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Evaluating public library buildings - customer feedback

Information to help explore the perspectives of  the community and library stakeholders. 

The information and methods below focus on libraries as people places—going beyond public library buildings—to consider how people feel about their public library service more broadly, including the programs and resources they offer. This includes activities and events as well as online and digital resources.

Relevant methods

A wide range of methods can be used by councils/public libraries to obtain feedback from the people who matter most—existing and potential library users, library teams and partners. A number of methods you may wish to consider are described below.

These methods can be used to support the self-guided evaluation tool provided  on the Evaluating your public library building page.

Interviews

Interviews provide an opportunity to hear from individuals one on one, in pairs or small groups. This could include key informants such as library experts, people who have been involved in the successful delivery of contemporary libraries, library users and other people who have new, interesting or not widely held ideas and perspectives to share.

Methods include:

  • Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI)—typically five to 12 minute phone survey conducted by a professional call centre team, for instance, as part of a customer satisfaction study.
  • In depth interviews—typically 15 to 60 minute interview conducted by phone or face to face, appropriate for discussing complex issues and collecting detailed feedback from participants.
  • Accompanied interviews—conducted onsite in your library or another public library building to discuss and obtain feedback on particular aspects of the building, patterns of use and or user experience. This method could also be used to test your public library website or digital presence. Participants are asked to share their perspectives in real time, as they experience the place, space or interface.

Focus groups

These small group discussions can be used for in-depth exploration of participant perspectives of your public library.

Focus groups provide an opportunity to share and test information, ideas and visual stimulus (such as image boards and graphics) through robust discussion.

  • Focus groups—useful for targeting groups of non-users and users (i.e. in depth discussions with 6-8 people).
  • Mini-groups—can be used to obtain feedback from key informants such as library staff, Council staff, etc.
  • Affinity groups—may be suitable for targeting young people, parents and children, people from a particular cultural background, particular user groups (such as members of a book club or reading circle)
  • Online focus groups or webinars—can be useful for obtaining feedback from people who may be more comfortable participating online, or those who are located across a wide geographic area which would ordinarily make it difficult for them to come together as a group.

Ethnographic methods

These methods can be used to provide insights on people’s behaviour and how they use public library spaces.

  • Observational audit—users are observed in and around the library. Observations may be recorded using a checklist and site plan.
  • Library tour or walk-around—the library is used as the environment for insightful conversation and discussion. Tours could be guided by the library staff or designer or they could be self-guided, with participants asked to document their experience through written feedback and or images.
  • Usability testing—this method can be used to observe a user’s experience with a digital application. It can be used to identify confusing or frustrating parts of an interface so they can be fixed and retested prior to launch. A ‘think aloud’ approach is often used to observe and discuss the user experience in real time. This could be used to test a library catalogue or website.

Creative techniques

Creative techniques can be used to uncover how people feel about their public library, including things they may not necessarily share through other methods (for instance, when completing a survey). These techniques should be used sparingly and matched to the particular target audience, to encourage participation and support discussion. For instance, one to two methods (from below) could be used as part of a focus group session.

Examples of creative techniques that may be useful for your review include:

  • Diary studies or photography used as pre-work for focus groups to document existing patterns of use and preferences
  • Interactive exercises used as part of focus group sessions such as image cards (association with images used to evoke conversation), love letter/break up letter (participants express their positive/negative feelings about the facility through letters, revealing deep emotional connections), guided visualisation (participants imagine and then discuss their vision for the facility/place)
  • Creative techniques used as part of a focus group, workshop or pop-up—such as collages, image boards and creative toolkits
  • Directed story telling and personal inventories used as part of interviews
  • Graffiti walls and stickers to gather feedback about a particular library building or space
  • Digital tools and social media to find out what people think about a particular project or place.

Surveys

Surveys can be used to collect useful demographic information and feedback from public library users and non-users. The survey tools provided in Part A of this resource focus on public library buildings and can be supplemented with further questions to test participant perspectives on other aspects of your public library, depending on your particular needs and focus.

Councils may conduct a regular customer satisfaction survey or library survey that could be augmented with relevant questions to support your review. Surveys can also form part of community engagement processes and can be structured to elicit information to support forward planning for new libraries, library upgrades and the broader development of library strategic plans.

Types of surveys that may be useful to support your review include:

  • Customer satisfaction survey to test satisfaction with your library facility or wider library service.
    Library user survey - a short survey that can be used in conjunction with the Evaluating your library building template
    The, more comprehensive, State Library of NSW User Satisfaction Survey tool  includes a number of questions to test user opinions about library buildings and facilities (as well as library services more broadly). It seeks feedback from members of the community on a range of aspects of public library buildings including appeal and condition of the building, provision of areas for quiet or more noisy activities, signage and way finding, lighting, aisle width, shelf height, and ease of access. It also includes useful questions about the library's website and online catalogue. 
  • One-off or point in time survey to test current perspectives on your library.
  • Longitudinal surveys to enable benchmarking over time (such as annual surveys).

Surveys can be conducted using a variety of modes. A summary of survey modes and related strengths and weaknesses is provided below:

Survey mode Strengths Weaknesses
Intercept

Good for targeting library users (including specific groups)

Completion by skilled interviewer will provide high quality data

Video vox-pops can be used to record a selection of responses and to subsequently share ‘what we heard’

Resource intensive

Generally small sample size

Focused on existing users (unless conducted offsite e.g. in shopping centres / high traffic areas)

Survey length must be short (maximum 5 minutes)
Phone

Good for targeting a mix of library users and non-users

Can be used to reach a large sample

Can be used to reach people across a wide geographic area

Random sampling can be applied—providing results that are statistically representative of the wider population

Conducted by market research provider / Higher cost

Completion time is generally longer than online; survey length should be short to maximise response rate (maximum 12 minutes)
Online

Good for targeting a mix of library users and non-users (particularly if the survey is widely promoted and incentivised)

Convenient and easy for respondents to complete, particularly if survey is short (maximum 15 minutes) and mobile friendly

Usually conducted as an opt-in sample survey available online—providing an opportunity for all members of the community to have their say

Survey link can also be distributed to library users and the wider community using established databases

Alternatively, survey can be conducted using an online panel (convened by Council or an external panel provider)

Comprehension of the survey questions may be lower than for surveys administered by an interviewer

Random sampling cannot be applied—results are not statistically representative

Self-complete

Useful for targeting library users (e.g. through paper or iPad survey made available in library building)

Not resource intensive

Generally small sample size

Focused on existing users / likely to hear from people who are ‘concerned’ rather than people with a broader range of perspectives

Comprehension of the survey questions may be lower than for surveys administered by an interviewer

Ongoing customer feedback

As part of an increasing focus on customer experience, organisations are employing various mechanisms to keep in touch with their customers on a regular basis. Understanding what library users are doing and how they feel about your library building and service enables you to make informed decisions.

Some methods that you may wish to consider to obtain feedback include:

  • Feedback form/box—seeking feedback on general complaints and compliments
  • Feedback/evaluation form—linked to specific activities such as community education activities and events
  • Talk to us sessions/open days—to explore user perspectives in a relaxed environment; also good for welcoming new library users
  • Web analytics/collection and analysis of internet data to monitor awareness, use and preferences in relation to your website, online resources and campaigns
  • Social media analysis/review of factors such as follower growth, influence, reach rate, clicks back to your website or campaign, to understand the impact of your public library in the digital space, what people are saying about it and how it is being represented.