– Preliminary Analysis –
To launch this project, NewKnowledge began by documenting the current state of programming in libraries through a meta-analysis of related documents in the ALA offices and ALA PPO archives and through feedback from a nationwide professional opinion survey from current library programmers, available as downloadable reports on ala.org/NILPPA under “Related Resources.” Both of these tasks confirmed a wide range of programs and audiences and a positive growth trend in programming. Both analyses turned up anecdotal evidence of the value of programs, but provided no standard process for assessing and documenting impact — a tool that would be of great importance for continued growth and value of programming in the library field.
– Workshop #1 –
Two planning workshops took on the initial steps of defining research needs. The first group of six library professionals (representing public, academic, and special libraries) met with ALA staff and NewKnowledge researchers on January 24, 2014, at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia. This one-day workshop focused on identifying the many types of audiences being served through library programming, as well as the range of program types being offered. In addition to staff-generated programs, the group noted many variations of partnership programs, presented in collaboration with a breadth of community organizations. Partnership programs provide libraries with many different ways to assess and serve community needs as well as to identify new audiences.
Just as audiences divide into many segments, so do program goals. The advisory group identified numerous goals that range from enhancing literacy to providing a sense of belonging. These goals generally divided into acquiring new knowledge and learning new skills. Many were based on obtaining practical information such as use of new technologies and initiating job searches. Others sought to introduce new topics and resources and to encourage discussion and critical thinking. The range of program goals made clear that programming librarians, along with their community partners, need additional research that will help them create targeted and effective programming, identify public needs, and access many learning resources.
Perhaps the most important conclusion of the group’s discussion on research methodologies was that, considering the numerous variables—library size and type, audience segmentation, program structure, and potential partnerships—there is no “one-size-fits-all” tool for studying the processes, impacts, and training for public programming in libraries. Instead, a suite of research methods would most likely be needed to provide a comprehensive understanding.
– Workshop #2 –
A second group of 11 library professionals (representing public, academic, and special libraries, as well as a state library and a state humanities agency) gathered in Chicago on May 8 and 9, 2014, to review and build on the work of the initial workshop. Their task was to further refine the research framework by identifying the kinds of evidence necessary to validate the impact of programs. This first assignment required a thorough analysis of the distinguishing characteristics of different types of library programs, as well as libraries themselves. With so many variables to consider, the group engaged in rich conversation about how best to apply types of research methods to develop a multifaceted national picture of the many impacts of library programming.
- Throughout the two-day workshop, the participants met in small working groups to probe such questions as:
- How do we define success for local, regional, and national program models?
- How do we define success for collaborative, culturally co-created programs and how do they differ from programs originated by the library alone?
- What indicators of success reach across program types versus those with more specific application?
Workshop participants in Chicago were encouraged to think about the parts of a useful program model and how ALA PPO could employ such a model to improve programming impacts for individuals, groups, and society. Figure 1 offers an overview of the constituent parts of a logic model that could be adapted and applied to an assessment of public programming.
Figure 1: Example of components of a logic model for library programs
The group also examined how geography, community size, library type, and cultural or economic segments affect the nature of programs and their impact on varied audiences.
Finally, there was considerable discussion among the working groups about the essential competencies required for serving as a library program specialist; about the processes for building strong community collaboration, including assessing community needs; and finally, about the many uses of research data among all stakeholders, beyond the library itself. There emerged strong recognition that the success of this research framework will require broad outreach to the numerous library associations and collaborative groups that serve the field, as well as to those organizations with a shared interest in the results, such as the Federation of State Humanities Councils, Pew Research Center, Rand Corporation, and numerous other direct and indirect stakeholders.
Workshop participants discussed how to assure such active participation through multiple outreach methods, including in-person contact, the web, remote sites, and others. Finding ways to assure buy-in from libraries across the country led to suggestions about establishing talk-back mechanisms at national and regional meetings, using simple one-question iPad surveys, strategically placing articles in journals and other publications, and developing and sharing talking points. It became clear that the research framework must be multifaceted and must be implemented over several years.
The initial information gathering and the work of the two NILPPA advisory groups has identified many of the questions that are emerging as a result of the growth of library programming. These discussions painted a vibrant picture of library programming as it has developed in libraries of all sizes and types. They confirmed how programming has become a core library service, and further defined the need for more specific research about the aspects of programming that are making a difference in individual lives.
How do new programs come to fruition in your library?
Would it help you to have tangible evidence of a program’s success? What might that evidence look like? What might you do with it?
Read responses and provide your own feedback using the comment box below. Comments are moderated and will be posted within 24 hours. Please let us know whether you would like to make your comments public or keep them private.