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Community Needs Assessment

A community needs assessment is the process of determining the roles that your library can play – in terms of time, finances, location, responsibilities, and other factors – either as a stand-alone institution or in partnership with other local institutions, public or non-profit.

How do you choose what to focus on?

  • Learn more about your community -- there are a variety of publicly available data sets that can give you a snapshot of the different groups that your library is serving:
    • Our interactive digital inclusion map that combines library services (public access technologies, broadband, digital literacy, and programs in areas of education, employment, health & wellness, and civic engagement) and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Department of Education, Centers for Disease Control, and others).
    • The National Broadband Map, created and maintained by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, can provide you with information about broadband availability in your community.
    • The U.S. Census Bureau provides access to community-level data through a variety of interactive data tools, including State & County Quick Facts and American FactFinder.
    • Through FedStats, you can find information about the people and businesses in your state, city, congressional district, or judicial district.
    • Check to see if your local government has published data sets that can be helpful to you.  Examples of such initiatives include:
  • Take note of the services patrons seek information about or ask for assistance with in the library. Keep in mind, however, that this only tells you what people already expect to find at your library.
  • Consult with those organizations tied to your library (e.g., the library board) or the communities your libraries serve (e.g., local non-profits and government agencies) to hear their thoughts about important community issues that the library can help to address.
  • Regularly monitor those issues that are discussed in community social networks and the local media.

When thinking about community needs assessments in the area of e-government, it is often best to start with a specific area of service and strive to make that particular function as responsive as possible to the community you serve.

  • In many locations, the library now serves as the primary community resource for new immigrants to the United States, helping with residency and citizen processes. 
  • The Alachua County Library District in Florida partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families and community organizations to create The Library Partnership, a space within libraries for agencies devoted to child welfare to offer patrons assistance with accessing e-government forms and applications, as well as homework help, GED classes, and literacy classes. 

Once you have identified some of the most pressing needs in your community, you should then ask some key questions about your own resources:

  • Is the library allowed by local laws and practices to be involved in the issue?
  • Does the library have the resources (e.g., staff time, funding, and technology) to adequately help to address the issue? 
  • What services could the library offer to help to address the issue?
  • Are the library staff members engaged in the issue?
  • Is the issue already the responsibility of another local government agency?
  • What government agencies or non-profits could the library partner with on this issue?
 

SUGGESTED RESOURCES

Alpi, K. M., & Bibel, B. M. (2004). Meeting the Health Information Needs of Diverse Populations. Library Trends, 53 (2), 268-282.

Cuban, S. (2007).  Serving New Immigrant Communities in the Library.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

LaFlamme, M. Q. (2007). Towards a Progressive Discourse on Community Needs Assessment: perspectives from collaborative ethnography and action research. Progressive Librarian, (29), 55-62.

Ocon, B. (2000).  Effective Outreach Strategies to the Latino Community: A Paradigm for Public Libraries.  In Salvador Guerena (Ed.), Library Servies to Latinos: An Anthology (pp. 183-193).  Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Press, N., & Diggs-Hobson, M. (2005). Providing Health Information to Community Members Where They Are: Characteristics of the Culturally Competent Librarian. Library Trends, 53(3), 397-410.

 

Witkin, B.R. & Altschuld, J.W. (1995).  Planning and Conducting Needs Assessments: A Practical Guide.  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.