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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

Developing a Library Building Program: Needs Assessment

Do you need professional help?

Public stakeholder surveys and meetings are sometimes done by a professional Library Building Consultant. This has two advantages: the consultant has experience with gathering this type of data, and s/he is a neutral party in the eyes of the community. The MBLC can provide you with a list of consultants with public library experience (the list does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any kind).

Where to begin?

This downloadable questionnaire helps you focus on what your current building does right and what could be improved. It's a good place to start when embarking on a Needs Assessment.

Needs Assessment

What is a needs assessment, anyway?

A Needs Assessment is a bridging document between your Long-Range Plan (and your 20-year demographic projections) and the Building Program. It takes the data in the Long Range Plan and translates them into concrete, physical terms for your facility.

The goal of the Needs Assessment is to do exactly what it says -- to analyze and define the needs of the community in terms of library services.

Although the analysis should not be tied the current facility (or any other particular site), it may be useful to use them as a jumping-off point. You can take your Long Range Plan and your existing library and see where the gaps are.

Consider the following:

  • What does your community want from its library? Focus groups and surveys can be very useful here -- consider using an independent consultant to help you find out.
  • Keep your 20-year service population in mind, and stay as flexible and open-minded as possible.
  • Are there goals or objectives in your Long Range Plan that cannot be accomplished due to facility-related issues?

Remember: a Needs Assessment is a statement of needs. It does not speculate about possible solutions -- that comes down the road.

Predicting the Future

What library services are the most popular, how should they relate to one another in space, and how do they relate to their satellite departments? Are any of these services or departments expected to expand at a quicker rate than others? Are any expected to be phased out over the next few years or substantially reduced in size? All this information must be gathered and the relationships charted. In this way, the librarian can relate spaces in the library for the most efficient operation.

--From Designing and Space Planning for Libraries: a Behavioral Guide (1979 -- an oldie but a goodie), by Aaron & Elaine Cohen

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released a comprehensive report analyzing Americans' use and opinions about what they do and don't want from their public library in January of 2013. The full report is titled Library Services in the Digital Age with the tag line Patrons embrace new technologies – and would welcome more. But many still want printed books to hold their central place. It can be found here.