Knowing the community you are serving is the key to running a successful library. But, librarians should be wary of becoming too complacent or relying on gut instinct in lieu of data. But, how can you ensure that you will reach the community effectively and find useful information? Here are five tips that will help you conduct a successful survey.
First – Know what you are hoping to find out. Surveys can be a tremendously useful tool if created with an eye toward what information you hope to elicit from the participants. Before you create a survey form, sit with other staff members from different departments and think about what you would like to know. Surveys should be short enough to be completed quickly but contain enough questions to provide useful information.
Second – Is there anyone else collecting this information? For example, would you like to know many people over 25 have a smart phone or how many people are caregivers who access computer information to help them with finding medical information; those surveys have already been done by the Pew Internet group. They issue updates and email alerts when new studies are done. Sign up and check them out.
You know what you want to know, you have checked out the Pew studies to see what they know. Now, what?
Third – Create your survey. As mentioned above, surveys should be able to be completed quickly. Therefore, multiple choice is often the best choice. Keep the number of questions to 10 or less, and the answer options to a maximum of four. Include an option for “other” for the patron to write in an answer. Avoid yes or no questions if possible or include an option for the patron to elaborate.
For example, instead of asking “Do you come to library programs? yes or no.” Add another sentence or two. It can be as simple as “If no, why not?” Give patrons enough room to write.
Fourth – Provide a variety of access points. For example, if your survey is only taken at the main circulation desk and on paper, you may be missing those who go only to the children’s area, or only to the reference department, etc.
Provide for patrons who would like to answer online using an online survey tool like Survey Monkey. This is a valuable tool for those patrons who do not come to the library as well. Put a link on your Facebook page or publicize it on Twitter to capture those who are aware of the library and may not come or have stopped coming.
Fifth – Publicize your survey. Provide bookmarks or flyers on bright paper to put in every book checked out with the survey link. Put forms and boxes with a sign saying “Tell Us What You Think!!” around the library to capture patrons who may come just to be social at the library but may not check out materials or for those who do not wish to be observed taking it. Put the link to the online survey on the library’s webpage, publicize on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.
Survey Monkey http://www.surveymonkey.com
Pew Internet Studies http://www.pewinternet.com