3. Service to Assess/Evaluate
This project is concerned with the Lawson McGhee library, part of the Knox County Public Library system and located in the city of Knoxville, Tennessee. The Children's Room of the Lawson McGhee library provides storytime kits for teachers and child care providers to check out and use. This service will be assessed as to its usefulness and visibility to its intended users
3.1 Identify a specific service(s), program(s), collection(s), facilities, and/or other activities to assess/evaluate in your PL.
The service being assessed for this project is the Storytime Kits, or "Storytime to Go" kits, provided by the Children's Room at the Lawson McGhee Library. These kits are provided for preschool and childcare teachers in order to facilitate productive, enriching story times without having to put together an entire program on one's own (E. Nguyen, personal communication, 2015).
3.2 Describe the selected PL service. Analyze the selected PL service in relation to user-centered issues (who and how many users use the service, how often is the service used, strengths/weaknesses of the PL service, etc.).
The storytime kits are provided by the Children's Room at the Lawson McGhee library as "Storytimes to Go" and are a complete storytime in a bag, complete with books, manipulatives, puppets, puzzles, felt board pieces, songs, rhymes, lists of additional possible materials for the story time available from the library, and instructions for how to put on the story time. All instruction and pattern sheets are laminated in order to keep them useable longer than if they had been left as plain paper. These kits are packed in sturdy red and black duffle bags with the title of the kit on a sturdy hang tag. These kits are easy to carry around, but do result in some of the bigger and more fragile items getting a little squished. The library currently has twenty-five plus kits on the following themes/subjects: All About Me, Colors, Community Helpers, Counting & Numeracy, Dinosaurs, Families, Food, Friendship, Gardening & Growing, Insects, Jungle Animals, Move It, Nursery Rhymes, Pets, School, Shapes, Transportation, and Weather. These kits can be requested by calling the Children's Room, and this must be done 24 hours in advance to give the librarians time to make sure all the pieces of the kit requested are there and in good shape. These kits may only be checked out by a teacher or daycare provider - they will check - and may only be borrowed for three weeks at a time. Only one kit may be checked out at a time, there are no renewals, and the overdue fine is $5 per day, up to a maximum of $25. There are also separate fees if any pieces of the kits go missing, which are clearly delineated in the accompanying materials when checking out a kit. Kits can only be checked out from the Children's Room currently, but may be returned to any branch, though they cannot be left in a book drop.
Use of the kits is currently fairly low. Despite having over 25 kits, only about 2-4 kits are checked out per month. Users of the kits are meant to be elementary school teachers and childcare providers, and the kits are currently only available to be checked out to patrons who can verify that they are one of these. There are currently about four regular users of the kits, with a few other patrons who check them out occasionally. The library is not at liberty to discuss the demographics of these patrons, but it can be assumed they fall under the umbrella of expected users.
The storytime kits have several strengths. They serve as an excellent tool for educators, and daycare professionals by providing a robust storytime program that aids in developing literacy skills. Users of these kits will at the same time learn how best to create their own story times in the future, having learned from using the kit. The user will have all the pieces ahead of time for every part of the program, which is invaluable. The number of kits available also means that users will have a decent amount of pre-made story times available to them if and when necessary. There is a wide variety of topics available, and the kits can even be used more than once with the same group, as there is more included in one kit than can likely be covered in a single story time.
There are two major weaknesses of the storytime kits. The first is that they have not been updated or added to in several years, and are thus somewhat out of date, with no kits for recent popular or award-winning titles. The second major weakness is that very few people know they exist. There is currently no marketing in place for them, and hasn't been for several years. With no information about the kits available to the public, the pool of users is largely legacy from when advertising did exist. A third, less serious weakness is that these kits can currently only be checked out from and returned to the Children's Room at Lawson McGhee. They cannot be requested to be sent to a branch library for pickup, which somewhat lessens their convenience. Users in North Knox county, for example, may not have time to go into the city just to pick up a kit (E. Nguyen, personal communication, 2015).
3.3 Discuss the relative importance of this PL service. How much difference does it make in the success of your PL organization or in the quality of life in the community served by the agency?
The importance of this service could best be described as small but significant. As its users consist of only educators and daycare professionals, it has a relatively small pool of people who make use of it. However, these kits are intended to be used with the children these individuals serve, and the impact of a well-crafted storytime can be huge. As these kits are largely used with pre-literate students, they focus on creating and developing early literacy skills while teaching children that stories are fun (American Library Association). By increasing the quality of storytimes offered to young children outside of the library context, children have a greater chance to develop these important skills early in life. Indeed, the actual users of these kits are very appreciative and often express to the librarians in the Children's Room that they feel that the kits add significantly to their curriculum (E. Nguyen, personal communication, 2015). Overall, the success or failure of these kits won't make or break the overall success of the library, but they add significant value to the array of services offered. They also uphold the library's mission statement to "serve all residents as an educational, informational, recreational and cultural center through a wide variety of resources, services and programs" (About Knox County Public Library).
3.4 Define the selected PL service you are assessing/evaluating by listing keywords that are associated with it. Which word(s) would you use in searching for information about this service? Tag the most productive subject term.
As there is currently no information about these specific kits available on the internet, these keywords are evaluated by how much general information about storytime kits can be found by searching for them on Google.
Terms: storytime, literacy kits, learning kits, curriculum, storytime themes, story hour, children's resources, storytime supplies, storytime ideas, storytime programs, children's programming, children's library programming, storytimes to go
Most productive term: storytime kits
3.5 What are the existing ways that the PL provides information about the selected PL service? (in the physical library environment and on the web). Is there effective advertising/marketing of the PL service? Rank the ways that users find information about the selected PL service?
A major issue with these kits is that the library provides almost no advertisement. According to Erin Nguyen, manager of the Children's Room, the only advertisement available is some old brochures floating around the various school systems. There used to be a page on the library's website and signs up in the library, but they have not been present for quite some time now. There are plans to do a major marketing push once the kits have been updated and changed so that they can be checked out from branch libraries, but for the time being there is effectively no advertisement and no major work has been done on what the marketing for the updated kits will look like. The kits themselves are kept in a back room behind the desk of the Children's Room and must be requested, and thus have zero visibility in the main section of the library. This is clearly ineffective marketing of this service. In such a case, the only way for users to learn about this service is through word of mouth from other users and the Children's Room librarians. The ranking, therefore, is that the main way users can currently find out about this service is through word of mouth, with a distant second being the remaining brochures out in the community.
3.6 Discuss the interest users of the PL or other members of the community might have in this PL service. How much actual and potential demand exists for it? What events or sources are likely to stimulate interest in this PL service? What is the likely life of this interest?
The current interest in the storytime kits is clearly fairly low, judging by the circulation numbers. However, much of this can certainly be blamed on the complete lack of visibility the kits currently have. An additional hurdle is the inability to check kits out from any location other than the Children's Room. These are both problems that the library plans to address in the future. That said, current users have clearly expressed their satisfaction with the kits and there are several repeat users, indicating that the inherent quality of the kits is fairly solid. Taking this and other factors into account, potential demand certainly exists. Speaking with a daycare professional about these kits, she expressed her interest in them after hearing how they worked. She believes that others she works with would also be interested in them, as they would provide a much more robust story time than what the daycare is currently capable of providing, especially in terms of having time to plan out an entire story time from beginning to end as opposed to simply reading a book to the children. It is very possible that once the kits are once again being advertised and become available to check out from branch libraries that they will be in much greater demand.
Once the revamped marketing is put in place for the kits, interest is likely to be stimulated. Many educators are currently unaware of these kits, and becoming newly aware should generate a great deal of interest. An additional way to stimulate interest in the kits would be to focus on marketing to daycares, which are often in need of ways to entertain children, especially during the summer when educators would not have need of the kits. The kits could also be promoted during the annual Children's Festival of Reading, which saw over 10,000 attendees in 2014 (2013-2014 Annual Report).
The likely life of the interest in this service is quite long. These kits will always be useful for educators and daycare providers, and due to the fact that most of these professionals will work with a different group of children each year, it is possible to re-use kits year to year with no negative effect. Even if educators eventually decide to take what they've learned from the kits and develop their own storytimes, there will always be new educators who will need a helping hand with storytimes.
3.7 Identify, evaluate, and come to a conclusion on alternative resources/agencies that provide such services. Where might potential users go for this service IF your PL did not exist and did not provide this service? To what degree do alternative sources minimize the need for such a service? Using appropriate alternative resources (both offline and online), indicate the degree to which affordable, useful, and recent resources provide similar services.
Alternate resources for the library's storytime kits do not readily exist in the local area. No other service provides all the materials and instructions necessary for a full storytime in a single kit. This was ascertained through searching using the various search terms identified as useful with a location search tag of Knoxville attached, as well as through conversation with Erin Nguyen. The closest alternative if the library did not offer these kits would be pre-made storytime lesson plans from the internet; however, these can by definition only provide lists of resources and instructions, they cannot provide the physical picture books, felt board pieces, manipulatives, craft materials and so forth that the kits provided by the library can. To create one's own kit would be to incur significant expense to one's own self, even supposing that one knew how to do so. To this end, the service is highly necessary, as there is no good alternative available locally. The pre-made kits provide users with quick and complete professionally designed storytimes, which can be difficult for newer or busy educators to put together on their own. The library also has the resources to provide materials such as die-cut pieces for crafts and felt boards, which the average individual may not have access to.
3.8 Reviewing the variables mentioned above, does it seem reasonable to gather user-centered feedback to assess/evaluate the selected PL service? Provide a strong justification statement.
It is reasonable to gather feedback to assess the storytime kits for multiple reasons. For one, this is the only resource of its kind in the area, and it is important for it to be as useful as is possible due to the lack of any other options. Though the users of this service are only a niche group, they have a high impact on the children of the community, and the importance of this impact cannot be understated. Understanding what works and what doesn't from the educator's perspective is vital. For another, the library is getting ready to start a new marketing push and update the kits, and having data about user interest and knowledge about the kits to work from will be extremely beneficial. Having information on who uses the kits, how they use them, how they found out about them, and what they like and dislike about them will help the library in modifying and updating their existing kits, creating new kits, and in designing the marketing push for the revamped service.
American Library Association. (2015). Early Literacy & Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/advocacy/literacy/earlyliteracy
Knox County Public Library. (2015). 2013-2014 Annual Report. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org/sites/default/files/kcpl-annual-report-2014.pdf
Knox County Public Library. (2014). About Knox County Public Library. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org/about
Knox County Public Library. (2014). Kid Zone. Retrieved from http://www.knoxlib.org/kid-zone
Peace Library System. (2014). Storytime Kits. Retrieved from http://www.peacelibrarysystem.ab.ca/storytimekits
Contact K.C. Williams451 Communications Building, 1345 Circle Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-0341