Identification of the Public Library Users
The focus of this study is on the Bristol Public Library (BPL) which serves approximately 44,000 residents of Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia. More specifically this study seeks to assess and evaluate BPL's Adult Learning Lab in terms of the library's strategic plan and the needs of its community. This paper outlines the community demographics and discusses BPL's primary, secondary, and tertiary user groups. In addition, a SWOT analysis of BPL's community and users is provided. As well as information regarding measures of success utilized by the library staff to determine if the programs and services provided are meeting the community needs. This paper is part of a seven part case study, the results of the evaluation will be utilized to assist in the expansion of the services offered in the Adult Learning Lab.
Bristol Public Library currently has approximately 20,000 library cardholders. The primary, secondary, and tertiary user groups of the BPL were determined by library staff observations. According to Doris Stickley, BPL Director of Marketing, the libraries primary user group is teens and young adults (personal communication, March 19, 2015). BPL has an area designated specifically for teens 12-18 (Bristol Public Library, n.d.) The room offers teen patrons their own place to collaborate and their own collection of books, DVD's and magazines (Bristol Public Library, n.d.) According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), 20.7% of the population of Bristol TN/VA are under the age of 18. The library serves approximately 175-200 teens and young adults per week in ten book clubs, ranging in age from 11 to 22 (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). The book clubs provide a safe place for these users to socialize and discuss books. All attendees are provided a copy of the book for the meetings courtesy of the library. BPL has an amazing teen librarian who is deeply loved by the patrons. She is credited for providing the youth with a blend of the best of young adult literature and classics to give the teens a well-rounded curriculum. BPL has found that these users continue to use the library even after they are no longer teens (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). The library hopes to begin developing programming for the millennial age group in the near future to assist with the life-long learning of these patrons (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). Aside from the book clubs BPL's teen programming also includes game nights, movie nights, and art and entertainment events (Bristol Public Library, n.d.).
BPL's secondary users consist of elderly adults. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), approximately 18.5% of Bristol TN/VA's population is over the age of 65. Doris describes this group as being the backbone of library patrons desiring to check out books (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). According to BPL staff, this user group prefers to have a physical book over using eBooks. Though they do have some patrons who express interest in R.E.A.D.S. and other electronic libraries, they do not make up the majority at this time (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015).
BPL's tertiary users consists of children under the age of 12. The library has a long-established children's program that continues to grow. Michelle Page, the children's librarian, has two story times per week, book clubs for the American Girl Book series, summer reading programs (serving approximately 4,000 students a year), family nights and field trips (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). The children's librarian is actively involved in visiting both Bristol school systems. The children's library has several learning kits available for checkout by parents and teachers, this has proved to be especially beneficial to homeschooling parents (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). Interestingly, BPL staff have noticed that the children's programs bring in a high number of young parents and grandparents to the library who end up discovering adult programming they enjoy while there.
The primary BPL contacts for this project are Doris Stickley (Director of Marketing), Karen Gaylor (ALL Coordinator), and Jeanne Powers (Reference Librarian). Each of these specified individuals possess an abundance of knowledge of the library customers, services, and mission. Three area residents will serve as contact persons representing current users of the library. Michelle E. is a mother of five and has been a patron of the library for 20 years. Throughout the years Michelle has brought all five of her children to the summer reading programs, as well as various other children and teen events. She also uses the library for printing and her children love to check out books from the library. Zach G. has lived in the area his entire life. He regularly uses the library to check out material for pleasure reading and home entertainment. Kyle K. has been a patron since he moved here in the early 2000's. He primarily uses the library for internet access because he currently does not own a home computer. From time to time Kyle will check out material, primarily home entertainment. He also has experience with the A.L.L.
Presently, BPL does not collect demographic information on its patrons. In order to outline important characteristics of BPL's users and potential users a demographic analysis of Bristol, TN and Bristol, VA residents was performed. This information can be used by BPL staff to attract new users as well as identify new ways to meet the needs of its current users. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2013), the population of the two cities combined is 43,967. Of these individuals, 20.7% are under the age of 18 and 18.6% are over the age of 65 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). As of 2013, the median age is 42 years old and 81.2% of the population hold a high school diploma or higher (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). The gender distribution of the residents is fairly even, with males representing 47.3% of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Minority groups currently comprise approximately 7.5% of the community. This can be broken down into the following: 4.2% African American, 1.15% Hispanic, 0.7% Asian, 0.4% American Indian, and 1.15% Two or more races (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). Knowledge of the community demographics is extremely valuable when developing new programming and services. It can help the library to identify underserved groups or to identify and target groups that they may not have known about otherwise.
According to the city website, Bristol was voted one of the most livable cities in the United States by American Demographic Magazine (Bristol TN, n.d.). Bristol offers beautiful scenery, southern hospitality, and all the amenities of a big city. Bristol has remained a steady growth through the years while still maintaining a low crime rate, 10th lowest in the country to be exact (Bristol TN, n.d.). Bristol attributes its economic growth to tis accessibility and well-organized transportation connections. The twin city of Bristol is located a day's drive of more than 70% of the United States populations (Bristol TN, n.d.).
In 2007 there were 3,809 firms located in Bristol, TN/VA. The top industries that employ residents include manufacturing, retail trade, accommodations and food services, educational services, healthcare, and construction (City Data, 2015). In 2010 the unemployment rate of Bristol TN/VA was 11.55% and 19.65% of the residents were living below the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013). With such a large number of residents being unemployed and living in poverty BPL can expect to continue having patrons who need employment and education assistance, access to public computers, and adult computer classes.
The twin cities of Bristol offer residents an abundance of cultural and recreational opportunities. Bristol boasts the nickname the Birthplace of Country Music, declared by the U.S. Congress (Bristol Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2015). In honor of this Bristol opened a 24,000 sq. ft. museum in 2014 documenting the story behind Bristol (Bristol Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2015). The city keeps this tradition alive by offering year round live music performance and hosts an annual music festival, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion. Bristol is also home to the Paramount Center for the Arts, a performing arts center listed on the national register of historic places (Paramount Center for the Arts, 2015). Other artistic organizations in Bristol include Theatre Bristol, Bristol Ballet, and Bristol Art Guild. Karen Gaylor mentioned that their currently is not a place for community members to go to find all the needed information on community organizations, events, and programs (personal communication, March 9, 2015). Several patrons have expressed interest in the library filling that role.
For those looking to enjoy the outdoors Bristol has six public golf courses, over 30 parks and recreational venues, and South Holston Lake. Other outdoor recreational activities include Bristol Caverns, Appalachian Caverns, and the Appalachian Trial. For those interested in NASCAR, located in Bristol is the "World's Fastest Half Mile Track", Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol Convention & Visitors Bureau, 2015). There are several recreational organizations in the area for children including 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Boys & Girls Club.
The religious affiliations of the community may also have an impact on the materials, services, and programs offered. Approximately 74% of the community report religious affiliations (Best Places, 2014). The largest religious affiliation is Baptist, making up approximately 28% of the population (Best Places, 2014). Out of those who reported religious affiliations only 0.2% report a religion other than a Christian denomination (Best Places, 2014).
Bristol Public Library's community have several strengths that demonstrate areas that the library is performing well in. Bristol residents are strong supporters of the library. This is displayed by the volume of volunteering at the library and donations to the Library Foundation. According the annual report during the 2011-2012 fiscal year the community volunteered 2,500 hours at BPL (Bristol Public Library, 2012). This equates to approximately six hours every day of the year. It is also displayed in the high attendance rates for the library program and services, especially the children and teen programs. As well as the high volume of items checked out annually. According to the 2011-2012 Annual Report, approximately 373,000 library items circulate each year (Bristol Public Library, 2012). The community also recognizes the library as a community gathering place, the BPL reported that 25,000 people used the libraries meeting rooms during the 2011-2012 fiscal year (Bristol Public Library, 2012).
BPL's primary weakness is the library website. The library website should serve as a place for community members to learn about library events and programming. Unfortunately, BPL does not keep the library calendar as up to date as is needed to best serve this necessary role. The library is also lacking in adult programming. With the average age of the community being 41, this is an important age group to allocate staff and programming time to.
To create opportunities to reach potential users, BPL can continue to build partnerships with local educational institutions, businesses, and government departments to publicize and expand its services and programs. An example would be a partnership with the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to offer programs, exhibits, and events at BPL to engage the community with the area heritage. The opportunity for outreach to the economically disadvantaged and minority populations is enormous. The minority groups in the area have been growing over the years. This growth is creating opportunities for BPL to adjust its marketing and programs to reach and better serve these groups. For example, the A.L.L. recently began to offer a Chinese to English course for the growing Asian population. Karen expressed that her goal is to continue expanding to other languages as the need continues to grow in the community (personal communication, March 9, 2015).
As with many public libraries, decreasing budgets is a threat to BPL's ability to improve and expand services and programs offered to the community. Without the needed funding to keep the collection up to date users may be more likely to turn to online retailers such as Amazon and Google Books to download eBooks and purchase books at low prices. As technology increases these vendors are becoming able to offer eBooks for extremely low prices, for example you can now obtain a kindle unlimited subscription for $9.99 a month (Amazon, 2015).
One way that BPL measures success is through output measures, such as circulation totals and program attendance. BPL's 2011-2012 Annual Report summarizes several outcome measures highlighting the success of the libraries services. These include 11,400 children program attendees, 1,000 users participated in training sessions, 25,000 people used library meeting rooms, 71,210 website visits, and 715 users received assistance with GED preparation (Bristol Public Library, 2012). These statistics illustrate ways the library has been successful in fulfilling its mission to expand minds and build community. The library has seen continued usage growth as more programming has been added, indicating that the community is becoming more aware of the different services and uses of the BPL (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015).
BPL also measure success with the help of user-centered surveys. A recent example is the community focus groups held between January 19th and February 5th. These focus groups were seeking to find creative ideas and programming needs to better serve and build the community over the age of 18, especially lifelong learning (Bristol Public Library, 2015, January 5). According to Doris Stickley, Director of Marketing, one of the best measures of success is the number of organizations in Bristol partnered with the library (personal communication, March 19, 2015). These partnerships were brought to the library rather than the library seeking them. This demonstrates that BPL is an anchor of a thriving downtown and is a space the Bristol community is proud of.
BPL has found several key factors to providing services to their users. Firstly, a deep knowledge of the communities needs is essential. BPL has several staff members who know the community very well (D. Stickley, personal communication, March 19, 2015). Flexibility is a must, as well as being open-minded when creating new programming. Most importantly is developing a good relationship with the patrons and reacting positively to criticism. According to Doris, customer service is the lynchpin to the whole success of the library (personal communication, March 19, 2015). BPL views the training of their frontline staff of utmost importance; a smile and a hello can set the right tone to make a patron feel very positive about their experience in the library. If they don't feel welcomed and important it becomes a lot harder to get them back in the library as a regular user.
BPL staff feel that they are very successful in providing services to their community and fulfilling their mission. They offer services such as free notary, job skill help, and English as second language classes that are highly needed within the community. Their programming and partnerships for programming (i.e. local historical association, Buechner Institute at King University, health education series with Quillen College of Medicine) provide a broad range of interesting and educational outreach to the community. Doris Stickley commented, "While there are always things that could be done better, I think we do a solid job of serving the community on a very tight budget and limited staff" (personal communication, March 19, 2015).
By using user-user centered assessment BPL will be able to gain a deeper understanding of its community needs and identify service gaps. This knowledge will enable BPL to determine when to introduce new services and programs and when to revamp current offerings. This style of evaluation is also an excellent way to assess patron satisfaction with the library in general and the services it currently offers. The data will be very helpful when developing the libraries five year strategic plan.
User-centered assessments also demonstrate to the patron that the library cares about their concerns and desires. Therefore, it could improve the way in which patrons view the library and its role as a central part of the community. Also, because the users are the ones interacting with the materials and programs it provides a way for the staff to view the library from a new perspective shedding light on areas that may not have been realized otherwise.
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