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Polco News & Knowledge

Shhh! The Page-Turning Secret of How Libraries Can Read Their Community's Needs

Polco Learning Lab Graphic November 2020

-By Julia Steege-Reimann-

From storytime for children, textbooks for students, and help for job seekers, libraries are a crucial resource for the community. This is even more true during the COVID-19 pandemic when free services are a lifeline for many.

But how do libraries keep in touch and in tune with their unique communities during this time?

In this recording, Kim Kietzman from Altoona Public Library talks about how her library uses surveys to gather feedback on long term plans, future library services, and what changes residents want.


Engaging Residents to Address Libraries’ Specific Needs

Kietzman is the Director of Altoona Public Library,  an Iowa city of approximately 20,000 people.

According to Kietzman, the library world has a few very specific challenges including increasingly tight budgets and constantly changing technology. Of course, the pandemic adds additional complications to developing a strategic response.. 

For this reason, now it is even more essential for libraries to engage their residents. 

“Engagement helps your governing board and your own organization meet the needs of your residents. It’s important for the community to see that you’re willing to do the work to meet the needs of voters. And it’s important to show funders how you are operating,” said Kietzman.

Engaging Residents for Long-Range Planning

In Iowa, libraries are required to create a long-range plan every three years in order to receive state funding.

Initially COVID-19 put a crimp in the plans for a 2020 update to the Altoona Public Library long-range plan. In the past, Altoona would hold in-person meetings to get feedback from the community and also pay a consultant to help develop the plan. 

This year, the library couldn’t host in-person meetings. And they didn’t have the time or financial resources to hire the consultant. 

So, they decided to use the Polco civic engagement platform to develop and send a 10-minute survey to their community. 

“This was the easiest time I have ever [had] as far as survey writing,” said Kietzman. “Every time I had a question, I could ask a Polco team member and get an answer. It was great to have an outside view of the survey from someone not living in the library world.”

The survey responses greatly informed the content of this year’s long-range plan.

Engaging Residents To Develop an Emergency Response Plan

Altoona Public Library also used a Polco survey to develop their Emergency Response Plan. They asked residents how they would want the library to react in a future time of crisis. 

Kietzman feels that having an Emergency Response Plan will help the library be proactive rather than reactive when the next crisis comes. It will allow her to do the right thing right away, since she won’t need to wait for city or board approval. Plus, having a plan gives her staff a sense of calm so they can anticipate how they will respond. 

Responses from the survey surprised Kietzman and greatly informed the plan. Residents said that they want the library to be a place of normalcy where they can create a connection. However, they said that being in-person wasn’t the most important, as long as services can continue to operate. 

This feedback resulted in a plan that focuses more on minimizing service disruptions than on restoring in-person service.

Altoona found a number of Polco’s features helpful as they interpreted the data from the survey. For example, Polco allows administrators to see gender and age breakdowns. And, you can see whether people live in your jurisdiction. This feature is especially important to Altoona since most of its funding comes from the City.

Polco’s Library Toolkit

These days especially libraries are trying to do more with less. Partnering with residents will be essential to make many difficult decisions to come.

In order to make it easier for libraries to engage their residents, Polco has developed a collection of ready-to-use surveys relevant to library needs. These short surveys have been developed by survey scientists and reviewed by people in the library field.

The Library Toolkit is available free for a short time in the Polco Library for any Polco subscriber. The Polco Library is a repository of timely and relevant surveys created by our survey scientists.

To access our free library-related surveys and get input from your residents create a free account on Polco.

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