In recent years, public libraries have been urged to engage in outcome-based evaluation and decision-making. Organizations in both the private and public sectors have been hearing this call from funders for several years. When the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) was passed in 1996, the Institute for Museum and Library Services mandated outcome-based evaluation as part of its grantmaking to public and other types of libraries from LSTA funds. To date, the focus of most activity responding to this call has focused on outcomes of special projects receiving short-term funding via state and federal grants. The Counting on Results (CoR) project shifted the focus from special projects to ongoing library services. The goals of the project were to develop and demonstrate the potential utility of new tools for outcome-based evaluation of public library services (see Chapters 1 and
2). These tools include the following:
- customizable software for Palm personal digital assistants (PDAs) that facilitates collecting standardized data on conventionally recorded library outputs (e.g., visits, circulation, reference questions) as well as observable patron activities in the library; and
- standardized questionnaires eliciting reports of the outcomes of public library service directly from patrons.
The project developed these tools and demonstrated their use by 45 public libraries representing 20 states and all 4 major regions of the United States (i.e., Northeast, South, Midwest, West). In addition to reporting data on conventional library service outputs, the project generated data on the observed library activities of more than 40,000 patrons and reports of the outcomes of library services from more than 5,500 patrons. Thus, this project completed the largest, most comprehensive, and most detailed multi-state data collection of this type attempted to date (see Chapter 3).
This project built upon the Public Library Association’s Planning for Results (PfR) model by designing data collection tools for 6 CoR service responses that were derived from 9 of PfR’s 13 service responses: Basic Literacy, Business and Career Information, Library as a Place (Commons), General Information, Information Literacy, and Local History and Genealogy.
(corrected October 2004)
Public libraries in Colorado are bridging the technology gap that is symptomatic of the “digital divide.” The availability of technology in public libraries fulfills a highly demanded patron need spanning all demographic groups. “The rate of growth of internet use in the United States is currently two million new internet users per month. … Internet use is increasing for people regardless of income, education, age, races, ethnicity or gender.” The technology have-nots are not just the poor and under-educated. People from all walks of life rely on the internet access provided by public libraries. This survey shows that library patrons are teaching themselves new technology skills, communicating on a global level, and accessing online information regarding education, health, employment, and volunteer opportunities. As a result, they are able to improve their personal quality of life and that of their communities.
Technology in public libraries spans all demographics and fulfills a highly demanded patron need. Of responding public library internet users:
- 84% indicated that the availability of computers in the library was one of the reasons for visiting the library that day.
- 34% have no other access to the internet except through public internet computers.
- 60% of those younger than 18 use public internet computers to work on school assignments.
- 49% use the public internet computers for internet access more than once a week.
- 24% of the people indicating the use of the public internet computers more than once a week were below poverty level.
- 42% of those who use library computers more than once a week, have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Technology have-nots are not limited to the poor or under-educated. Of responding public library internet users:
- Men (53%) only slightly outnumber women (47%) in their use of public library internet access.
- 67% of respondents indicated college-level coursework and higher.
- 50% of those who rely on internet access through the public library were between 30 and 54 years of age.
- 71% of survey participants reported no minor children living at home.
Public library internet users are teaching themselves new technology skills, communicating on a global level, and accessing online information on a wide variety of topics. With access to online information about education, health, employment and volunteer opportunities, they are improving their quality of life and that of their communities. Of responding public library internet users:
- 72% identified searching for topic-specific information as their primary activity at public internet computers.
- 38% have used public internet computers to look for a job.
- Patrons who improved their income via public internet computers were twice as likely to be young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, the majority of whom made below $18,000 annually and were predominantly male.
- 38% of those working on college assignments were minorities; of those people, 21% were Hispanic.
- 49% of those seeking educational opportunities using public internet computers were female.
- Colorado’s youth were twice as likely as any other age group to use public internet access to find volunteer opportunities. Example: 13% of those people under 18 versus 6% of patrons ages 30-54 and 4% of patrons 55 and older.
- 20% of respondents spent time seeking health-related information on public internet computers.
- 62% of respondents seeking health-related information were female.