From the catalogs of babes











{March 17, 2010}   survey results

I haven’t been posting much here lately, and it’s partially because I’m depressed. Why?

About 2 weeks ago I was told that both the reclassification proposal and the student & faculty survey were rejected by the Board of Directors. Because I know you’ll ask why: I was not given any substantial reason. Yes, I have more I’d like to say about it. No, I’m not really comfortable posting about it on a public blog, unfortunately. But buy me a drink at the next conference and I promise to tell you all about it. So much so that you’ll probably regret buying me that drink.

I’m saddened to  have to hold back my thoughts and opinions, because one thing I’ve always tried to do here is to be very open and real, and less about lofty, idealized concepts that cutting edge libraries are implementing, but rather the day-to-day accomplishments and struggles of “real life” in the library catalog. 

While I have lots of things I’d really like to say but won’t, there is one thing I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut about, and that’s what kind of message an organization–any organization–sends out when it decides not to survey its users, for whatever reason, valid or not. I think unwillingness to survey your users is a tangible example of disinterest in what your patrons think and want. As a user, I’d be upset with any organization that so blatantly demonstrates that they don’t care what I think.

If they don’t care what I think, why should I care about them? No wonder libraries are losing support. I wouldn’t support an organization with that attitude, either.

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robin says:

If I may play devil’s advocate for a moment: I have never once been surveyed by LAPL in all the 11 years I’ve been their patron. I was never surveyed by the UCSB library, and the only time I had the opportunity to take a voluntary survey that was buried on the UCLA library website, it was about web design changes that had already taken place. At no time did I ever feel like those libraries didn’t care what I think. In fact, I remain grateful that they exist to serve me, and in the case of the public library I still get chills every time I set foot in one just because of what the public library represents.

There is also the problem of patron surveys being notoriously skewed. Loving the library is the right answer, everyone knows that. They’ve found that even patrons who leave the library without the information they were looking for will give it a good review just because the library is such a feel-good institution. An argument can be made that quality reference interactions (and in our case, faculty-liaisons) are far more valuable than surveys. The only drawback is of course not being able to reach the non-users, but we’ve seen over the years that we can counter that with intense marketing.

I think the reasons libraries are losing support are far more complex than just a lack of surveys, and although the loss of support is shocking, we can’t expect to be an island of prosperity in a sea of economic collapse. I don’t think surveys would do anything about the city budget.



Ivy says:

>At no time did I ever feel like those libraries didn’t care what I think. In fact, I remain grateful that they exist to serve me, and in the case of the public library I still get chills every time I set foot in one just because of what the public library represents.

I’ve long believed that LAPL (and LBPL, my other major public library experience) is not interested in serving me. They don’t hold the materials I need, the ones they do they won’t let me access, their hours deny me from visiting the library at all (so much for the library as community space), and every reference inquiry I’ve had since my junior high school years was better off answered on my own. Neither library has ever asked me what services I might use or what hours I might visit. Heck, I’ve written unsolicited letters to them about these very things and been ignored. Call me self-centered, but I personally find it hard to be grateful when I can’t use the services and see value returned, to me or to others. I’ll probably get run through the wringer for this one, but honestly, part of me wants some failing public libraries to collapse and fold and clear the way for something new and different. But I am crazy like that.

>quality reference interactions (and in our case, faculty-liaisons) are far more valuable than surveys

I’m actually in total agreement with this. The problem is: how do get tangible evidence that reference inquiries and faculty interactions are quality? What’s the metric for measuring that, and how do you know if you’re meeting that? If someone tells you to you face on the spot that service was great, how do you then take that to your board or your trustees or your taxpayers? I’m not being sarcastic. One of the biggest issues that’s plagued libraries is the inability to offer concrete documentation about these sorts of qualitative metrics, and I’d definitely be interested in hearing other ways to accomplish this.

I’m not saying that surveys are the end-all, be-all answer and are a magic band-aid that solve all problems. Certainly not! Especially if you consider they myriad of ways the data can be used (or misused). And of course the issue is far more complex than any one aspect, user-services included. What I am saying is that in this climate, it seems like the companies and organizations that are succeeding are the ones who are at least giving the impression that they are interested in what their customers, patrons, or users think. And I think libraries, overall, are doing a very poor job of this, and it’s one (of many) things contributing to their demise.



Kathleen says:

Ivy,

I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such bad experiences with public libraries. I take it that LAPL is Los Angeles Public and LBPL is Long Beach?

I would be most interested to hear what materials you needed that they did not have? Here in Ohio, if we don’t have it, we’ll do everything we can to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan, etc. And the public libraries are now engaged in SearchOhio in which 15-18 libraries share materials.

It’s very sad to hear that you had such unpleasant experiences. So, how did you end up becoming a librarian? I ask because, generally that would keep someone away from the field.

I had bad experiences with math teachers and that’s the last thing I’d ever be!



Ivy says:

>I would be most interested to hear what materials you needed that they did not have?

My most recent example involves a number of cataloging titles, which LAPL actually held, they just wouldn’t circulate. While I can understand that for reference materials, these were really prose books that needed to be read, not simply referred to. Even if I had the time to sit in the central branch’s reading room to thoroughly read 5-10 books @ 500+ pages/each, the library isn’t open enough hours on days I can visit to make those materials accessible to me.

As a child, I did have LBPL interlibrary loan matierals for me from their other branches, but I can’t say I’ve ever had a public library offer any other interlibrary loans besides that. I don’t think that California has public library consortia like other states do (Colorado’s excellent consortium comes to mind, and I must say I’ve heard good things about Ohio’s as well, and I’ve been impressed with bib records from some of the public libraries there in the past).

>So, how did you end up becoming a librarian? I ask because, generally that would keep someone away from the field.

I saw a field that I liked with principles with which I agreed, with (probably most relevant to your question) opportunities to change things for the better. I’m not it to maintain the status quo–I’m in it to make improvements. That’s probably why my blog posts are never really going to target things that are working or that libraries are already succeeding at. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and all that. I’m not drawn to systems that are already working at their best capacity–it’s the opportunities for improvement and how to implement such that interest me.



[…] I’m grateful to my library for making it easier for me to make the choice to leave. Had either my reclassification proposal or the migration to a new ILS been given the green light, I would have wanted to stay, to work on […]



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