Library User Survey Templates & How-Tos

Library User Survey Templates

Are you interested in learning more about your patrons’ usage of and satisfaction with your library, and their demographics?

Here are 3 sample survey templates of different lengths to be used “as is” or adapted to your organization’s specific research needs. The short survey template focuses on customer satisfaction, the medium and long survey templates add questions about library usage, and the long survey template also includes a demographics section.

Before using the templates, it is important to read them carefully to ensure that all of the questions pertain to your library and to your information needs. Each template is formatted as a Microsoft Word document in order that you may delete, add, or modify questions as necessary.

Each of these survey templates is intended to be very general to offer the richest opportunity for follow-up. For example, if you learned from the surveys that your patrons were less than satisfied with your library’s facilities, you might then create a follow-up survey or plan interviews or focus groups to explore that issue at greater length.

Templates:

Additional examples of user surveys, from public, academic, and special libraries, can be found here.

How To Design & Administer Surveys

Surveys can be an extremely useful means of efficiently gathering data about your library users’ attitudes, knowledge, behavior, experiences, and demographics. Yet designing a survey can be a daunting and painstaking process as it entails thoughtful planning and numerous revisions. The purpose of this brief guide is to help you to create a survey that produces quality information of maximum benefit to your organization. While the following questions, tips, and survey templates are intended to point you in the right direction and to save you time and other resources, it is important to consult with others in your organization, and—if possible—with a research professional, when planning or administering surveys.

The most important points to consider when designing surveys are:

  • What are your organization’s information needs, i.e., what do you need to know?
  • What are the characteristics of the respondents?

What are your information needs?

Libraries typically develop surveys for 3 reasons: to gauge user satisfaction, to assess users’ needs (usage), or to learn more about outcomes—that is, the end results of using the library. A fourth purpose of surveys is to gather demographic information about library users. However, an important guideline is to never collect more information than is absolutely necessary so as not to unduly burden or stress those who will be answering your survey. Also consider whether your information needs could be met through existing data, such as circulation statistics or community analysis.

What are the characteristics of respondents?

In designing your survey, it is important to think about who will fill it out as this information has bearing on the language used and also on survey administration. When writing a survey, it is best to avoid slang, jargon, and technical terms; instead, strive to use familiar language and offer definitions and examples wherever necessary. For example, a question asking respondents about their satisfaction with the collection could also explain, in parentheses, “books, DVDs, music, newspapers, etc.” Along these same lines, keep questions short and steer clear of double negatives. If your library serves non-English speaking communities, you might also have your survey translated to better accommodate those populations. Translation services such as those offered by REFORMA Colorado can be helpful.

Once you have answered these questions, you can begin designing your survey. At this stage, keep in mind the following issues:

  • Type and content of survey
  • Sample size needed for meaningful analysis
  • Method of distribution

Survey Content

Satisfaction

Satisfaction surveys, which may be the most common type of survey, are designed to determine what the library is doing well in its users’ opinions and what areas can be improved. Of course another way to gather user feedback is via comment cards, so before drafting a satisfaction survey, it is wise to consider whether it is really necessary, or if this information can be obtained by other means.

Usage

Usage refers to patrons’ behaviors (e.g., “How often do you use the library in a typical month?”). If your objective is to learn about how your patrons are using the library, consider whether circulation statistics or other such data are already available which could answer your question. Using existing data will prevent needlessly bothering your users with an unnecessary survey.

Outcomes

Outcomes can be described as what was accomplished or gained by using the library. Assessing outcomes can be difficult, as users are often unaware of the end results of their library use until days or months after using the library; for example, a patron using library computers to complete online job applications does not immediately know whether his or her efforts have been successful. Incorporating a question into your survey which asks whether you may contact respondents at a later date can be a good way to collect outcome information. Alternately, questions about what users hope to achieve by using the library (i.e., intended outcomes) can somewhat satisfy these types of research questions.

Demographics

Demographics questions assess respondents’ educational and cultural backgrounds, age, gender, and so forth. As with any question, consider whether this information is essential before including it in your survey design. You might also consider whether a survey is the best means of gathering this information or if you could use a community analysis (such as census data or information gathered from a resource such as Business Decision) or your library’s patron records. Again, it is important not to ask your users for any information that is not critical to your research question.

Sample Size

The general idea behind a survey is to generalize, or make statements about a whole population, based on data collected from a sample. To that end, a good sample should be representative of the population it speaks for in all characteristics except size (for example, proportions of male to female, old to young, education levels, etc.). A sample size must therefore be large enough to be reflective of the general population. Before distributing your survey, identify your target sample size using a tool such as a sample size calculator. To reach your sample size, consider offering respondents an incentive, such as candy or prizes, to encourage participation.

Distributing Surveys

Determining the characteristics of your sample is important because these factors also affect how you distribute your survey. Surveys can be offered in-house, mailed, or accessed electronically. Each has advantages and drawbacks. In-house surveys are easy to collect and free; however, they only capture information from those who are already using the library. Mailing surveys to everyone in your service area, or to a sample thereof, can be a good way to hear from those who do not regularly use the library, but is considerably more costly than administering them in-house. Mail surveys also have lower response rates than other delivery methods. Electronic surveys can also reach people beyond the library’s walls, but can exclude those without computer access or skills. Additionally, if the survey is embedded in your library’s homepage, it won’t be seen by non-library users. Lastly, electronic surveys can be vulnerable to security risks, which can compromise the quality of the data you collect.

                                                                                    Survey Design Tips*

  • After drafting your library’s survey, have colleagues proofread it for clarity and to assess the validity of the questions included.
  • Use short questions when possible.
  • Carefully consider the placement of each question and set of related questions.
  • Number the items consecutively from the beginning to the end.
  • Use plenty of white space to ensure that the survey is readable.
  • Use an easy-to-read font size and type.
  • Use lead-ins for new or lengthy sections to orient and guide the user. For example, if your survey includes a demographics section, title it as such.
  • Provide clear instructions.
  • Avoid multiple-response questions.
  • Refrain from using “double-barreled” questions. These are questions that combine 2 or more topics, such that the researcher cannot know which “barrel” of the question was answered. An example would be, “Do you think that the library is important and would you support a mill levy for increased funding?” If the words “and” or “or” are included in your question, it might be double-barreled.
  • Avoid questions that ask respondents to rank items (e.g., “rank the importance of the following library services to you from most to least important”). Not only are rankings hard to analyze, but they are also misleading as it’s possible that all of the items asked about could be of equal importance to respondents. A better approach is to ask respondents to rate items (e.g., “rate the importance of each of the following library services to you on a scale where 5=extremely important and 1=not at all important”).
  • Include some open-ended questions.
  • Do not use lines with open-ended questions. Instead, leave that area as white space.
  • Do not “break” your questions or carry them from one page to another.
  • Include page numbers.
  • Include a closing statement. In addition to thanking patrons for participating in the survey, this statement might also include contact information should respondents have any questions about the survey.

*Adapted from Johnson, B. & Christensen, L. (2012). Checklist for survey construction. In Educational Research (pp. 180-181). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

What’s Next?

How you analyze the data resulting from your survey is dependent upon how your survey was administered, i.e., whether it was an electronic or paper survey, and upon the types of questions included therein. Some tools, such as Survey Monkey, have built-in features for data analysis, or you might choose to use databases or statistical software. Comments can be coded and analyzed in-depth, unless your goal was simply to pull outstanding comments as a source of anecdotal evidence about, for example, what your library means to the community it serves. If resources allow, consider hiring a research professional to analyze and present your data. In all instances, it is best to think about how you will present your data before designing and administering the survey.

POPULAR RESOURCES

  • Public Library Statistics & Profiles
    Dive into annual statistics from the Colorado Public Library Annual Report using our interactive tool, results tailored to trustees, and state totals and averages.
  • School Library Impact Studies
    School libraries have a profound impact on student achievement. Explore studies about this topic by LRS and other researchers in our comprehensive guide.
  • Fast Fact Reports
    Looking for a quick rundown of library research? Check out our Fast Facts, which highlight research and statistics about various library topics.

LIBRARYJOBLINE

ABOUT

LRS is part of the Colorado State Library, a unit of the Colorado Department of Education. We design and conduct library research for library and education professionals, public officials, and the media to inform practices and assessment needs. We partner with the Library and Information Science program at University of Denver's Morgridge College of Education to provide research fellowships to current MLIS students.

This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Staff & Contact Info