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Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Resource Guide Collection

MPLCP Library Building Programs: Needs Assessment

An Open Mind

It's important to look outside your current library for new ideas. Visit recently-completed or renovated libraries and look at photographs in magazines and online. It's amazing what some public libraries are doing now - and a few of these things might be a great service for your community, too.

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.

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