Service to Assess/Evaluate
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 (A.L.L.) in terms of the library's strategic plan and the needs of its community. This paper provides an overview of the services offered by the A.L.L., as well as a discussion on the importance of the lab within the Bristol community. The demand of both current and potential users will be explored and alternative community resources providing similar services to the A.L.L. will be identified. In addition, the benefits of user-centered feedback of the A.L.L. for the library and its users will be examined.
The public library service that will be assessed and evaluated during this project is the Adult Learning Lab (A.L.L.) at Bristol Public Library. The A.L.L. has been serving patrons at BPL since 1987. The main goal of the A.L.L. is to assist patrons with lifelong learning. The A.L.L. primarily offers assistance for GED preparation, computer skills, resume writing, job searching/applications, military tests, English as a second language, college entrance and placement exams, tax preparation, tutoring, and reading, writing and math skills. However, the staff and volunteers are willing to assist patrons with most anything. If they do not have the expertise needed to help the patron they are more than happy to locate resources or other organizations in the community that are able to fill the need.
BPL's A.L.L. is open five days a week, Monday through Friday to assist patrons in achieving their lifelong learning goals. Currently, the majority of the services offered by the A.L.L. are on a drop-in basis. Patrons in need of help in a large variety of areas may stop by the A.L.L. anytime it is open for assistance by the library staff and volunteers. These areas include but are not limited to GED preparation, computer skills, resume writing, job searching/applications, military tests, English as a second language, college entrance and placement exams, tax preparation, tutoring, and reading, writing and math skills. According to the A.L.L. Coordinator, Karen Gaylor, the lab is fully funded by grants and all services are offered at no cost to the community (personal communication, 2015, March 9).
The A.L.L.'s primary users are low-income adults (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the A.L.L. served 721 individuals for a total of 7,856 hours of one-on-one assistance (Bristol Public Library, 2014). Out of the 721 individuals served, 621 were considered extremely low income (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). Demographically, the users during the 2013-2014 fiscal year included 679 White, 81 African American, 15 multi-racial, 14 Hispanic, 11 Asian, and 11 American Indian/Hawaiian (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). Out of these users, 55 reported to the library that they obtained their GED and 46 obtained employment (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). It is likely these numbers are higher but due to staff limitations the A.L.L. does not currently have a way to track the success of the users. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, 126 students completed computer tutorial certificates of completion, 55 students received helped creating a resume, 262 students performed or completed job search/job applications, 311 students obtained an email, 473 students improved employability skills, and 24 students studied English as a second language (Bristol Public Library, 2014).
According to Karen Gaylor, a primary strength of the A.L.L. is that all of the services are freely available to all library patrons (personal communication, 2015, March 9). This proves to be extremely beneficial since the primary users are extremely low-income individuals. However, the imminent weakness of not charging for the classes is that the lab must rely on volunteers to keep the lab open five days a week. The A.L.L. is not part of the library budget thus the Coordinator is responsible for applying for grants to keep the lab funded from year to year. Currently the grant funding only provides enough resources to pay the A.L.L. Coordinator and one additional staff member (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). This brings up another weakness, the lab is currently only open during weekdays. Ideally, Gaylor would like the lab to be staffed for longer hours throughout the week and on weekends so that community members who work throughout the weekdays have equal opportunities to utilize the services offered by the lab (personal communication, 2015, March 9).
Another strength of the A.L.L. is the one-on-one service provided and the adaptability this type of service allows. With one-on-one sessions, the staff and volunteers are able to personalize the learning experience for the user. These sessions allow staff to get to know the users and fully assess their needs. Patrons also benefit from the one-on-one service because they receive immediate feedback from the instructor and feel more comfortable asking questions or for additional help. The A.L.L. also offers some group classes to cater to individuals who prefer this learning experience as well. The drawback of group classes over one-on-one sessions is that they are not as customizable to the user needs.
Lastly, Gaylor noted that one of the A.L.L's primary weaknesses is the current inability to properly track success (personal communication, 2015, March 9). In order to fully assess the success rate of the A.L.L. the library staff would need a way to reach out to all of the users to verify if they successfully met the goals they were using the A.L.L. for. For example, for the users receiving help filling out online job applications and writing resumes the success rate would be determined by if the user obtained a job or not. Unfortunately, with current staffing this is infeasible. Due to this, the only measured successes are the ones reported back to the library staff by the users. Most users do not report back though, which is expected Gaylor explained because they have moved on to a new life stage (personal communication, 2015, March 9).
The A.L.L. serves as a very important component of the library. It plays a very large role in fulfilling the libraries mission, "Expanding Minds and Building Community." The A.L.L. provides a lifelong learning venue for adults in the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia area. The services provided by the A.L.L. are especially important in bridging the adult digital literacy gap. Now that we have entered the Information Age, possessing computer skills is no longer an advantage but has become a necessity (Enis, M., 2012, August 6). A lot of companies have moved their applications online making computer skills a requirement to even find a job. Not to mention that approximately 80% of middle-skill jobs now require basic digital literacy skills (Freeman, F., 2015, March 9). According to Jud Barry, former BPL Director, "There's a skill gap for a lot of folks that we as a society haven't addressed very effectively, the digital divide isn't only about hardware" (Enis, M., 2012, August 6). The educational services offered through the A.L.L. address a wide range of needs, ranging from simple to complex. If the A.L.L. staff do not have the ability to meet the need they work with the patron to identify organizations or resources that can. Barry also stated that users oftentimes, "have many different kinds of needs for different kinds of services" (Enis, M., 2012, August 6). This is an area where the benefits of one-on-one service really shine.
The A.L.L. is also an excellent resource for professional development within the community. It is a great place for low-income individuals to obtain the necessary skills they need to acquire jobs or promotions. Examples of training provided through the A.L.L. include resume development, certification programs with various software programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel, KeyTrain assistance, and resume development. By helping individuals find jobs and expand their skill sets the A.L.L. is helping to improve its community. Currently, the A.L.L. is partnered with the Mount Rogers Adult Education Program to offer GED preparation two nights a week. The A.L.L. also provides assistance with college placement tests and financial aid (i.e. filling out the FAFSA). Helping individuals to get into college and find ways to pay for it is another great example of how the A.L.L. is committed to the development of the community members.
Some keywords that are associated with BPL's A.L.L. include the following terms: lifelong learning, free computer class (es), free resume help, free adult tutoring, free adult education, free GED class (es), free English as a second language class (es), and adult learning. The most apparent search to locate information on the A.L.L. is "Adult Learning Lab Bristol, VA". Using this search the A.L.L. section of the library website is the first result and the second result is the A.L.L.'s Facebook page. To help individuals who are not yet aware of the A.L.L. the most productive search that returns information on the A.L.L. are "adult learning Bristol, VA (TN)", "adult education Bristol, VA (TN)", and "free adult tutoring". When searching for these terms using Google the A.L.L. is the first or second result.
BPL provides information about the A.L.L. in several ways. According to Gaylor, the primary form of advertising utilized by the A.L.L. is word-of-mouth referrals. These referrals come from both previous workshop participants and other community organizations. The organizations most frequently sending referrals include the Department of Social Services, court systems, Bristol Housing Authority, employment offices, and probation offices (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9).
BPL provides information about the A.L.L. in several other ways as well. Each avenue is briefly discussed in this section, with the most effective being mentioned first and the least mentioned last. The A.L.L. also has its own page on the libraries website. The page offers information about the labs history, offerings, current volunteer opportunities, and success stories. The A.L.L. also has its own Facebook page where they document success stories and promote the services they currently offer. The library includes the A.L.L.'s contact information and hours on the library brochure. The brochures are available at the circulation and reference desk. According to Gaylor, the amount of advertising currently being done is highly effective (personal communication, 2015, March 9). With the libraries current staffing and hours of operation, the A.L.L. receives an adequate number of users.
The demand for the services offered by the A.L.L. is currently high, as was mentioned in the previous section the lab is used immensely by the community. Recent focus groups conducted in January and February 2015 revealed that a large amount of potential demand exists as well. The focus group encompassed representatives from ages ranging from early 20s through 80-somethings (McCaffrey, A, 2015). Based on the focus group findings, BPL plans to revamp the A.L.L. to incorporate some of the findings from the study (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). In a recent press release Doris Stickley, BPL Director of Marketing, stated that the library will be undergoing a renovation in the near future (Bristol Herald Courier, 2015, March 26). As part of this, the A.L.L. will be moving into a larger area on the second floor. Stickley mentioned that because of the high demand for the service, the library has been discussing finding a larger space for the lab for the past three years (Bristol Herald Courier, 2015, March 26).
Based on the focus group finding when the A.L.L. settles into its new location in the library it will begin transitioning to the Adult Creativity Center (Stickley, D. personal communication, 2015, March 19). The focus group generated a large list of potential new classes and offering that will help the A.L.L. to bring in even more users. Some of these suggestions included offering structured instructional courses such as Computer 101, software instruction (i.e. Photoshop), and the creation of affinity groups (McCaffrey, A., 2015). With the use of technology continuing to grow and the consistently high unemployment rate in our society, it is very likely that the lab will continue to remain popular. However, since the A.L.L. operates on grant funding, the main threat to the existence of the A.L.L. is continued funding.
The A.L.L. at BPL really is unique within the community. There are no other places that offer all the services provided through the A.L.L. under one roof. If the A.L.L. did not exist community members could attend resume writing courses and earn Career Readiness Certificates at the Tennessee Career Center and Bristol Virginia Workforce Center. These centers offer computers with Internet access to job seekers and one-on-one sessions with appointment during the normal operating hours of 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM Monday through Friday (Department of Labor and Workforce Development, 2015). Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education offers GED preparation classes at four locations across Bristol, they also administer the GED when individuals are ready (Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education, 2015). They offer both day and evening classes throughout the year. Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education also offers assistance with college placement tests, reading and math skills, Career Readiness Certificates, and English as a second language (Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education, 2015). All of these services are provided free of charge.
The Kingsport Senior Center, located 35 minutes from the BPL, offers free monthly computer classes for individuals over the age of 50. These classes include but are not limited to basic computer skills, keyboarding, email, and word processing (Kingsport Senior Center, 2015). To attend the classes you do have to be a member of the center, residents of Bristol, TN must pay an annual fee of $35.00 and residents of Bristol, VA must pay an annual fee of $60.00 (Kingsport Senior Center, 2015). Unfortunately, at this time neither senior center located in the twin cities of Bristol offer computer classes. No other locations in Bristol TN/VA offering computer literacy classes were identified. The only other option would be to visit public libraries in the surrounding communities. Several were found that offer monthly basic computer classes or one-on-one computer assistance, the closest being located 20 minutes from the BPL. The services are offered free of charge.
Community members who own their own computers may access online computer tutorials. These tutorials can help them to add to their skill set or to enhance their current skills. Online resources are easy to find by going to any search engine and searching "free online computer class". A good, easy to follow resource is the Goodwill Community Foundation found at http://www.gcflearnfree.org/. This website offers tutorials on computer, email, social media and internet basics, Microsoft Office, reading, math, career planning, and more. Some of the tutorials are videos and some are step by step instructions. Individuals with more specific needs may find YouTube to be very helpful. You can find lots of great tutorials on YouTube, some example searches are "email basics" or "Microsoft Excel tutorial". Individuals must own or have access to a computer to take advantage of online resources though. Having internet is not necessarily a necessity since there are a lot of Wi-Fi hotspots located in Bristol TN/VA. One issue with online courses though is the inability to ask questions or for additional help.
While some of the services offered at the A.L.L. are also offered by other organizations within the community, there are many services that would be underserved without the BPL's A.L.L. The primary resource community members would have for basic computer classes would be online, which may not be very feasible for someone who has never used a computer before. The only other alternative would be to hire a tutor for help. One advantage users receive by visiting the A.L.L. that they will not receive from other organizations is the staff's ability to identify other gaps the user may need help with. The one-on-one service really does make a difference in the lives of the people served by the A.L.L. The staff take the time to get to know them as a person and help find ways for them to meet their goals, even if the library does not provide the service the A.L.L. staff seek out the necessary resources to assure each and every individual they encounter has the ability to succeed. This is something indispensable within the community. 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.
Collecting user-centered feedback on the A.L.L. will provide the library with valuable information regarding the satisfaction of the users with the current offerings and hours of the lab, as well as provide feedback on ways the service can be improved to better meet the community's needs. According to Matthews (2007), "the users will benefit since the library will better appreciate what services have the greatest clear-cut impact on their personal or professional lives." As BPL has already seen in the results of their recent focus groups, user-centered feedback from both current and potential users is an excellent tool for identifying needs that are not being met, gathering input on the interests of the community, and identifying areas that could use improvement.
Gaylor expressed a current need for tracking the success and satisfaction of the A.L.L. users to assist in obtaining and keeping current grant funding (personal communication, 2015, March 9). Currently, BPL does not collect feedback from A.L.L. participants at the end of each session. Client satisfaction surveys would be an excellent tool for helping the staff to measure user satisfaction with the content and quality of the service provided. This could also be a good time to collect user contact information on a volunteer basis so that staff can follow up with them at a later date regarding their success after receiving services. The A.L.L. is a service dedicated to improving the local community thus it is of high importance to obtain feedback from the community to assure it is achieving that goal.
McCaffrey, A. (2015). Adult creativity lab focus group report.
Bristol Herald Courier. (2015, March 27). Library preparing to turn the page with $475,000 renovation project. Retrieved from http://www.tricities.com/news/library-preparing-to-turn-the-page-with-renovation-project/article_f923b958-d4f7-11e4-9180-1f6a7d58136a.html
Bristol Public Library. (2014). Literacy academy 2013-2014 progress report.
Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (2015). Tennessee Career Center at Bristol. Retrieved from http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/cc/cccounty_files/sullivan_bristol.shtml
Enis, M. (2012, August 6). Bristol's Literacy Academy Bridges Digital Divide -The Digital Shift. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/08/digital-divide/bristols-literacy-academy-bridges-digital-divide/
Freeman, F., (2015, March 9). What will it take to close the adult digital literacy gap? Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/n/2015-03-09-what-will-it-take-to-close-the-adult-digital-literacy-gap
Kingsport Senior Center. (2015). Classes. Retrieved from http://www.tennessee.gov/labor-wfd/cc/cccounty_files/sullivan_bristol.shtml
Matthews, J.R. (2007). The Evaluation and Measurement of Library Services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Mount Rogers Regional Adult Education. (2015). Classes. Retrieved from http://mrraep.com/classes/
Contact K.C. Williams451 Communications Building, 1345 Circle Park Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996-0341