April 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Evaluating Our Services | Fresh Paint

In the past nine months at Gum Spring Library, we have hosted numerous programs, welcomed dozens of authors and presenters, discussed books, watched movies, made crafts, and so much more. Prior to opening we were planning programs in the dark—with no knowledge of our community’s interests—but we believe we have successfully figured out what our teens enjoy, and what they find less than thrilling. We haven’t had a zero-attendance program since summer, which says a lot about our ability to evaluate the interests of our teens, and plan according to those interests.

Our most well-attended and talked about program is the monthly Crafternoon. One of the Teen Center staffers presents a new craft to the teens, who then try their own hand at making it (or a variation of it, or a completely different thing using the materials we have gathered for them). What I like about this, even more than the guaranteed audience, is the opportunity to get to know the teens. When we are wrapping thread around ear bud cords, making cards for soldiers, or decorating snowmen as book characters, we can chat with them about their interests and favorite school subjects and books, or simply listen to them talk to each other. This is a good way to learn more about their interests, which helps us immensely when planning future programs. In fact, it is through these conversations that we learned of their inability to sew. With that in mind I hope to plan a program that teaches the basics of sewing.

When we host an “outside presenter” we pass out audience evaluation forms. These brief surveys ask for their feedback on the program, but also on the library. Not only do we learn about their interest in that particular program host, we also learn how they heard about the event, and if they are interested in attending similar events in the future. The responses play a large part in our asking presenters to return for future programs. At a recent college application essay program hosted by a professor of English from a local university, eight of 10 attendees indicated that they heard of the program via our website. We now know to request that certain programs appear as featured events throughout our website.

One of my favorite activities each month is writing my monthly report for my supervisor. The opportunity to reflect on the tasks I completed, programs I hosted, and webinars and trainings I attended is really helpful. By analyzing what I did, what I enjoyed, and what worked (and conversely, what didn’t), I can begin the next month on a more informed foot. A similar wrap-up is conducted after each system-wide program, by every staff member who was a part of planning and/or executing the program. This document, called Lessons Learned, lists planning, facilitation, and promotion, and has space for us to respond “what worked” and what “needs improvement”. After the summer reading program ended in August, all Loudon County Public Library staff were sent the blank document. When the 2014 SRP committee first met last month, each committee member was given a copy of the collated responses. Knowing what our peers felt worked well and what did not work well is incredibly helpful in planning for the future.

Teen TxtpertsLessons Learned is filled out after all system-wide programs, by all employees who contributed to the event. After I hosted a pilot run of the Teen tXpert program during the summer of 2012 at the Rust Library, the adult services librarians who assisted with the program filled out the Lessons Learned document, as did the teens who volunteered their time and talents as technology experts. Those responses were consulted recently when two other branches—Gum Spring and Cascades—decided to start their own Teen tXpert programs. Reading the evaluations helped us to plan around the aspects that did not work out during the pilot program. Some examples include letting siblings (especially competitive ones) sign up for the same time slot, not having a task for them to work on during their down time between helping patrons, and not fully training them on ereaders.

Evaluating our programs using Lessons Learned and our individual monthly reports are helpful when re-creating programs. If analyzed appropriately, we can recognize trends or problems so that we don’t make the same mistake twice. Tune in next month to read my very last Fresh Paint column, where I will evaluate the past year I have spent with Gum Spring Library.

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April Layne Shroeder About April Layne Shroeder

April Layne Shroeder is a Teen Services Librarian in a Northern Virginia public library system, and loves it! One of her favorite job duties is reading/being knowledgeable about YA literature, and discussing/recommending it to young people (and open-minded adults).

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  1. I love the ideas your presented here and the way you try to understand your target audience. As a children’s author, I love visiting libraries to see what’s happening (or not) in the young adult area.

    • Thank you, Evelyn! I find that I can learn best about teens (or any group, for that matter) if we ask for their feedback, and give ourselves some constrictive criticism.

  2. Gail Moore says:

    April, I would like to see a copy of your Lessons Learned document.