Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kindness in the Library: A Different Kind of Assessment

A while back, Joe Hardenbrook wrote a blog piece about looking at the library from the perspective of our patrons. The important bit, in case you don't want to click through:
"...look at your library space and examine how kind it is for your patrons.
    • Is the signage positive?
    • Are your service desks welcoming?
    • Can users find their way easily?
    • What obstacles do your users encounter?"

Since one of the prevailing themes of my library career is how to get people into the library - literally and figuratively - I was immediately intrigued by this idea. The library where I work is quite a bit smaller than Joe's at the time he wrote that blog post. Although we are both at academic libraries that share our buildings with other departments, my campus and my library are about a third of the size: approximately 2,000 students, both undergraduate and graduate, and the library is three floors.

We departed from Joe's methods a bit. I assigned this to all of my federal work study students as well. I also walked through the library and asked our reference librarian to do the same, but I saw our participation more as a control for the study than the substance of the study itself. The professional staff members have an important perspective to contribute, but I wanted to balance it.

As we read through the audits performed by the students, there were a number of themes. (These are highlights.)
  • Signage. (Negative.) It can be hard to find your way around our library, even though it is small. 
  • Noise levels. (Negative.) Really this is about a signage. We have areas set aside for group study and for quiet study, but they need to be better marked.
  • Available computers. (Negative.) We have a lot of public computers, but there are quite a few times when they are all taken. This is especially problematic for my college, where we have a lot of first generation college students.
  • Furniture. (Negative.) Our furniture is mixed and matched, and a lot of it is banged up and older looking.
  • Hours. (Positive.) We are open until midnight most nights, and we are open seven days a week while school is in session.
  • Interactive Displays. (Positive.) We have taken to putting a white board next to book displays, and on the white board we put a question that relates to the display. Example: in April, the book display was all poetry books, and the question on the white board was, "What is your favorite poem?"
  • Consortium. (Positive.) While we are small, we are part of a consortium with 47 other libraries in the state. Students can get pretty much book they need, and quickly.

Next Steps:
I want to spend some more time with the data, looking through and making sure I'm not just seeing the data I want to see (I agree with a lot of the points my student workers made). But there are a few bits of low-hanging fruit.
  • Better signage. We need to create maps to help people find their way around the building. The signs need to be bigger, more obvious, and with positive language.
  • Furniture replacement plan. We won't be able to replace all of it at once, but we can devise a plan. Even if it takes us a few years, or more, we can start small and build.
  • More visible staff presence away from the typical service points. The signs will help with multiple things, including the noise levels, but that's not enough. We do walk-throughs every half hour (loosely) to neaten the library and such. We can add checking noise levels and responding as necessary.

We have a baseline now. We know our starting point and will reassess at regular intervals. This is an easy assessment to undertake, and can produce rich data to use in lots of ways. I highly recommend it. Thank you, Joe, for introducing me to this idea.

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