by Thomas Sneed
In my time at my current library, we really haven’t surveyed our community of users. That is, until now. In the next few weeks, we will be sending a major survey to our faculty, as we seek to improve our faculty services. We also started a smaller-scale but long-term survey project that will provide insight into the work we do with our other main patron group: our students.
When students want to meet with a librarian for assistance beyond what we offer at the reference desk, they fill out a student consult request form on our web site. This form gathers basic information about the research need and preferred times for a meeting. The request is triaged and assigned to the appropriate librarian (based on expertise as often as possible). We know anecdotally that we do a good job with the students during these interactions, but we wanted to know more. We needed a method for eliciting more feedback from the students and allowing for better follow-up by the librarians to assess the quality of the meetings. Why not use a survey as part of the process?
The survey for our students is short and to the point. We give them options to rate the experience, boxes to check to asses how well we met their needs, and a chance to elaborate if they so choose. We don’t want to overload these willing students with questions or, for that matter, surveys. We all know this can lead to indifference and a low number of responses. I get an email with a survey link every time I go to the doctor, even if the appointments are only a few weeks apart. Do they think my impression of the provider has changed that quickly? We certainly don’t want the library to be viewed in a similar manner.
So how have our responses been so far? With minimal marketing, we have seen a 33% response rate to the surveys. The evaluations have been positive and most have included detailed responses on the quality of the meeting and even the library in general. This is a good start, and while we may never reach the numbers needed for a high confidence rate, we are seeing talking points develop and will continue to move forward.
What have we learned from all this surveying? First, surveys are not as easy to put together as you may think. It seems basic to throw some questions together and see what happens, but a poorly constructed survey can quickly turn off the reader. Before you send out the link, spend the time to create a high quality product. Second, lots of librarians have done surveys before and are glad to talk about it. Surveys and statistics were a major topic of the recent NELLCO Symposium, and assessments methods of various types are on the agenda for my regional conference and the AALL Annual Meeting this summer.
Don’t be afraid of the survey and take the time to make it strong. You will see the benefits.