“Needs assessment help establish the customer as the center of the service and bring the librarian and the library staff back to what is at the core of a library service: What do the library customers need?” (Dudden, 2007, p. 90)
As mentioned in my last post, Mackellar and Gerding, authors of ALA grant funding monographs, stress the importance of conducting a needs assessment as the first step in approaching a grant proposal. It may be painful at first, but once a thorough study has been made, the remaining grant proposal steps become easier. You become well-informed about the community you serve and identify current service gaps in your library. Not until you know your community’s needs will you be able to justify funding. Through my readings, I discovered that this includes your non-users as well as your current users. Remember, funders want to make sure people are helped by your project and therefore a guaranteed success.
In a nutshell, a needs assessment is, “A systematic process determining discrepancies between optimal and actual performance of a service by reviewing the service needs of a customer and stakeholders and then selecting interventions that allow the service to meet those needs in the fastest, most cost-effective manner” (Dudden, 2007, p. 61). According to Dudden, in her book Using Benchmarking, Needs Assessment, Quality Improvement, Outcome Measurement and Library Standards, there are 12 steps in conducting a needs assessment: (1) Define your purpose or question (2) Gather your team, (3) Identify stakeholders and internal and external factors, (4) Define the question (5) Determine resources available, (6) Develop a timeline (7) Define your customers (8) Gather data from identified sources, (9) Analyze the data, (10) Make a decision and a plan of action, (11) Report to administration and evaluate the needs assessment process, and (12) Repeat needs assessment in the future to see if the gap is smaller.
As librarians, we like to research something comprehensively before we dive into a project. Researching what others have done within their needs assessment project is an awesome strategy to get acquainted with the process and garner ideas. There are several approaches to gain information from a sample of your community via surveys, interviews, focus groups, observations, community forums/town meetings, suggestion boxes, and public records. If you bring in a technology-related project, your observation method may become a usability or user experience investigation, for example. I learned that it is important to use multi-forms of techniques together and then combine the results to formulate trustworthy data. I personally think that surveys are overly used, but I can live with it if used as one of many approaches in a study. Take for instance the case back in 2011 when Penn State wanted to build a knowledge commons (Lynn, 2011). Their project question or mission was to conduct a ten-month needs assessment in order to find out what new programming initiatives need creation and how the physical knowledge commons space should be configured in support of these endeavors. I was amazed to read that they used seven techniques to inform their decisions: conducted site visits to other library knowledge commons, reviewed the literature on this topic, conducted student and faculty focus groups, created an online survey focusing on the physical library space and resources, created a survey exclusively for incoming freshmen, evaluated knowledge common websites from other institutions, and evaluated work spaces (circulation desk, reference desk, office space, etc.). After each phase of the needs assessment was completed, they were able to prioritize space needs and draft a final report of their findings to administration and to the architectural firm. One thing mentioned in this case study article is that a needs assessment has secondary effects that are essential to the process – it markets the project immensely and also invokes support from all stakeholders. I am convinced that completing this process will get you one step closer to definite funding.
The Needs Assessment: Forum Unified Education Technology Suite
National Center for Education Statistics
IT Needs Assessment & Strategic Planning Surveys
Methods for Conducting and Educational Needs Assessment
Guidelines for Cooperative Extension System Professionals
by Paul F. Cawley, University of Idaho
Chapter 3: Assessing Community Needs and Resources
Community Tool Box, University of Kansas
Information Gathering Toolkit
Community Needs Assessment Survey Guide
Utah State University
Assessing Faculty’s Technology Needs
by Tena B. Crew
Using Needs Assessment as a Holistic Means for Improving Technology Infrastructure
by Joni E. Spurlin, edited by Diana G. Oblinger
Educause Learning Initiative
U.S. Department of Commerce
Google Map Maker
Dudden, R. F. (2007). Using benchmarking, needs assessment, quality improvement, outcome measurement, and library standards: A how-to-do-it manual. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.
Lynn, V. (2011). A knowledge commons needs assessment. College & Research Libraries News, 72(8), 464-467.
MacKellar, P. H., & Gerding, S. K. (2010). Winning grants: A how-to-do-it manual for librarians with multimedia tutorials and grant development tools. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.