Communicating with Library Users About Needs & Interests

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As a school library media specialist, you can do a better job if you find out more about your patrons' needs and interests. This lesson discusses what you can do to keep these important lines of communication open.

Creating a Responsive Library

This year, as the library media specialist at Bailey Elementary, Karen has a lot of goals and objectives. She wants to make her library a responsive place that answers to the needs and wishes of its patrons.

Karen knows that she has good relationships with her students and colleagues, and overall, she feels good about her library curriculum. However, she also thinks that the library has historically been a top-down program, where the librarian decides on the policies, collection, and programming.

Karen thinks that a really responsive library program is more bottom-up, taking ideas and suggestions from all stakeholders in the library. She wants to communicate openly and thoughtfully with a variety of different constituents about their needs and interests in relation to the library.

Communicating with Students

Perhaps the most important group for Karen to communicate with is her students! Students come to the library in their free time between classes, after school, and sometimes even on weekends for special programs. They also attend weekly special classes in the library. Karen really wants to know what her students hope to get out of their time in the library.

Many of Karen's younger students are not yet independent readers and writers. With these students, she has oral conversations in small groups. She asks them:

  • What kinds of books are most important to you in the library? Why?
  • What kinds of books or materials do you wish our library had more of?
  • What is your favorite event or activity you have ever attended in the library?
  • What kinds of programs or activities do you wish our library had more of?

Karen's older students are strong readers and writers. She poses the same questions to these students, but in writing so that they have more time to put into their thoughts. Karen has students complete these questionnaires in class, to be sure she gets a response from every student. Then, she reads their responses carefully and organizes them according to emergent themes and patterns.

For example, Karen finds that younger students wished the library had more graphic novels, and older students wish that the nonfiction section were easier to navigate.

Communicating with Families

Karen also thinks families have important ideas about how the library should look and run. To get feedback from families, she sends home a survey by email with a paper copy in students' backpacks.

The survey asks families what they wish the library could offer, what would cause them to use the library more, and what kinds of titles they would like to see in the library's collection. Karen also asks families what kinds of events they think they would attend in the library.

From reading these surveys, she learns that most families think of the library as a place to borrow books, and she realizes she needs to let families know about the technology and other media she has available. She also learns that many families are interested in library workshops about how to help children do online research safely.

Communicating with Colleagues

Karen's colleagues are also key stakeholders in the library. To find out what they wish and need from the library, Karen attends one meeting for each grade level in her school, and she also meets with fellow specialists.

She asks teachers the following questions:

  • What topics or themes would you like to see more of in our library?
  • What can the library do to better support your curriculum and instruction?
  • How would you ideally like to see your students using the library?

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