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User-Centered Assessment/Evaluation in PL Services

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 outlines user-centered issues that impact or were impacted by various aspects related to the public library. Further, it discusses whether each factor is a liberating or limiting factor in relation to the library and/or the A.L.L.

Library Governance

The Director of Bristol Public Library works in conjunction with a 13-member Library Board of Trustees that consists of an equal number of members from Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia including two Teen Representatives (Bristol Public Library, n.d.). The Library Board consists of an Executive Committee, Finance Committee, Building Development Committee, and Program Committee (Subcommittees: Teen, Children's, and A.L.L. Taskforce) (Barry, J., 2015, February 4). The Library Board meets on the third Thursday of each month, these meetings are open to the public to attend (Bristol Public Library, n.d.). At the meetings, community members are able to express their concerns and provide suggestions for improvement. This direct communication makes the library governance a liberating factor, users are able to directly impact the library through expressing their opinions at these meetings.

Library Identity

The identity of BPL as a community organization seeking to empower the members of the community is a liberating factor. The library's mission is "expanding minds and building community." This mission demonstrates that the library has the users' needs and wants in mind when developing the library collection, services, and programming. When developing the resources the library staff must ask themselves is this going to help to expand the knowledge and develop the skill sets of the community members? The A.L.L. plays a very important role in furthering the library's mission and helping the library to fulfill the programming aspect of the strategic plan.

Community Analysis and Needs Assessment

According to BPL Director of Marketing, Doris Stickley the library does not conduct formal community analyzes (personal communication, 2015, April 14). However, she stated that the library understands the importance of having a deep knowledge of the community and has several staff members on board who know the community very well (personal communication, 2015, April 14). The library recently conducted a focus group to assess the needs of the adults in the community. The results of this study will provide guidance as the library renovates the A.L.L. and contribute to the development of new adult programming (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). This library plans to conduct more user assessments in the future to evaluate other programs and services offered (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). The lack of current assessment is a limiting factor for users because their voice may not be properly heard.

Marketplace Dynamics/Advertising

The BPL currently utilizes a variety of marketing efforts to advertise the programs and services offered by the library. These include the library's website, Facebook pages, press releases, and the library newsletter. According to Stickley, "BPL is one of the few libraries in the region with a Marketing person on staff" (personal communication, 2015, April 14). She considers getting the message out and developing good relationships with patrons to be vital to the libraries existence (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). The library is also actively involved in community events, for example the A.L.L. recently participated in the 5th Annual Clotheslines Project sponsored by the Crisis Center in honor of National Crime Victim's Rights Week (Adult Learning Lab, 2015, April 29). One of the most valuable advertising methods utilized by the A.L.L. is word-of-mouth. This is a liberating factor because the users are directly interacting with the promotion of the service and it demonstrates user satisfaction to the library staff.

Evaluation Action Plan

Currently, BPL does not have a formal evaluation action plan defining how to implement evaluations across its various programs and services. BPL's lack of a formal evaluation action plan is considered a limiting factor, without one the library and the A.L.L. are missing valuable learning opportunities in regards to what current users want and what will meet their needs as well as why non-users are not taking advantage of the offerings. As part of the strategic plan, the library plans to begin implementing more user-centered studies (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). As the library gains experience with the various methods and instruments an evaluation action plan will be created.

Assessment and evaluation methods

The primary data collection conducted by BPL is in the form of quantitative data (inputs and outputs). For the Annual Report, the library collects statistics such as circulation totals, program attendance and meeting room use hours. The library recently began to implement user-centered evaluations. In January and February of 2015, the library conducted several focus group sessions to gather user input regarding adult programming, specifically the A.L.L. The library plans to use the information as they renovate and revamp the A.L.L. later this year (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). The lack of more consistent evaluation methods is a limiting factor for the library because as mentioned in the previous section they are missing out on valuable user input. Without the user data, it a lot harder to know if the library is successful in meeting the user needs or not.

Personnel Management

Including both the main and Avoca Branch the BPL employs 34 employees. As part of both Tennessee and Virginia state standards, full-time employees are expected to attend 16 hours of training each year and professional staff are required to attend 24 hours (Barry, J., 2015, February 5). This ensures that the library possesses a highly educated professional workforce. BPL's friendly staff offer a welcoming environment and are seen as easily approachable for assistance (Stickley, D., personal communication, 2015, April 14). The library staff's ability to provide superior customer service is a liberating factor. According to Stickley, "customer service is the lynchpin to the whole success of the BPL.a smile and a hello can set the right tone to make a patron feel very positive about the library. If they don't feel welcomed and important you can forget ever making a regular user out of them (personal communication, 2015, April 14). However, related to the A.L.L. the lack of needed personnel to fully meet customer needs is a limiting factor. It is apparent from the data collected in this study that the library users desire to have more staffing for the A.L.L.


The BPL's budget is comprised of funds from the following sources: charges for fees and services, memorials and donations, fines and forfeitures, grants, and intergovernmental revenue (Bristol Public Library, 2014, June 30). The budget is approved by the Library Board, who reviews the income and expenditures at the monthly board meetings (Bristol Public Library, n.d.). According to the 2011-2012 Annual Report, 79% of the funding comes from local sources, 13% private, and 8% state (Bristol Public Library, 2012). Bristol Public Library, Currently, the A.L.L. is not funding by the library budget. During the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the A.L.L. received $90,294 in funding from grants, fundraisers, and the City of Bristol, Virginia and City of Bristol Tennessee (Bristol Public Library, 2014, June 30). The library budget is a limiting factor especially concerning the A.L.L. Due to the lack of current funding the lab is unable to expand with the community needs.

Policy Development

BPL policies are determined by the Library Board in collaboration with the library Director and library staff members (Bristol Public Library, n.d.). User input from various stakeholders is taken into account before establishing library policies to assure that the community needs are being properly addressed, making library policies a liberating factor. Library users are welcome at the Library Board meetings where they can directly voice their suggestions and concerns about library policies. The policies created by the library deal with various topics including but not limited to collection development, fees for services, and facility use (Bristol Public Library, n.d.a). A list of the libraries policies can be found on the library website under the About Us section.

Collections and Collection Management

BPL maintains a strong collection of print, electronic, and audiovisual materials. The library's collection development policy can be found on the libraries web page. The goal of collection development at BPL is to "maintain a well-balanced and broad collection of current and retrospective materials in various formats and levels of comprehension" (Bristol Public Library, 2001, September 20). The collection serves the important mission of supporting the communities educational, professional, and leisure-time needs. The library collection includes several items relevant to the material covered at the A.L.L. for users who are interested in self-study as part of their skill development. The library's collection is a liberating factor especially a well-balanced, up to date collection.

Electronic Resources and Technology Assessment

In 2006, BPL moved to a new building, once settled in the library hired a full -Digital Service (IT) Librarian to help the library meet increasing demands (Bristol Public Library, 2011). The library also created several long-range plans to help guide the future of the library, one of those being a technology plan (Barry, J., 2011). The library has a policy that the plan must be updated annually to serve as an aid to future budgeting as well as to continue to qualify for the Federal E-rate discounts (Bristol Public Library, 2008). Maintaining up to date technology is essential for the success of the A.L.L. When learning a new technology skill it is important to the users to get the most up to date knowledge and experience. At this time, the BPL does not perform any type of technology or electronic resource assessments. Despite this, the library is dedicated to providing more electronic resources to patrons and keeping the technology up to date, this is a liberating factor for patrons as the library seeks to meet their technology needs the best they can.

Technical services and reference services

BPL's technical services department consists of two employees; a cataloger and a tech services assistant (Barry, J., 2015, February 4). These individuals do not interact much with the users. Their primary tasks in the library are to order materials and prepare them for circulation. However, the reference department is consistently interacting with users and are a liberating factor within the library. The library has one librarian with an MLIS degree operating the reference desk and several library assistants (Barry, J., 2015, February 4). The reference department is "responsible for researching patron questions, managing the public computers, microfilm, readers' advisor,...and other duties (Barry, J., 2015, February 5). The reference staff are also a valuable tool in identifying users who need the services provided by the A.L.L.

Library Systems and Library Networks

BPL consists of the main branch in Bristol, Virginia and the Avoca Branch in Bristol, Tennessee. BPL currently shares a library catalog with 14 area public libraries. Under the current arrangement, all of the libraries work together to provide materials to the Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia community. A patron can request material from any of the libraries be sent to the nearest location to them providing easy and convenient service to the area. BPL also processes interlibrary loan requests for material not owned by any of the libraries in the network. Providing access to such a large collection of material to library patrons is a liberating factor because it increases the patron's access to the materials they need.

User Instruction and Customer Services

The primary source of user instruction at BPL is the A.L.L. It provides users with one-on-one instructional sessions on a wide variety of areas. This service is both liberating and limiting. It is liberating in that its adaptability to users' needs and schedules, however, it is limited by its current limited staff due to funding. As has been mentioned, BPL places a high value on providing excellent customer service to its patrons. The reference and circulation department are the two areas interacting the most with users. They are responsible for helping users find the materials they need or figure out what exactly it is that they need, managing the public computers and providing assistance to users as needed, and checking in/out materials.

Adult and/or Youth Services

The adult and youth services are a liberating factor in the library. The BPL offers a range of youth and adult services targeted towards an array of age groups. Each age group has their own designated area of the library developed specifically to meet their needs. The children's library has its own collection and computers for children. It offers various programs such as story times, reading program and after-school, holiday, and seasonal programming. According to Gaylor, BPL has a phenomenal Teen Librarian who is loved by all the young adults and has added a lot of value to the teen services. As part of the upcoming renovations, the teens will be getting a larger area in the library to accommodate their large (and still growing) book clubs. The teen programming includes movies, art/entertainment, games, and the book clubs. The teen programming at BPL is very popular and will continue to expand as the interest continues to increase (Gaylor, K., personal communication, 2015, March 9). The A.L.L. is currently the only adult programming offered by the library. However, once the renovations are complete and the A.L.L. transitions to the Adult Creativity Center the adult programming will be expanding as well (Stickley, K., personal communication, 2015, April 14).


Adult Learning Lab. (2015, April 29). Adult learning lab participated in the clothesline project/crisis center last saturday. [Facebook status update]. Retrieved from

Barry, J. (2011, April 12). Report on the fifth anniversary of the opening of the expanded and renovated main library. Retrieved from

Barry, J. (2015, February 4). Bristol public library organization chart. Retrieved on April 29th from

Barry, J. (2015, February 5). Staff manual lite. Retrieved from

Bristol Public Library. (2001, September 20). Policy: Collection development. Retrieved from

Bristol Public Library. (2008, April 17). Policy: Technology. Retrieved from

Bristol Public Library. (2012). Annual report. Retrieved from

Bristol Public Library (2014, June 30). Basic financial Statements. Retrieved from

Bristol Public Library. (n.d.). Library board. Retrieved on April 29th from

Bristol Public Library (n.d.a). Mission & policies. Retrieved on April 30th from

Spring 2015

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