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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

2023-2024 Grant Round: Planning & Design Phase: Needs Assessment

Needs Assessment

What is a needs assessment, anyway?

A Needs Assessment is a bridging document between your Strategic Plan (and your 30-year demographic projections) and the Building Program. It takes the data in the Strategic 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 Strategic Plan and your existing library and see where the gaps are.

Consider the following:

  • What does your community want from its library? Focus groups, surveys, wish trees, dot boards, service safaris, and prototyping can be very useful here -- consider using an independent consultant to help you find out.
  • Keep your 30-year service population in mind, and stay as flexible and open-minded as possible.
  • Are there goals or objectives in your Strategic 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.

Historic Buildings

A few words on planning changes to a Carnegie (or other historic) library:

Local decision makers need to address the challenges of Carnegie buildings and be innovative in solving problems associated with space needs and access. Common challenges include visual supervision for understaffed facilities, logically arranging the collection for continuity of numbering, and the tie into the historic structure. Once an alternative strategy is selected, a more definitive architectural program is produced.

From Carnegie Libraries: Making Decisions About Space, Access, and Preservation by Iowa Community Design, 1994

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.