During late 2008, the library conducted two patron surveys. I thought this might be a good time to share the results of these assessments with you, and describe some of the general conclusions we have drawn. The first survey was conducted on site on weekdays in October and November and consisted of 52 patron interviews equally divided between males and females. The second, completed between November and December was distributed electronically, using the same Constant Contact program employed in disseminating our newsletter. One hundred and ninety-six newsletter recipients responded, of whom almost 70% were female. The results illustrate the range of patrons served by the library, their attitudes towards several aspects of our operation and services, and their overall assessment of our collections and resources. In this abbreviated format, I focus principally on differences in audiences, types and frequency of usage and a few related questions. Although the questions occasionally differed from one survey to another, the general outline and goals remained constant. We wished to know more about patron perceptions of the library, how they viewed and used it, and what strengths and weaknesses they had observed. The results will help inform future decisions on a range of topics from material purchases to programming and marketing, and complements the work being done to implement the results of the board and staff retreat.
The surveys identified two generally distinctive audiences, albeit with some common characteristics: Over 70% are Norwich residents, and similarly high numbers have a library card. Both groups cite borrowing and returning materials as a reason for their patronage. Forty-seven percent of on line respondents referred to borrowing or returning materials as a reason for visiting, while 44% of on site visitors reported similarly. However, from that point the differences manifest themselves. One group, interviewed on site, consists of frequent users who require access to our technology and collections and rely heavily on our public computers. A full 73% of those responding to the on site survey reported using the library at least once a week, and 33% listed computer use as a principal feature of their visit. The second general group, those who responded electronically, is less likely to visit every week (21.1%), and more inclined to visit every 2-3 week, (25.2 %), or every month (17.5%). Generally, this latter group does not need or use the public computers-only 3.6% cited that as a reason for visiting the library- and is principally interested in selecting, ordering, and retrieving materials from the collection or from interlibrary loan. Given the low numbers drawn to the public computers, and their on line responses, it should be no surprise that 95.5% of electronic respondents had a home Internet connection.
Onsite visitors were more often younger, frequent users, without access to other computers, while those responding to the online survey were older, and female. In fact, the respondents to the online survey were overwhelmingly female (69.8%) and in reference to age, were predominantly between the ages of 46-55 (23.4%), and 56-65 (23.9%). In October/November, 15% of the on site respondents were 13-15, 19% 26-35, 15% 36-45, 19% 46-55, and only 8% between 56-65.
Other noteworthy differences also reflect distinctions in library use. Those interviewed in the library were far more likely to refer to use of the Young Adult area (29%), bringing someone to the library (27%), use of the children’s department and programs (21%), and studying or reading (19%). By comparison, percentages for on line respondents were Young Adult (4.1%), bringing someone to the library (6.8%), use of children’s department (5.5%), and studying or reading, (6.4%). While both groups were inclined to return and check out materials during a visit, the on site patrons were more likely to linger and read magazines (19%) than those on line (4.3%). Onsite respondents were also far less likely to use the library’s home page than on line users. Eighty percent of the online patrons said they had visited our home page; only 30% of those on site gave a similar response. The home page contains information on programs, hours, and links to numerous resources. Further analysis might clarify whether the on site users are focused on a particular form of use, have a predetermined agenda for the use of the computers or find the library’s home page deficient in some way.
Reactions to programs and services
Sharp differences also surfaced in the reactions to various elements of the library’s operation. While it is not necessary to enumerate each category of question, there are several which deserve further comment.
As with the general reactions, there were areas of consensus encompassing both types of users. Commenting on the library facilities, electronic and on site respondents both lauded the building. Fifty-two percent of on site respondents were very satisfied with the results of the building program, while 37% were satisfied, and 61% of on line respondents found the facility very much to their satisfaction and 31% expressed satisfaction. The library’s location drew strong general support from on site respondents, with 44% expressing strong satisfaction with the library’s location, and 23% being satisfied. However, among the on line users, 29% gave the site a very satisfactory rating and 33% evinced satisfaction. In contrast to on site users, of whom only 4% expressed dissatisfaction with the location and none responded as very dissatisfied, 7% of on line users found the location dissatisfying, and 11% were very dissatisfied with the downtown site. Additional comments offer some insights regarding the reasons for these less enthusiastic responses. Commentators noted the lack of adequate parking, which is a frequent anecdotal explanation for infrequent use, and expressed a generalized unease with parking and conditions downtown. Interestingly enough no discomfort about use of the library itself surfaced.
Regarding parking, 38% of onsite respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the availability of parking. That is not a comforting statistic, but even less inspiring is the 59% of the electronic respondents who expressed dissatisfaction or strong dissatisfaction. Add to this the presence of a transient population, and the combination has the capacity to foster a generalized sense of discomfort.
In counterpoint to this, there is a sizeable group of residents for whom these factors are not deterrents. Among the follow up investigations worth pursuing is an assessment of how patrons reach the library. How many, for example, use public transportation, how many live within walking distance, how many drive and what impact will the relocation of the transportation center have on visitor traffic. For those patrons who do use the library remotely, and plan their visits to pick up and return materials, what technologies will make electronic access even more attractive and enhance the usefulness of the library. Also, apropos of accessing the library, will more parking actually result in a meaningful growth in patronage, or is the answer more and better electronic access, and/or better public transportation? Regarding the general downtown environment, we must work with city officials to create an ambiance in which appropriate use of the library and environs is courteously but firmly articulated and enforced. We also need to participate in programs that address and alleviate social problems. Ultimately, our goals is to create conditions in which patrons, regardless of circumstances, will find downtown Norwich a safe and comfortable destination and experience.