Almost 100 % satisfaction and so what?

A new common national tool will help libraries get more comparable and thereby more efficient satisfaction surveys. Many libraries are regularly asking the users whether they are satisfied with their local library. The answer is more or less always yes. But it is difficult to form an opinion of the situation on a national scale, because the libraries use different methods for examining the level of satisfaction. One cannot, therefore, compare satisfaction across libraries – and has likewise not got a background against which to estimate one’s score of satisfaction: Is 67% very satisfied users a good result? The new tool is now going to change this.
National user satisfaction survey

In 2011 all libraries in Denmark are given the opportunity to take part in a national benchmarking survey. The survey uses the same questionnaire in all the libraries, it is carried out in the same week and in the same way. From now on it will be conducted bi-annually. The background is a pilot project done in a collaboration between Herning Libraries and the Association of Library Directors in 2009. It receives financial support from the Danish Agency for Libraries and Media. The pilot project resulted in a recommendation to use a common solution developed in cooperation with the engineering, design and consultancy company, Ramboll. The solution includes software to carry out surveys, a common questionnaire as well as consultancy assistance for carrying out the survey and analysing data. The model is based on collaboration between the libraries and Ramboll, which makes is possible to keep the costs down.

National overview

Today we need to focus in a more qualitative way on how the users experience the library’s services. For many years the libraries have measured their success on parameters such as loans and visiting figures, but as focus is being directed at the library’s function as something else and more than just a place for lending books, it becomes increasingly necessary to develop measuring methods which gauge and document the users’ perception of the library. The national survey can give us an overview of how the users see the library and how satisfied they are. And with sufficient support for the survey it will be possible to produce a figure for the overall satisfaction with the country’s libraries. The survey is coordinated by Herning Libraries and Ramboll. Apart from that, all the country’s regional libraries participate in a network which provides sparring on various elements in the survey.

A standardised measuring also emphasizes the legitimacy vis-à-vis the outside world and politicians, because the libraries are being measured on a very objective scale.

Local advantages – evaluation and development

The individual library gets several advantages. The survey makes it possible to compare with other libraries similar to your own. For the library service, where by tradition satisfaction is very high, it is an advantage to be able to compare your satisfaction score with others with a view to learning from those whose score exceeds your own.

The comparison makes it easier to evaluate own results. It can, for example, be quite difficult to judge whether one’s library has obtained a good result if 67 % of the users are very satisfied with the library’s services. But the comparison across libraries makes it possible to assess the result.

If the same survey is repeated, the library can monitor its own development and actively bring its influence to bear by deciding on concrete goals for prioritised areas. The library can, for example, decide that next time the survey is conducted, awareness of a number of selected digital services must have risen by 30 %. You identify and select various initiatives that will further this knowledge. These are carried out in the time between the two surveys, and the new survey gives you an evaluation of whether you have been successful in spreading the knowledge.

Standardization of the survey method also means that the individual library can save resources: You do not have to spend time on developing and testing a questionnaire yourself, and time spent on planning the survey is drastically reduced, because a manual will describe how it is to be done.

The collaboration also means economies of scale, as expenses on the purchase of software for the survey (SurveyXact) and consultancy support are reduced considerably as opposed to a situation where the libraries would have to purchase both of these individually.

Flexibility the code word

The basic element of the model is that the libraries and Ramboll work together on the survey. Ramboll are responsible for the technical part, the libraries collect the responses, and when it comes to the analysis part the libraries can to a greater or lesser extent buy consultancy support from Ramboll.

The libraries’ conditions vary, both in terms of economy and in experience of analysing and implementing the results of the survey. One of the most important criteria for the model for the user survey has therefore been flexibility. Taking part in the survey had to be relatively cheap. You can participate at the cost of a mere 4,000 DKK, depending on whether your local authority has already got a license to Ramboll’s system. At the same time it has to be taken into consideration that some libraries have got specialists in the field, who are able to analyse data, while others have not got this competence ‘in house’. The libraries can, therefore, choose to conduct the analysis themselves or get Ramboll to do most of the work. You can furthermore buy the possibility for asking local questions, if you feel the ordinary questionnaire does not cover a particular area.

A user satisfaction survey is not enough by itself

An important point is that a qualitative survey like the present one offers a diagnosis, but you have to find the medicine yourself. For example, a library may realise that only 49 % of its users are very satisfied with the library’s facilities. The library very much wants to improve on this. But there are many possible focus areas, and the library therefore needs some input on which facilities could be improved and how. The library could then appoint a focus group or one might even provide a number of users with a camera and send them out into the library to document good and bad aspects of the library etc. etc.

Apart from being an evaluation tool the satisfaction survey can also provide the breeding ground for further thoughts and deliberations, which could be followed up in smaller surveys within specific areas, thereby pushing development and innovation forward.

Sara Svenstrup
Communication Consultant
Herning Libraries
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Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Communication Consultant Herning Libraries