Know Your Neighborhood: A Community Needs Assessment Primer

What does your neighborhood really need from you? Tips to help libraries get to know the communities that they serve, with a resource list of potential partners, literacy and early childhood organizations, and sources of demographic data.

Thinkstock illustration by evellade.

See also: Preschool and the Income Gap: Libraries Must Step Up to Serve Children of Color When you were little, scary words might have been “dark, spooky, spiders, monsters.” Now that you are older and have a library job, scary words often include the terms “community," "statistics," "demographics," "partnerships,” and the most dreaded of all: “assessment.” These can trigger many a librarian’s nightmare—but they don’t have to. What does your neighborhood really need from you? Finding out will make you a better librarian, and a bit of research and planning can make the process much sunnier. Whether you are looking to add a new program, service, or collection or are looking to update pre-existing services, it helps to think out of the box—and the library building. A community-needs-and -asset assessment can give you a great deal of information about the town your library happens to reside in. The best place to begin? I like to go old school with a piece of paper and start jotting down questions:

  • Who lives here?
  • What cultures are represented?
  • Are there different languages spoken?
  • What agencies in my local area serve the same audience?
  • What does my county do for the same audience I’m looking to serve? What about the state level?
  • What economic levels are seen in the community?
  • Are there elected officials who would be interested to hear of the library’s work with families of young children?
  • What barriers exist within our building to serving young families?
  • Are there barriers in the community that inhibit our growth to serving this population?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of my staff?

By looking at the questions above, I can begin to draw a community map of library resources, community resources, staff resources, etc. This map can then help identify additional areas to explore. For example, try listing organizations that you already know in the following categories:

  • Preschools/daycares/universal preK
  • Elected officials
  • Health and social service agencies
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Individuals with an interest in early learning
  • Commercial businesses with similar interests to the patrons you are looking to serve

Once you’ve done this, ask staff members to answer the same questions so you can compare the results. You should also ask your supervisor and/or another building administrator to look at the questions. Others often see the larger picture beyond one specific library department and offer a different perspective. Before I began really collating data and stats from the outside community, I spent some time on this gem of a professional site, the Community Tool Box.

Created as a public service of the University of Kansas yet useful no matter where you are, the Community Tool Box provides instruments to help people work together to build healthier communities. You’ll find extensive resources on how to conduct community needs assessments, including focus groups, surveys, etc. There are literally thousands of pages containing tips for taking action in communities, and these can easily be adapted to a library-based lens.

Want to learn about community assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation, advocacy, and other aspects of community practice? Then help yourself to more than 300 educational modules and other free tools located in the toolbox. Much of the information is in both English and Spanish. This resource will give you the necessary framework to begin collecting statistics and data from your community and will help you set up focus groups and user surveys. Speaking of user surveys, we don’t ask our patrons nearly enough to rate us on how good of a job we are doing for them. This summer, take my Super Summer Survey challenge and ask patrons these three simple questions at the end of each program they attend:

  • What did you like best about today’s program?
  • What other types of programs would you like to see at your library?
  • Are there specific days or times of the week when we DON’T currently offer programs that you would like us to try?

Give patrons a slip of paper with the questions when they check in for a program, and provide a covered box on your desk for their answers. Over a month, you can get responses from a surprisingly large group of library users. This can help shape the direction your department will take when going in search of those non-library users that you are determined to turn into library users. Try it, and then let SLJ know in the comment section below what you discovered.

The following list of organizations provides great a great starting point for your search for partners in early learning, data about early childhood, or research data. But here is my disclaimer for said list: I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast yesterday—meaning, this is by no way, shape, or form a comprehensive list. My aim was to list organizations with a national arm over localized ones. If you have a strong partnership with a local early learning organization that you want to share, or anything else, tell us. Go sharpen some pencils, grab some paper or your favorite tablet, and start compiling some data! Note: Website descriptions are taken directly from the “about us” section of each organization.

Early Learning/Literacy Organizations

Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors is the nation’s first evidence-based comprehensive training program developed by and for Latino parents with children ages 0-5. Parent input informs the Abriendo Puertas / Opening Doors curriculum, which uses the “popular education” approach to engage parents in lessons that reflect the culture of the target audience.

Every Child Ready to Read is a parent education initiative that stresses that early literacy begins with the primary adults in a child’s life. It empowers public libraries to assume an essential role in supporting early literacy within their communities.

The Every Child Ready to Read @ your Library Toolkit for Spanish-Speaking Communities is now available as a digital download from the ALA Store.

National Center for Families Learning NCFL provides support and strategies to a network of entities involved in advancing education and families learning together, including educators, schools, community based organizations, and libraries. Our efforts support learners of all ages in these environments in concert with our advocates and partners.

Latino Literacy  is a teacher/educator training program for organizations looking to implement an effective literacy program for Latino parents, that is part of Lectura Books, a bilingual publisher dedicated to parent resources.

The National Head Start Association is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life. The opportunities offered by Head Start lead to healthier, empowered children and families, and stronger, more vibrant communities. NHSA is the voice for more than 1 million children, 200,000 staff and 1,600 Head Start grantees in the United States.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the nation's largest organization of early childhood professionals and others dedicated to improving the quality of early childhood education programs for children birth through age eight.

The National Black Child Development Institute For more than 40 years, the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) has been at the forefront of engaging leaders, policymakers, professionals, and parents around critical and timely issues that directly impact Black children and their families. We are a trusted partner in delivering culturally relevant resources that respond to the unique strengths and needs of Black children around issues including early childhood education, health, child welfare, literacy, and family engagement.

Reach Out and Read is an evidence-based nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

Read Aloud 15 Minutes Featuring great infographics and professional looking resources to print and share with families, Read Aloud 15 Minutes is a non-profit organization that is working to make reading aloud every day for at least 15 minutes the new standard in child care. When every child is read aloud to for 15 minutes every day from birth, more children will be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten, more children will have the literacy skills needed to succeed in school, and more children will be prepared for a productive and meaningful life after school.

Reading is Fundamental (RIF) develops and delivers children's and family literacy programs that help prepare young children for reading and motivate school-age children to read.

Reading Rockets is a national multimedia literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help. Our goal is to bring the reading research to life — to spread the word about reading instruction and to present "what works" in a way that parents and educators can understand and use.

Too Small to Fail aims to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five, so that more of America’s children are prepared to succeed in the 21st century. They working to promote new research on the science of children’s brain development, early learning and early health, and we will help parents, businesses and communities identify specific actions, consistent with the new research, that they can take to improve the lives of young children.

Zero To Three is a national, nonprofit organization that informs, trains, and supports professionals, policymakers, and parents in their efforts to improve the lives of infants and toddlers.

Sources for Demographic Data

Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes offers state-by-state profiles of early childhood statistics and profiles useful for community needs assessments. One of 22 Comprehensive Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes (CEELO) will strengthen the capacity of State Education Agencies (SEAs) to lead sustained improvements in early learning opportunities and outcomes. CEELO will work in partnership with SEAs, state and local early childhood leaders, and other federal and national technical assistance (TA) providers to promote innovation and accountability.

Diversity Data Kids An online tool from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. Enables you to analyze data across states, metropolitan areas, counties, large cities, and large school districts by race and ethnicity as well as age. Includes indicators for demographics, education, neighborhoods, health, economic status, and more.

Early Childhood Data Collaborative The Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC) supports state policymakers’ development and use of coordinated state early care and education (ECE) data systems to improve the quality of ECE programs and the workforce, increase access to high-quality ECE programs, and ultimately improve child outcomes. The ECDC will provide tools and resources to encourage state policy change and provide a national forum to support the development and use of coordinated state ECE data systems.

Kids Count is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation to track the well-being of children in the United States. By providing high-quality data and trend analysis through its KIDS COUNT Data Center, the Foundation seeks to enrich local, state and national discussions concerning ways to secure better futures for all children — and to raise the visibility of children's issues through a nonpartisan, evidence-based lens. In addition to including data from the most trusted national resources, the KIDS COUNT Data Center draws from more than 50 Kids Count state organizations that provide state and local data, as well publications providing insights into trends affecting child and family well-being. The last national census was collected in 2012, but some topics are updated more often. The site is huge and has many search features. Spend some time here, and your patience will be rewarded.

Early Childhood Advocacy, Philanthropy and Research Agencies

Build Initiative The BUILD Initiative works with early childhood leaders within states and nationally to better prepare young children to thrive and succeed. We support state leaders from both the private and public sectors as they work to set policy, offer services and advocate for children from birth to age five. Specifically, the BUILD Initiative helps state leaders develop an early childhood system – programs, services and policies tailored to the needs of the state’s unique young child population.

Child Trends provides extensive research database on early childhood, Latino children and families, parenting, and indicators such as school readiness. Child Welfare League of America is the nation's oldest and largest organization devoted entirely to the well-being of American's children and their families. It is a nonsectarian, privately supported organization devoted to improving child care and services for deprived, neglected and dependent children and their families.

Children's Defense Fund exists to provide a strong and effective voice for all the children of America, who cannot vote, lobby, or speak out for themselves. CDF focuses on health, education, child welfare, mental health, child care, adolescent pregnancy, family income, and youth employment. It is also known for its annual report, “State of America’s Children,” updated in 2014. Also produces fact sheets by state. Not broken down for local areas.

Alliance for Early Success The Alliance for Early Success (formerly the Birth to Five Policy Alliance) is a catalyst for putting vulnerable young children on a path to success. As an alliance of state, national, and funding partners, our goal is to advance state policies that lead to improved health, learning, and economic outcomes for young children, starting at birth and continuing through age eight. We create and enhance partnerships by bringing leaders together in new and innovative ways, with the goal of achieving results faster and better than anyone could do alone.

Families and Work Institute Families and Work Institute is a nonprofit center dedicated to providing research for living in today’s changing workplace, changing family and changing community. Since the Institute was founded in 1989, our work has tackled issues in three major areas: the workforce/workplace, youth and early childhood.

First Five Years Fund Through vision, leadership, influence, funding and accountability the First Five Years Fund advances federal investment in quality early childhood education for disadvantaged children from birth to age five. FFYF provides policymakers, advocates, business leaders and the public with the research and information necessary to make informed investments in quality early childhood development.

Harvard Family Research Project Our work strengthens family, school, and community partnerships, early childhood care and education, promotes evaluation and accountability, and offers professional development to those who work directly with children, youth, and families. The audiences for HFRP's work include policymakers, practitioners, researchers, evaluators, philanthropists, teachers, school administrators, and concerned individuals.

The mission of the National Center for Children in Poverty is to identify and promote strategies that reduce the number of young children living in poverty in the U.S., and that improve the life chances of the millions of children under six who are growing up poor.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund  has persistently pursued a single goal: that all American children – particularly those born into poverty – have quality early childhood experiences in the crucial first five years of life.

The Buffett Early Childhood Fund and the Ounce of Prevention Fund work with local public and private partners in communities across the country to establish Educare schools. These schools comprise the growing consortium known as the Educare Learning Network. Partners in the Educare Learning Network share a single commitment: to building, developing and implementing local Educare Schools that give at-risk children, from birth to age five, opportunities for school success and lifelong achievement.

Prevent Child Abuse America, founded in 1972, is focused on changing the way our nation thinks about prevention, focusing on community activities and public policies that prioritize prevention from the start to make sure child abuse and neglect never occur. We work to ensure the healthy development of children nationwide while recognizing that child development is a building block for community development and economic development. Based in Chicago, Prevent Child Abuse America has chapters in 45 states and 385 Healthy Families America ( sites in 32 states.

ReadyNation/America’s Edge  is a membership organization of business leaders who work to strengthen businesses and the economy through proven investments in children and youth. We educate policy-makers and the public about research-based investments that will enable their businesses to compete in today’s competitive global marketplace, build a foundation for lasting economic security, and help our nation’s children get on the right track.  To overcome these challenges, we must focus on fixing the problem at the beginning of a child's life, where the returns to society and the child are the greatest. Investing in smart early childhood policies reaps returns today, tomorrow and for generations to come.

Rotary One of the key touch points for Rotary groups is working with early literacy organizations to improve local literacy efforts. Our impact starts with our members—people who work tirelessly with their clubs to solve some of our communities' toughest challenges. Their efforts are supported by Rotary International, our member association, and The Rotary Foundation, which turns generous donations into grants that fund the work of our members and partners around the world. Rotary is led by our members—responsible leaders who help to carry forward our organization's mission and values in their elected roles.

Too Small to Fail  aims to help parents and businesses take meaningful actions to improve the health and well-being of children ages zero to five, so that more of America’s children are prepared to succeed in the 21st century. They work to promote new research on the science of children’s brain development, early learning and early health, and we will help parents, businesses and communities identify specific actions, consistent with the new research, that they can take to improve the lives of young children. As we do this work and secure commitments to action, we will use social media, other technology-driven tools and innovative approaches to inform and empower parents and business leaders to track their progress and measure their success.

Home Visiting Agencies

Nurse Family Partnership Operating in 45 states, Nurse-Family Partnership helps transform the lives of vulnerable first-time moms and their babies. Through ongoing home visits from registered nurses, low-income, first-time moms receive the care and support they need to have a healthy pregnancy, provide responsible and competent care for their children, and become more economically self-sufficient. From pregnancy until the child turns two years old, Nurse-Family Partnership Nurse Home Visitors form a much-needed, trusting relationship with the first-time moms, instilling confidence and empowering them to achieve a better life for their children – and themselves.

Parent Child Home Program Across the country, millions of children begin kindergarten unprepared. They are “left behind” as early as the first day of school. These children have not adequately experienced quality verbal interaction or books. They have not been exposed to play and interactive experiences that encourage problem-solving and appropriate social-emotional development. The Parent-Child Home Program bridges this “preparation gap” by helping families challenged by poverty, limited education, language and literacy barriers, and other obstacles to school success prepare their children to enter school ready to be in the classroom. The Parent-Child Home Program utilizes a non-directive, non-didactic approach, modeling behaviors for parents that enhance children’s development rather than teaching behaviors. Home Visitors help parents realize their role as their children’s first and most important teacher, generating enthusiasm for learning and verbal interaction through the use of engaging books and stimulating toys.

Parents as Teachers Through advocacy and outreach, Parents as Teachers serves as a voice for early childhood education and champions the critical role of parental involvement and early intervention in the education continuum. Parents as Teachers raises awareness and works to shape policy around the importance of enhancing school readiness by reaching children during the critical, formative years of life.

Lisa G. Kropp is the youth services coordinator at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, NY.

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Lauren Gledhill

As the press release designer / distributor at my library, I already have a handy community map! I could easily take my list of contacts, turn it around, and look at what everyone else is doing and how we fit in and where the opportunities are. Tap into anyone in your library who does promotions and outreach, and they're sure to have a similar list to use as a starting point for needs assessment.

Posted : Jul 01, 2014 05:36



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