Friday, May 4, 2007

EqualAccess Libraries in MA

Equal Access Libraries in Massachusetts: Meeting the Needs of Youth, Older Adults, Boomers and Health Consumers through Community-Responsive Programming

EqualAccess Program
  • Lifelong learning
  • Health Access
  • Youth Access

Megan Allen, Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy
They were in the middle of a long-range plan, and incorporating the EqualAccess process seemed a perfect fit.
One of the main processes is the Needs Assessment, finding out what your target community actually wants and needs as opposed to what you think they want and need.
Interviews, focus groups, demographic research, etc.
The focus groups were key, because they opened up the questioning beyond the 'people they already knew.'Allen contacted Phoenix PL, because they're a couple of years ahead of Massachusetts in this process, and they were great about offering advice and suggestions.
Focus groups are better than surveys because you actually get to interact with people and bounce ideas off them and get ideas from them. They also garnered some volunteers and presenters.
The focus group questions helped them develop a survey that they then passed out in the library and put online. They asked focus group participants to distribute the survey to folks they knew who didn't use the library.
They also had someone translate the survey into Chinese, because there's now a Chinese-speaking population (20% of total pop).
Be reasonable about goals/objectives for the first year
Objectives for first year: Advisory committee, resource center, technology programming -- all for older adults.
They didn't specifically market the technology classes to older adults, but that's 40% of who came. Right now they're doing computer basics, but they're going through a computer upgrade process and that should allow them to offer additional classes (digital photo editing, etc).
CyberTalk series is a conversational series, rather than hands-on and it's just as well-attended.
Programming is what builds excitement and brings people into your library. They're going to be shifting more of their focus to programming.
Again, they don't specifically say that the programs are for older adults, but that's who comes.
EqualAccess not only gave them a framework to do this planning, but it pushed them outside of their comfort zone and helped them improve their services. It's very adaptable to any individual library's needs. Once you learn the skills, you can use the same process for any target audience.

Tracy Kry, Chicopee Public Library
Health Access Project Coordinator

Needs Assessment: What were we lacking?
Staff - we have no staff who knew where to begin when asked a medical question
Programs - no medical information beyond books
Information Literacy - patrons didn't know how to search for medical information
Materials - our materials were woefully out of date

They did a survey to get information -- everyone on staff was part of the needs assessment from the director to the circ staff to the custodian.
Survey results - 39% of patrons use Google to find health information, 30% of patrons use reference materials, 10% of patrons ask a librarian for help
Goals of survey - where were people searching for information, how were they searching for information, what were they searching for?

Self-directed searching is key with health issues, because not everyone is comfortable with sharing their health information with complete strangers.

Staff -- they hired a new person with a medical background, next steps: education and training for all staff. It could be as simple as knowing that something is horribly mis-spelled and be able to offer the correct spelling.

Programs -- scheduled summer health programs based on survey responses; next steps - participating in Expanded Farmer's Market with a book cart, information about programs and ability to answer questions

Information Literacy -- invested in health database, offered computer classes on searching health information, new web page with health contacts/information/new health-related library acquisitions.

Private computer area (they need to ask librarian for a password) where they can search more privately for health information. The password keeps it more limited to serious searchers.

Challenges? There really weren't any that were unstoppable.

Chelmsford Public Library
Roberta Barricelli & Maureen Foley (youth services librarians)

Youth Needs
Groups of teens and tweens were already at the library, so they got those kids to volunteer as a teen advisory group (TAG).
TAG Plan: meet once a month, set small goals, give teens full ownership of the program and provide oversight
Programs were planned, created, organized and implemented by teens.
Get kids involved at any level, even just cutting stuff out or brainstorming ideas, even if they can't go to the programs themselves.
Halloween programs, Winter Holiday programs, Chinese New Year (teens designed and built a dragon for the lion dance, and they led a parade of preschoolers through the library).
"As soon as they heard that there was an art project going on at the library, they were right over there."
Teens enjoy the volunteering, younger kids love playing with the older kids, parents love seeing that not only does the library serve the younger kids but that it will continue to have something to offer older kids as they go through life.
Volunteer Fair, March 31st -- 25 community organizations came in and showcased their volunteer opportunities. Registration included a list of skills to remind teens of what they can do and offer to volunteer organizations.
Resulted in a group of high school guys helping with a Town Wide Cleanup during Earth Day weekend.
24-hour community relay race to raise money.
Harry Potter: 07/07/07 Book 7 Speculations -- paper around the room where people can write down their predictions about book 7. They're going to follow up with book discussion groups about Book 7 in August.
"If a grant is good, it's extraordinarily painful, because it's changing you profoundly. But when you've made it through, it's worth it."

Health Access is the cutting edge of library services and doesn't have a defined target audience, so they get fewer applicants for that part of the process. However, that's increasing.
How do you deal with 'turf issues' between government organizations? Thomas Crane Library met with the director of the Council on Aging and discussed what services they were providing and who exactly they were serving. Then, the library fit itself into a place that wasn't already well served -- Council on Aging and South Shore Elder Services served 65+, while the library focused on the Boomers who are 50-65. Lesson: Have the discussion and talk about how you can complement each other.
Medical information: we aren't medical professionals. Do we really want to start down the path of providing more than just basic health information? No, librarians should never be in a diagnostic role, only information and referral. Part of the EqualAccess institute is just to help librarians get enough medical knowledge so that they can help with the reference function.

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