Using Performance Measurement: Using Customer Surveys to Know Your Library Patrons and What They Want

The Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) system uses a variety of survey tools to help understand who its customers are and what kinds of educational, informational, and recreational services and resources they are looking for in their public library.

ARTICLE | Apr 3, 2007

Jurisdiction: Fairfax County, Virginia

Population: 1,067,216

Square Miles: 407

Form of Government: Council-administrator/manager

Performance Indicator: Customer satisfaction

Knowing the Customer and What They Want from Their Library

The Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) system uses a variety of survey tools to help understand who its customers are and what kinds of educational, informational, and recreational services and resources they are looking for in their public library.

FCPL seeks to conduct its comprehensive user survey every three to five years, although past surveys have been conducted every four to six years.  FCPL also conducts a minimum of two smaller customer surveys annually and often supplements these efforts with as many as two additional studies or surveys. All of FCPL’s surveys are linked to and support the library’s strategic plan.

In 2006, FCPL conducted its fourth comprehensive user survey that led to the publication of the recent User Survey Retrospective Report 1984-2006, which reviewed and compared user survey results over the past twenty-two years.

About the Comprehensive User Survey

This comprehensive survey, conducted every few years, asks customers to complete a detailed questionnaire on their library use. Questions range from the frequency and style of library use to why they came to a particular library, what they were looking for, what they did during their visit, if they needed staff assistance, what resources they used, their level of customer satisfaction, as well as a full set of demographic questions and several open-ended questions.

FCPL typically receives between 7,000 and 9,000 responses to its comprehensive user survey. Survey data is processed using SPSS statistical software and results presented to the library’s board of trustees, management, and staff. Data are continually mined for additional insight and information.

User Survey Retrospective Report – 1984-2006

FCPL has conducted four user surveys over the past twenty-two years. Following the 2006 survey, FCPL wrote the User Survey Retrospective Report 1984-2006, which compared data across the years.

The results of this retrospective review of the library’s user surveys indicate that, in general, the Fairfax County Public Library is doing a very good job of serving the residents of Fairfax County and Fairfax City. Here’s why:

  • Library users are successfully finding the materials and information they need at significantly high levels, 90 percent in 2006. Coincidentally this also means the library has the materials and information most users need. This indicates the library’s targeted "smart" purchasing strategy is working.
  • Library users are receiving the help they need with very high rates of success, 96 percent in 2006. Slightly less than one in three users needs help from staff or volunteers. Each of the four user groups analyzed (all respondents, ages 18 and under, ages 60 and over, and students) show record levels of respondents receiving the assistance from staff or volunteers they need.
  • Library users are accessing library materials and services in record numbers. Each of the technological questions asked in 2006 (telephone reference +7 percent, access to the Internet +8 percent, use of the FCPL Web site +76 percent, and use of the FCPL Web site at the library +63 percent) show increases in volume of use over the 2000 user survey results, some of them substantial increases.

Each of the bullets above corresponds to at least one of the library's six core values as outlined in its strategic plan.  Given the high levels of community use and customer satisfaction with the Fairfax County Public Library, it appears the library is fulfilling its mission 

"...to enrich individual and community life by providing and encouraging the use of library resources and services to meet the evolving education, recreational and informational needs of the residents of Fairfax County and Fairfax City."

    and taking strides toward fulfilling its vision of being 

"...the dynamic link connecting customers to local and global resources for lifelong learning and self-enrichment."

For more information, please contact Doug Miller, Assistant Library Coordinator at douglas.miller@fairfaxcounty.gov.  Does your jurisdiction have a similar example of how performance measurement has been helpful in answering a question or improving service in your local government? Please contact Kira Hasbargen at khasbargen@icma.org or 202-962-3606 to share your story.

 

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