Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Focusing on the Big Picture: Using Community needs assessments to enhance reference services.

Focusing on the Big Picture: Using Community needs assessments to enhance reference services.
A community needs identifies the requirements and desires of a population through direct communication with the stakeholders. By collaborating with the library's constituencies, librarians can gain a deeper understanding of what their user population needs and what types of resources and tools for discovery will be most appreciated (and used!). Learn about theory and strategy for community needs assessments, and ways that libraries can benefit from them.

Speakers: Heather McCann, Reference Coordinator, Rotch Library of Architecture and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Lana Thelen, College Librarian, Oregon College of Oriental Medicine.
Need to define community first of course. Assessment should focus on what they community values. Assessments could be focus groups, interviews, surveys. Assessments can tell you a lot about how users communicate and where they go to get information.
Cutting back? users can tell planners what services are essential.
Use assessment tools to assess an initiative you've given. After a program, website change.
Ask what kind of services they would like to have. Users can surprise you.
Types of assessments:
Interviews and Focus Groups: Advantage: simple to plan, personal communication may net you good feedback. Disadvantage: Takes time, needs interviewing expertise
Community forum: Advantage: Lots of information in a short time. Disadvantage: Hard to round up attendees, lots of planning, food etc. Vocal people can hog the air time. Good facilitator needed, especially if there's a controversial issue.
Surveys: Advantage: Qualitative and Quantitative information lends itself to analysis. Disadvantage: Takes a lot of skill to construct understandable questions to elicit good responses.
Here's a good one on Community Assessment which includes constructing and analyzing the data: See the booklets.

Analyzing the data
Identify themes, assess validity, express your findings, develop an action plan, collaborate with others, implement, then reevaluate the results.
It is critical to have several people involved in planning and implementing the assessment to avoid bias and to collect valid, useful information.

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