help the library, and some have an ax to grind. Some years ago, we use volunteers to give a survey to every fifteenth person walking in the door. It was hard to find enough volunteers, and harder to dissuade the volunteers from using their good judgment to decide just who should receive the survey, so even then we were not truly random. When we gave up this practice and let survey participants self-select, we noticed little difference in the responses. We were still surveying library users as a subset of the population.

It's worth noting that library users make up a large subset, with about 2/3 of Appleton residents having library cards. We measure some things for inclusion in the City budget, which contains some output measures. But more important to us is watching changes in customer satisfaction with collections and services, measuring the number of people doing other things downtown when they use the library, seeing what they do at the library, and reading the comments. In addition to measuring attitudes, this is a regular annually organized effort to garner suggestions, and we take them seriously.

Web users enter their data directly via SurveyMonkey, and Kathy, our Data Assistant, hand enters the information into another SurveyMonkey from the in-house pages. SurveyMonkey automatically compiles the data and helps with analysis tools -- and it's interesting to see the differences between online and in-person patrons. Online patrons tend to have a lower opinion of the library neighborhood, somewhat unsurprisingly.

We hope we get a lot of responses. If you're a library user, let us know what you think -- we need to hear from you!