September 17, 2014

LIBRARY SURVEY: More space wanted

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By Ethan de Seife

Observer correspondent

September 5th, 2013

A new survey commissioned by Williston’s Dorothy Alling Memorial Library revealed a great deal about the ways that patrons use the library, and suggests several directions for the library’s future.

The survey represents a kind of road map for the library’s just-initiated five-year plan. The survey was taken by 259 people and achieved a 78 percent completion rate. It is the second stage in a recent effort by the library to “get a better snapshot of who our patrons are, what they like best and what they’d like to see in the future,” as Library Director Marti Fiske put it. The first stage consisted of two meetings with a 23-member community group for informal discussion on the same subjects. Fiske reported that, for the most part, the larger and smaller surveys “jibed.”

Questions asked on the survey addressed such matters as the library holdings most frequently used by patrons, days and hours of visits, use of technology and facilities and suggestions for improvements and changes.

By and large, the library received high marks from patrons, with the overwhelming majority of the ratings in survey-type questions landing squarely in the “good” and “excellent” rankings. Most patrons found the library’s facilities, signage, cleanliness and layout, for example, to their liking.

Still, Fiske said, there is room for improvement, and the survey revealed a few ways in which the library could adapt to the needs of its patrons. A significant number of respondents requested that the library’s popular evening programs start slightly later—at 7 p.m., rather than at 6 or 6:30 p.m.—which Fiske says was a “really useful” thing to learn. The library will soon adjust schedules accordingly, and hopes to see an increase in attendance as a result.

A similar, somewhat less comprehensive survey was conducted five years ago, and is available on the library’s website. The new survey differs from the previous one in significant, if unsurprising, ways. In the five years that have passed since the last survey, library patrons have become more tech-savvy—and yet still have questions about the technology available at the library. Even though the library’s current online catalog represents what Fiske calls “a vast improvement” over the 2008 online catalog, patrons are still somewhat unsure about how to use it, and about the kinds of technological assistance that the library offers. Fiske said that the library will address this concern by highlighting ways to use the catalog, and pointing out functions that some patrons are unaware of.

Fiske also noted that the survey returned some very helpful information about the arrangement and use of the library’s physical space. Many respondents indicated the desire that the library serve the function of what Fiske called “a third space”: neither home nor work, but a place that makes patrons feel like they belong there. To that end, the library will soon amend its mission statement to include the phrase, “The Dorothy Alling Memorial Library: your home for lifelong learning.”

“We are in a bit of a spot” regarding space, Fiske admitted, since patrons have indicated that they desire more discussion areas as well as more quiet areas, which are mutually exclusive zones. “We are going to have to do a really in-depth study of the use of our space, and to do some reconfigurations,” she said. Such a move will postpone the library’s eventual need for a costly new addition to the building.

Overall, Fiske said the library is in good health. Over the last five years: the number of visitors has increased 13 percent; the number of items loaned has increased 9 percent; reference assistance went up 8 percent; the number of programs offered rose 15 percent (even with a cut to the program budget); and program attendance increased 27 percent.

“We’re doing really well and are really valued by the community, and would like to do even better,” Fiske said.

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