Towards a better understanding of the library patron Kokkola City Library – Regional Library: Results of the Library Patron Survey

Book loan numbers are dropping, e-books and multimedia libraries are on the way. How can anyone know in what direction the library is headed, or what it should aim to be? The answers can be built upon a very simple foundation, with a very simple question: Who are we serving?

In the business world, they speak of a customer-oriented business model, evaluating activities from the perspective of the customer, whereby its services and resources can be directed to the appropriate areas.

Kokkola City Library – Regional Library decided to learn a lesson from the business world in autumn of 2010 by commissioning a survey, in which the structure of the current patron base, the use of library services and patrons’ opinions of the library premises and development of services for the future were surveyed. Over 500 patrons responded to the survey.

Patrons – who are they?

According to the survey, the typical Kokkola Library patron is a woman, approximately 45 years old. One fifth of the respondents were men, whose age range was between 41 and 65 years. The number of young men under age 26 was small. Getting them involved is a challenge for the library.

Library use among the respondents was well-established. Half of the respondents visit the library once a week or a few times a month. By contrast, internet services offered by the library were not of interest in their current form. One fourth of the respondents admitted that they do not use the library’s website at all and almost just as many visit the site just a few times a year. The respondents stated that it is difficult to use or that the online services do not work.

The users were satisfied with the accessibility of library services. For example, opening hours were primarily considered to be suitable. However, some of the patrons wished that the library would change its hours to correspond better with the opening hours of shops. This would mean later closing times and significant changes to the opening hours on Sundays.

What is currently being done in the library?

The survey did not reveal any great surprises concerning the use of services offered by the library. Nearly half of the patronage of Kokkola Library deals with the borrowing of materials, primarily literature. Despite a slight decrease in loans, literature intended for youth and music materials are still rather popular loan items. The use of library premises for other purposes, however, has increased. People go to the library to see exhibitions, have coffee, read newspapers and magazines and study. The relatively high rate of usage of the library as a public area suggests that the library’s role as a meeting place for people is on the rise.

Use of the patron internet terminals for obtaining information has exceeded use of the information service provided by the staff. Self-service and independent initiatives are issues emphasized in information service, although patrons in Kokkola preferred service for book-borrowing in the traditional way, by a librarian and not by a machine.

The independent initiative of patrons in obtaining information also came to light in the section of the survey that discussed problems with how to use the library. On the other hand, patrons are now more critical about the features of the library system, and many responses expressed a desire for more versatile search features, a broader database and a better disclosure of them. By contrast, some patrons wanted the library staff to market their professional skills more and in that way help to make information searches easier.

Development of services and premises from the patron’s perspective

The patrons’ visions of the future for both the library premises and newforms of service were mapped out. In developing the library space, Kokkola City Library patrons did not espouse the idea of a vibrant shopping centretype or venturous library, which has generally been considered as one of the probable alternatives in discussions about the library’s future. In opposition to the ‘shopping centre library,’ the vision of a quiet, peaceful centre for finding information was overwhelmingly presented as still being the most pleasant and most useful. Interestingly,this point of view was the same regardless of the age or gender of the respondents.

Concerning the general direction of development for services, the opinions were nearly split evenly between the extremes. Current services were seen as essential and maintaining them in the future as extremely important. On the other hand, almost as many users wished the library had a bolder approach and a more open-minded attitude towards current trends and different experiments when planning its services. Women were slightly more experimental in this regard than men. Generally, however, the existing services were considered sufficient, especially among the older patrons. Even young people appreciated the existing services over experimentation and, as a general opinion, hopes for development mainly focused on adding more reading corners, seating and lounge space.

As regards services for the individual, the more significant desires concerned the library’s website. Respondents wished that the web pages, which they currently considered to be inadequateand difficult to use, would have a quicker updating rate, which would make it easier to check for the latestbooks or for the availability of the most borrowed books. There is also a demand for pedagogic skills in librarybranch professionals, because men, in particular, wanted the library to arrange instruction in internet searches and use of information databases.

What next?

After the initial report, we have already been able to form an idea of the typicalpatron, the most commonly used servicesand a preliminary notion of the importance the library holds for the patron. The results show expectations and hopes for changes in both the library premises and services offered.

The study results enable the gradual implementation of changes and, along with that, active monitoring of development with the help of the patrons. The first step towards a patronoriented library has been taken, and continuing down this path merelyrequires communication. On the basis of the study and survey, the Kokkola City Library is now segmenting patrons, which is an integral part of the customer-oriented business model.

Source: Virtanen, T. 2011. Kokkola City Library – Regional Library Services: Use and Development. Oulu University of Applied Sciences. Library and Information Services. Thesis.

Tomi Virtanen
Bachelor of Business Administration
k7vito00 AT
Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Bachelor of Business Administration