Chapter 8 Organizing, Analyzing, and Communicating the Results
"When the data gathered are organized to emphasize the relationship of one to another, the process of interpretation is facilitated." (Warncke 1975, 70)
Facing a mountain of data and information and trying to organize it in some useful fashion
can feel overwhelming. Here are some suggested approaches and helpful hints to assist
library planners in preparing the written report on Looking-Around.
Levels of Effort
The level of effort for this step in Looking-Around will reflect the overall level of effort
devoted to Looking-Around. The time and resources required to prepare the report will
increase as the complexity and variety of data collected increase.
- Basic Level of Effort. If the data collection effort was simple and straightforward, use the same simple approach to organize and report the information. If Looking-
Around was at a basic level and used WorkSheet #1 (A-D), a cleaned up version of the WorkSheet can be used in the report.
- Moderate Level of Effort. At this level of effort, library planners will write a more complete report--but will keep it simple and straightforward. Because a limited amount of information will have been collected, the analysis should be less complicated. The report should include some narrative description of the results, incorporating an introduction with a description of the purpose of the effort and the overall approach; and, for each activity carried out, a brief description of the
methodology, the report of the results, and comments on the interpretation of the data.
- Extensive Level of Effort. A report prepared for this level of effort will be comprehensive, incorporating graphics and providing a thorough analysis of the characteristics of the community and the current status of library service.
Organizing the information
Unless the library has hired outside consulting help with Looking-Around, the library staff
is usually responsible for collecting and organizing the data as well as preparing the
written report for the Planning Committee to use for decision-making. Planning and Role
Setting for Public Libraries (McClure et al. 1987, 23) suggests several possible ways to
assemble information to help with its interpretation and use.
- Service orientation: Relate the information collected to library services; data that apply
to more than one service may appear in several places. Section headings might
include items such as "Reference Services," "Children's Programs," "Reader's
Advisory," and "Circulation Service."
- Roles orientation: If preliminary role setting was used as a tool for organizing for
Looking-Around, organizing the report that way may prove useful. Sections of the
report would explain the priority roles selected, a description of each, data on the
community, and output increases that relate to each role.
- Topical outline: If WorkSheet #1 (A-D) was used as a guide for Looking-Around, the
same general categories can be used to organize the results; or, if major trends emerge
from the data, the report can be organized using those issues as a guide.
Whatever approach, the writer needs to keep in mind that the purpose is to organize the
information for decision-making. The writer should take time to review the full range of
information and to present that information in a logical and orderly fashion.
Writing the report
For library planners carrying out Looking-Around at a moderate or extensive level of
effort, Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries (McClure et al. 1987, 24) contains
these general guidelines for preparing the report:
- Begin with a brief executive summary giving an overview of the contents of the report.
- Keep the language and tone of the report simple, clear, and direct.
- When reporting statistical data, rely on tables, pie and bar charts, and other visual aids
(individually numbered and titled) rather than lengthy paragraphs that simply list
numbers or percentages.
- Explain the implications and importance of each chart, table, or summary presented.
Have someone, knowledgeable about the library but not involved in Looking-Around,
review the report to make certain it is readable and understandable.
Childers and Van House (1993, 57 exact quote) offer some excellent tips on good graphics:
- A graphic should be able to stand on its own. It shouldn't require text to explain it.
People sitting in an audience looking at overheads or readers thumbing through a
report may not listen to or read your explanation; and a graphic often gets
photocopied and separated from its text. Is your graphic presented and labeled clearly
enough to speak for itself?
- Don't try to do too much with one graphic. Decide what you most want to convey
and do it. Are you trying to show changes over time, or differences across branches?
Changes in absolute magnitude, or in relative size?
- Test out your graphics. Show them to someone uninformed about the subject. Ask
that person to paraphrase the graphics; ask what questions the graphics leave
Ruth Warncke (Warncke 70) describes the various tools to use in presenting the
Lists and tables: To report one category of specific information, use a list. For
example, if you are presenting the frequency with which users use various types of
library resources, just list the type of material and the data. To present data that
requires comparison, use a table that shows a matrix of categories. Such a table might
be used to present the type of material used by patrons at each library outlet and
throughout the system.
Graphs and Charts: Use graphic presentations to convey complex information in a
clear, simple way.
Maps: Presenting information using geographic outlines helps dramatize the elements
of the community and their relationship to one another. A map might be used to
demonstrate where library users live in relationship to the population density
throughout the service area to show the need for a new library branch or for new
services to reach unserved areas.
Narratives: Brief, objective narrative reports can be helpful in presenting information
for interpretation. They can include summaries of findings from interviews or group
meetings, descriptions of library Walkaround results, or the library's history.
Childers and Van House (56-58) offer some useful suggestions to keep in mind:
- New information must fit into what we already know. In developing the report, keep
the audience in mind. If the Planning Committee includes a number of people who are
not staff or Library Board members, then more background information will be needed
to help them understand.
- Information must be presented in terms the audience will understand. Don't use jargon
or technical terms such as "materials turnover" in the report; substitute more
understandable terms such as "average use per item" or "return on materials
- Information must be put in context. When presenting data, give people a way to
understand it by presenting it in their own terms. Examples used in Section 6 are
useful to remember here: "More people use the library than attend the Baltimore
Orioles baseball games," or "More people come to the library than travel through
Washington National Airport in a year."
- Convey the message vividly and succinctly. Use graphics to help readers quickly and
easily see relationships.
- Use stories and anecdotes to bring a point to life. Sometimes a story or an effective
anecdote can make data "real."
Communicating the results
Consider carefully whether there is an audience for the report beyond members of the
Planning Committee, library staff, and trustees. Production of the report on Looking-
Around can be a good way to introduce the entire community to the planning process.
There is no need to distribute hundreds of copies of a multi-page report, but executive
summary, selected tables and graphs can be used:
- with a press release to announce the planning process;
- as a basis for speeches and presentations to government officials, chamber of
commerce, clubs, and organizations;
- in a mailing to all those who participated in surveys, interviews, and focus groups.
The results of Looking-Around can be an invaluable public relations tool and will help
create the community interest and investment in the planning process and ultimately a
commitment of resources to the plan that evolves.
A suggested outline for a report prepared at an extensive level of effort:
- Summarize in one or two pages the basic findings, their meaning, use in the
planning process, and the overall value of the process.
- State the general focus for the Looking-Around process: what did the library
want to find out?
- Describe how the Looking-Around process was managed and over what time
- What Looking-Around activities were accomplished?
- Briefly report what procedures and existing sources of information were used,
what agencies were contacted, and what other methods were used to gather
- How were data collection instruments, if any, developed?
- Explain how the information was analyzed.
- State the findings, and present summary tables. Organize the findings by broad
topics, major library service or program areas, or by the results from particular
- Give an overview of what the findings mean, how they impact library services
and operations, and discuss the implications of the findings for library planning.