Looking-Around-Outside-the-Library provides information about the community served by the library. A valid, objective understanding of the community is essential for library planners if they are to develop appropriate service priorities for the library's potential users. An urban library serving a community of ethnically diverse, low-income, blue-collar workers will need to develop services very different from those developed by a library serving a homogeneous and affluent suburban area.
This chapter provides guidance in ways to organize Looking-Around-Outside and tools to use. From Roger Greer and Martha Hale (Greer and Hale 1982) come tips and tools to use to create an approach to community analysis, (1) including how to define your community, (2) four perspectives to provide valuable insights into a community, and (3) two WorkSheets to help library planners. There is also a wealth of information on resources that provide readily available data. Finally, there is information on identifying stakeholders and ways to get their views on the community and the library.
Levels of Effort
Greer and Hale suggest that library planners begin the process of Looking-Around-Outside by defining the community, which they suggest should be interpreted as that area surrounding each outpost of service. In planning for Looking-Around, the library's planning team should decide whether it will do planning on a system-wide or branch level. If the community is relatively homogeneous, conducting the community analysis of the entire legal service area is probably safe; however, if the areas served by individual branches are very distinctive, the library may wish to break down its community analysis to provide individual information in a defined area for each branch. If Looking-Around-Outside focuses on the service area as a whole, it can be at a lower level of effort than if the planning effort examines the service area of individual branches.
Looking-Around-Outside-the-Library can be done at any level of effort. Here is a summary of the typical activities of each level of effort:
Four perspectives of a community analysis
In their article cited above, Greer and Hale (1982, 361-366) suggest that community analysis include an examination of the community from four perspectives. They are: demographic data, community groups, agencies, and life styles. Viewing the community with this multi-dimensional approach will help overcome any distortion of reality that might result if the analysis is done from a single standpoint. This approach can be helpful in organizing a simple approach to Looking-Around-Outside and to making sure that any Looking-Around has considered the issue from several viewpoints.
The four perspectives are explained here:
Typical demographic data can give you information about age groups, household size, education levels, employment and occupation profiles, income levels, and a number of other useful statistics on your community.
"So what for the library?" By combining the data with common sense and information in the other three categories, you can begin to make decisions about library service priorities. For example, if you discover that there is a high number of preschool age children in an area but also find that there are a high number of heavily-attended preschools, library planners might decide to emphasize a program of service to preschools rather than directly to children through in-library story hours.
"So what for the library?" If your analysis shows that a primary focus for community groups is family- and church-oriented activities combined with demographics that show a number of young families, that could point to very different library hours, services, and collections than a community where the majority of the organizations are business and professional groups and the service area is made up mostly of businesses with people returning to the suburbs at the end of the business day.
Agencies are another source of information to use in learning about the community in order to develop proactive, effective services. Greer and Hale define an agency as a "corporate body located in the library service area for the purpose of providing a service or a product to local residents."(363) Once again, a systematic review of a variety of resources can yield helpful information, and WorkSheet #6 will also be helpful to you in organizing the information.
"So what for the library?" Information on agencies can help with decisions about collaborative programs or services targeted to specific organizations. If there are high numbers of after-school programs offered by the local school district and a high percentage of working parents and school-age children, is there potential for joint programming? If the analysis indicates that a single industry dominates a service area, there is a potential for collections and services targeted to meet the specific needs of that industry. For example, libraries serving Silicon Valley might choose to have both fiction and non-fiction that would appeal to users with a technical background--while libraries serving towns which combine the state capitol with major public universities would develop a different profile of services and collections.
"So what for the library?" The life styles defined by Claritas Corporation can provide library planners invaluable information to guide a range of decisions about priority service roles, collection development, and programming. In The Clustering of America (Weiss 1988), author Michael J. Weiss describes the 40 life style groups developed by Claritas and provides insights into life style patterns that have a significant impact on library needs. For example, in analyzing the reading patterns of various groups, he points out that the group called Young Suburbia (Child-rearing, outlying suburbs) are among the nation's top readers of Gothic romance novels. The Money and Brains (Posh, big-city enclaves of townhouses, condos and apartments) subscribe "to periodicals like The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and Barron's at many times the national average and only occasionally turn on the TV, and then usually to the Public Broadcasting Service." He contrasts this pattern of readers and viewers with the Back-Country Folks (Remote, downscale, farm towns) who "watch prime-time TV shows like Dallas and Knot's Landing at above-average rates.... The magazines they do read tend to be related to leisure rather than intellectual pursuits, such as Popular Hot Rodding and Field & Stream." (Weiss 1988, 146)
To help library planners look at their communities from these various points of view, the manual includes two WorkSheets based on work by Roger Greer and Martha Hale (Greer and Hale 1981, 30-31):
WorkSheet #2 (A-B). Data Collection will be helpful in identifying questions to ask and sources of information to answer them on a variety of aspects of community life.
WorkSheet #5. Identifying Groups can be used to organize your observations about community groups and agencies. It is based on material from an earlier work, Studying Your Community by Roland L. Warren (Warren 1965).
Finally, there are studies on the community prepared by other organizations or groups. The chamber of commerce, the local school district, local government, planning districts, the United Way, and other agencies may have readily available, useful information to review as part of Looking-Around.
Census data and other readily available information
Public sector sources
This chapter describes some of the primary sources of data readily available at little or no cost. Figure 5.1 and Figure5.2 summarize the information covered in this chapter.
The federal government is a major data producer. The U.S. Bureau of the Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Center for Education Statistics collect and make available staggering quantities of demographic, social, and economic statistics on the general population.
To promote the use of U.S. Census data, every state has a State Data Center, which facilitates use of Census data, compiles and disseminates a variety of state and local data, and refers users to other state and federal agencies that provide data. Public-source data include:
Besides simply providing data in print or computer files, State Data Centers offer other services, including data mapping and geographic information system services. Such services are generally free.
Private sector data vendors
In addition to public sector data providers, there is a rapidly growing private sector industry handling demographic and life style data. It deals in three types of geography: Census, postal, and marketing. Census geography includes, hierarchically, regions of the country, states, metropolitan areas, counties, incorporated municipalities and Census-designated places, census tracts, and block groups. Postal geography includes, hierarchically, states, Sectional Center Facilities (three-digit zip codes), zip codes, zip plus four, streets, and addresses. The two predominant types of marketing geography are Areas of Dominant Influence (ADIs) and Designated Market Areas (DMAs). Both of these marketing types tend to follow county lines that encompass the audiences of radio and television stations. In order to make the most of data available from the public sector, public library managers should know their jurisdictions in terms of all three types of geography.
The best known private sector vendor of demographic, social, and economic data is probably Donnelley Demographics. Its reports are available on-line via Dialog. Donnelley reports identify any specified place in terms of all of the above-mentioned geography types. It is particularly valuable, therefore, as a source of that basic information.
Several print sources of community information can be found in most major public libraries.
Perhaps today's leading company working with postal geography is the Claritas Corporation. It has assigned every zip code--indeed, every zip plus four--in the U.S. to one of 40 life style clusters based on a phenomenal amount of data. It collects and compiles data from such diverse sources as:
Via an exclusive contract with Claritas, Quality Education Data has had every public library in the U.S. assigned to one of ten life style types (collapsed from the original Claritas 40). Other firms, such as National Demographics and Life Styles, will analyze data on an organization's clientele and profile them in terms of customized clusters or market segments identified from that data.
Indexes of inflation and cost of living differences
Analyses of budget trends from year to year for a public library are often thwarted by the corrosive effects of inflation on the library's buying power. This is especially true where library materials are concerned. Book prices are inflated at a higher rate than general consumer prices, and periodical prices are inflated at two to three times the rate for books. Public library managers cannot afford to overlook these facts in making budget decisions based on the local tax base.
Comparisons of salaries from one public library to another can vary dramatically from place to place. So, public library managers must also be prepared to adjust such figures for differences in living costs. The index used most commonly to assess inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI); however, this index is inadequate for most library purposes, as it underestimates, sometimes grossly, the impact of inflation on materials budgets.
There are many sources of average materials prices and price indexes. These include annual articles on books and periodicals as well as reports of recent figures in the Bowker Annual.
Managers of major public libraries that specialize in supporting researchers or students have other indexes to draw upon. Research Associates of Washington publishes an annual update entitled Inflation Measures for Schools and Colleges that includes the Higher Education Price Index and the Elementary-Secondary School Price Index. The former contains a sub-index, the Library Price Index, which itself contains separate index scores for different portions of a library budget (e.g., staff, materials, equipment, contracted services). The latter contains sub-indexes for materials at elementary and secondary levels. There is no comparable index designed strictly for public libraries; however, the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois produces the American Library Index of Circulation and Expenditures (ALICE) annually. This index is not nearly so pure a measure of inflation as the others; but it does break out comparable index scores for staff, materials, and other expenditures.
Despite a common misconception, the Consumer Price Index does not provide a basis for comparing living costs from place to place. For an index of cost of living, library managers can turn to the American Chamber of Commerce Researchers Association (AACRA), which publishes a quarterly cost of living index for all urban areas in the U.S. AACRA's one-time monopoly in this area is now challenged by Research Associates of Washington, which has published its first cost of living report entitled Wages, Amenities, and Cost of Living: Theory and Measurement of Geographic Differentials.
Employment outlook statistics
For five-year periods, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and most state labor departments estimate current employment in hundreds of occupations and project numbers of new positions (growth), turnover in existing positions (separations), and total openings (growth plus separations). Both professional librarian and library assistant/bookmobile driver are among the occupations included. These figures are broken out in several ways, including geography (national, state and sometimes planning districts or counties) and by industry where public librarians are counted in public administration or government.
Sources of Virginia data
The Virginia Department of Economic Development's annual publication, Facts and Figures, includes information on the major industries of the state and information on topics of general interest to companies that are considering locating in the state or to anyone wishing to know more about Virginia. These topics include population, personal income, labor resources, education and training facilities, markets and transportation, utilities, state and local taxes, financing services, natural resources, and quality of life indicators. Color maps indicate regional situations with respect to such things as industrial concentrations, urban-rural population, and locations of institutions of higher education and community colleges. Much of the information in this publication can be used to form a general overview of a particular locality as a context for local library planning and community analysis.
In addition to annually publishing the Virginia Statistical Abstract, the University of Virginia's Center for Public Service also publishes information on business and economics and on demographics and the labor force. The Center publishes a local economic series by Planning District and by Metropolitan Statistical Area. Official population estimates and population projections are calculated by the Center. The Center makes much of its demographic data available for downloading from its Electronic Bulletin Board. Currently, the Center makes its data available on the University of Virginia's Grounds-wide Information System (GWIS), an Internet gopher site.
The Virginia Employment Commission is the Census Data Center/Lead Agency in Virginia. The Commission works closely with the Center for Public Service to make demographic and economic data broadly available.
The Commission on Local Government annually publishes an analysis of the comparative fiscal condition of Virginia's counties and cities. The report examines the relationship between each jurisdiction's revenue capacity and its revenue effort. Each locality is assigned a composite index score based on a calculation of data elements collected for all jurisdictions. The higher the magnitude of this summary score, the greater the fiscal duress experienced by an individual county or independent city. While the composite index score is not an absolute indicator of financial hardship at the local level, it identifies the standing of the designated jurisdiction in relation to every other county or city throughout Virginia.
Gathering information from community stakeholders
Another approach to learning more about the community is to talk with key people, or "stakeholders." They are people who have an interest in the outcome of the library's planning process or people who have the power to influence the implementation of the plan. Having their views about the community and the library can help assure that the plan is responsive to their needs and interests and can help gain their support for the implementation of the plan.
There are two ways to involve stakeholders in the planning process. The most direct way is to appoint representatives of important stakeholder groups to the Planning Committee. Involving more people on the Planning Committee means a higher level of effort overall in planning. Another way to involve those key stakeholders is to give them an opportunity to express their views about the community and the library. Various options for doing this include interviews, community forums, and focus groups. Surveys of users and non-users (see Chapter 6) can also be viewed as an opportunity for stakeholder input.
Who are key stakeholders for a public library? In their book What's Good? Describing Your Public Library's Effectiveness (Childers and Van House 1993, 28-32), Thomas A. Childers and Nancy A. Van House identify three broad groups of stakeholders: external, internal, and boundary-spanning. Here is a brief explanation of the categories of stakeholders in each of the three groups to help plan any Looking-Around-Outside activities such as interviews, community forums, and focus groups:
In addition to questionnaires and surveys, which should be a tool of last resort, there are other ways to gather information about the views of the community. Begin by deciding what information you need, who can best provide it (review the stakeholders list above), and the best process to use to get that information. If you decide to include any opportunities for interactive feedback from stakeholders in your planning process, keep several points in mind:
There are a number of approaches to use to gather feedback from stakeholders, including interviews and various structured group processes. Three approaches that have been used successfully by a number of libraries are interviews, community forums or town meetings, and focus groups.
Interviews are a good way to gather information about a single person's point of view. This approach is particularly useful when approaching Looking-Around at a basic or moderate level or if there are key people who represent a unique and important point of view. Examples include important elected and appointed officials or influential community leaders. Interviews gather information about the views of a specific stakeholder group; for example, when considering providing improved service to business, representatives of that user group should be interviewed to determine the need.
Tips for preparing the interview:
Prepare the interview plan and guide ahead of time, thinking through the objectives of the interview, the outcomes desired, and the questions to use to achieve those outcomes.
Make an appointment ahead of time and explain the objectives of the interview.
Confirm the interview in writing and send some background information along with the topics to be covered; give the person time to think about the topics.
Be on time and keep the interview on track.
Follow-up with a letter thanking the interviewee for his/her interest in the library and a promise to keep him/her informed about the planning process. This is an effective way to strengthen people's sense of ownership for the library and their future support.
Community forums (or town meetings) are a good way to learn the views of a relatively large group of people in an open, free-flowing setting. This approach is good to assure as many people as possible an opportunity to share their views on the library and its services. A community forum is more public and less expensive than other techniques.
One approach is to invite residents of a branch service area to a forum. The agenda might begin with an overview of the library and the status of its facilities and services followed by the Role Setting Activity and a wrap-up with a discussion of the strengths and changes needed in the local library. This approach was used successfully by the Calcasieu Parish Public Library in Lake Charles, Louisiana, to develop a five-year plan. The plan was used as the basis for a successful request for a tax increase and bond issue that resulted in a substantial increase in operating income and funding for the remodeling or new construction for thirteen library facilities.
Tips for organizing a community forum:
Make sure the purpose is clear.
Have an experienced group leader
Publicize the event widely and well.
Have clear ground rules to guide the process, including time limits and other guidelines to assure an orderly, productive discussion.
Have a sign-up sheet to get participant names and addresses, and use the list to send thank you notes and follow-up information.
Focus groups are a popular and effective way to gain qualitative information on issues. These are structured discussions with a moderator, usually include about eight to 12 participants, and last 90 minutes to two hours. The discussion generates information about people's attitudes and feelings and allows the focus group leader to probe further than is possible in a questionnaire. It is also easier to get a dozen people in a room than to get 100 people to return a written survey. Focus groups are not intended to build consensus but are helpful in understanding why people feel the way they do.
The focus group process is carefully designed, and moves from a broad, general conversation to a more focused set of questions. Debra Wilcox Johnson suggests this process for planning and carrying out a focus group. (Johnson 1992)
Develop an interview guide with a list of the objectives and three to five questions with follow-up questions, or probes. The objectives provide a clear statement of what information is to be gathered; the questions provide a "question route" moving from the more general to the specific; and the probes aid in finding out specific information about the issues and keeping the discussion going. The process should begin with a warm-up question to get the group going, then move to more specific topics.
The groups should have eight to 12 participants. Invite approximately 20% more people than you need, selecting those who represent a homogeneous group that can provide insight into the issue in question. Make contacts by telephone, follow-up with a confirming letter, and call participants 48 hours before the event to remind them and confirm their attendance.
The group leader should explain the purpose and ground rules of the session, keep the discussion focused using the interview guide, and facilitate the process to allow balanced participation. A tape recorder and/or note taker should be used to keep a record of the discussion. The space should be simple and comfortable, with chairs gathered around a large table. Neighborhood locations help enhance the participation, and the library should not be used as a site if you want truthful answers rather than "nice" ones.
A report usually describes the process, gives a summary of the discussion with some quotes, and provides specific insights and observations from the facilitator.
A library should generally hold a minimum of two separate sessions, with different participants, on each topic. This will confirm findings. A maximum of five sessions on a topic is probably all that is needed in most cases. If you have more than that, you will probably find that the results are redundant unless you need to hear from specific groups in the community to assure broad stakeholder participation and support.
Any combination of these approaches should yield helpful information for planners. Chapter 7 provides more information about analyzing the data and preparing reports. Chapter 8 focuses on processes that can help library planners use the results of the process to make planning decisions.
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